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B.C. first to offer online bonanza on family histories, and it's free

Nov 30 2012

People with relatives who were born, died or married in British Columbia can now get a better insight online into their family backgrounds.

Full digital images of the original records of births, deaths and marriages in B.C. are available for free through the Royal B.C. Museum/B.C. Archives website.

"The upload of more than 700,000 scanned and indexed documents in the first few months of test operations is unique in Canada," said Kathryn Bridge, the museum's manager of centralized access. "No other province in Canada has made this much rich data available online."

The move is a result of a partnership involving the B.C. Archives, the Vital Statistics Agency and FamilySearch International, a non-profit, Utah-based organization affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Bridge said images of the original documents can provide extra information. For example, the original record of a marriage reveals names of the bride and groom, their ages and occupations, and parents' names. Even the witnesses are listed.

"And you would even get a sample of their handwriting, because they would have filled out these forms themselves," Bridge said.

Indexes previously accessible could provide only the brides' and grooms' names, along with the dates and places of marriage.

The new digital images are of interest to more than genealogists or people tracing family trees. They can also offer clues to family medical history, since the cause of death is listed on death certificates. Descendants can look for signs of congenital diseases, for example.

People can also learn if an ancestor died in some dramatic, even suspicious circumstance.

Records will indicate if the B.C. Coroner held an inquiry. The records don't show the result of the inquiry, but that can be traced in other documents.

Bridge said historical researchers can get a good sense of demographic or population shifts due to disease. The 1918 flu epidemic, for example, wiped out entire families and caused enormous population changes.

"Count up how many people died in a community of flu and you can get a sense of the devastation," Bridge said.

Phase I of the project is already complete. About 700,000 images have been scanned, including births from 1854 to 1903, deaths from 1872 to 1991 and marriages from 1872 to 1936.

Phase 2, scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, will add more images and information, including pre-1872 records and deaths overseas during the Second World War.

Bridge said B.C. archivists are constrained by law in their ability to publicly release documents.

Information about a death can be released only after 20 years, a marriage after 75 years and a birth after 120 years.

As archivists come to records they can legally make public, the number of records posted online will expand.

"Every year, another batch of records become available to be on the website," Bridge said.



B.C. Archives sample registration

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