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Genealogy and Family History

Explore your roots at VPL and beyond: resources and services for genealogists

Introduction

First Nations, Inuit and Métis are collectively referred to as Aboriginal people. Discovering their distinctive cultures, languages, art, and music can be a rewarding pursuit for the family historian.

The difficulties of conducting genealogical research is often compounded in aboriginal genealogical research. It can be challenging to locate and interpret records, records of aboriginal ancestry are of a complex nature and organization with records from different sources contradicting each other and all reflecting the perspectives of their creators. Records that contain personal information may be subject to access and privacy legislation or to restrictions placed on them by donors.

Here we will try to untangle some of those challenges and provide genealogists with tools to guide their research efforts. The focus of this page is on First Nations in British Columbia though some information on other aboriginal groups is provided.

Much of the content for this page was adapted from Aboriginal Genealogy at Library and Archives Canada. Anyone conducting aboriginal research is strongly advised to consult this resource, available in print at VPL and online via Library and Archives Canada.

Status Indians

BASICS

Under the Indian Act, an Indian is "a person who, pursuant to this Act, is registered as an Indian or is entitled to be registered as an Indian". The rules for eligibility for registration have changed often over the years.

Jurisdiction for status Indians has been exercised under the Indian Act through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and its predecessor agencies. Most information on status Indians is in the archival records of this department.

Knowing the band of an ancestor is the single most important piece of information the genealogical researcher can have. Knowledge of whether the band signed a treaty, and when, might also help narrow down a search. Most files in RG 10 fonds with information useful to genealogists are arranged by band, agency, or district.

Many archival documents have access restrictions. These restrictions may be lifted in accordance with the provisions of the Access to Information and Privacy acts.

For a list of books related to Aboriginal ancestry available at the Vancouver Public Library, please see our Aboriginal Ancestry booklist.


RECORD GROUP 10 (RG 10)
Record Group 10 (RG 10) contains historical records, chiefly correspondence, relating to Indian Affairs created by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and its predecessors.

INDIAN TRIBES AND BANDS

GENERAL

  • Band: As defined by the Indian Act, a Band is a body of Indians for whose common use and benefit lands have been set aside or monies held by the Government of Canada or declared by the Governor in Council to be a Band. Today, many Bands prefer to be known as First Nations.
  • Tribe or Nation: a. an aboriginal governing body, organized and established by an aboriginal community, (may contain more than one band) or b. the aboriginal community itself.

Few governmental documents were created at the tribe or nation level but were instead created at the band level. Members of bands are recognized by the government by a band number or ticket, a government-issued identification number given to a family or an adult living alone in a band.

While a band is sometimes referred to by the name recognized by its own members (e.g. Algonquins of Barriere Lake), generally the band name does not contain the name of the tribe or nation to which it belongs. Researchers should keep in mind that many bands joined together, surrendered their treaty rights or changed their names. Knowing the dates of particular interest is very important when searching for band information.


Place of residence might help identify the appropriate band or reserve if the name of the band is not known. Consult the following resources:

ONLINE


PRINT

For more information on resources available at Library and Archives Canada, see their Indian Bands and Agencies web page.


BRITISH COLUMBIA

INDIAN REGISTRATION

The application process and forms for Indian registration vary. There are multiple application types - see the INAC Indian Status website. Information required includes name of mother and father, their date of birth, band name and number. Some forms also require the names of grandparents.


ELIGIBILITY UNDER BILL C-31: GENDER EQUITY
"All eligible grandchildren of women who lost status as a result of marrying non-Indian men are entitled to registration (Indian status) in accordance with the Indian Act."

  • Did your grandmother lose her Indian status as a result of marrying a non-Indian?
  • Is one of your parents registered, or entitled to be registered, under sub-section 6(2) of the Indian Act?
  • Were you, or one of your siblings, born on or after September 4, 1951?

Visit the INAC's Indian Status web page for more information and online forms.

For more information on the 1985 amendment to the Indian Act, see the UBC's First Nations Study Program's Bill C-31 web page.

INDIAN REGISTERS, 1951-1984

Starting in 1951, the federal government of Canada began keeping a national register of every known individual entitled to Indian status under the Indian Act. This is the single most comprehensive record of status Indians. If your aboriginal ancestor was alive in 1951 and had Indian status, or if your ancestor was born after 1951 with Indian status, or if they acquired Indian status since 1951, then this register will include him/her.

A paper copy of the Indian Registers, 1951-1984 is located at Library and Archives Canada. Access is restricted. Researchers should contact the INAC for more information on these records and possible access.

Information generally provided in the record includes:

  • Names of all status Indians
  • Date of birth
  • Membership
  • Familial relationships (parents, spouses and children)
  • Religion
  • Band number

MEMBERSHIP REGISTERS AND LISTS

Indian Register and Membership Registers and Lists

Band Membership lists for all of Canada were posted in 1951 (often referred to as the "posted lists"). These lists were posted in communities to permit the protest of individuals included or excluded prior to the establishment of the first centralized Indian Register.

Descriptions of membership lists can be obtained from the Archives Search database, and file information can be obtained using keywords such as the names of bands or agencies. Many of these documents have access restrictions.

The files are arranged alphabetically by the names of bands and are described in Finding Aid 10-100. Use the Archives Search to locate descriptive information using band names and 10-100 as key words. e.g. Musqueam 10-100 retrieves the Musqueam Band - Vancouver Agency no. 15 - Membership list.

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Status Indians - Resources

CIVIL REGISTRATIONS

INTRODUCTION

Government registration of births, marriages and deaths is usually referred to as civil registration and the records as vital records. In Canada, the responsibility for all aspects of civil registration falls to the individual provinces and territories. Availability and access vary from province to province.


AT LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA
Very few registrations of vital statistics records created by federal Indian agents have found their way into the records of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (formerly Department of Indian Affairs). In many cases, the records have not survived or have not been transferred to Library and Archives Canada. Researchers are advised to consult church authorities and provincial government sources for this type of information.

Use the following online database to see what records may be available through Library and Archives Canada:

  • Inventory descriptions relating to vital statistics can be obtained from the Archives Search database using the keywords "vital statistics" and limiting the search by selecting series and government. File information can be obtained from the Archives Search database using keywords such as birth, death or marriage.
  • To order a print or digital reproduction of material in the collection at Library and Archives Canada, please visit their Reproduction Requests web page. Note that there may be restrictions to access for some documents.

AT VPL
The Vancouver Public Library holds microfilm resources relating to British Columbia and Ontario records. These include a complete microfilm set of available British Columbia registrations, a set of indexes to the Ontario registrations and the overseas death registrations for Ontario. For the other provinces you must contact the specific provincial Vital Statistics office.

Please visit our Civil Registration page for more general information on this topic and Finding BC Civil Registration Records or Finding Ontario Civil Registration Records for more detailed information on obtaining records for these provinces.

British Columbia Aboriginal Registrations
Some "Indian" registrations of vital events that took place on reserves in British Columbia are found on microfilm reels called Indian births, marriages and deaths. These registrations are still found the same way as all other B.C. Civil Registration Records.

The only persons excluded from registration under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act (SBC 1872, c. 26) were Chinese and Aboriginals (referred to in the legislation and registered as Indians). This was changed by an amendment in 1897 (SBC 1897, c. 33, s. 3) which stated that the Act would apply to all races including all Aboriginals, Chinese and Japanese. However, the Act was amended in 1899 (SBC 1899, c. 8 s. 3) to once again exclude Aboriginals from provincial registration. This continued until the Act was amended again in 1916 (SBC 1916, c. 73, s. 3.2) to authorize the registration of Aboriginals, which began in 1917 with Indian Agents submitting registrations monthly. (Source: BC Archives Reference Guide - Guide to Using the BC Vital Statistics "Indian" Birth, Marriage and Death Registration Microfilm)

Births
Marriages
Deaths
 
List of BC Archives Microfilm Numbers for Aboriginal Civil Registrations
BIRTHS MARRIAGES DEATHS
    * B13375 & B13377 missing from collection
     
B13802 - 1868-1897 - delayed B11391 - 1917-1921 B13359 - 1917-1921
B13803 - 1898 - delayed B13888 - 1873-1922 B13360 - 1922-1926
B13868 - 1899 - delayed B13889 - 1923 B13361 - 1927-1930
B13869 - 1900 - delayed B13891 - 1925 B13362 - 1931-1934
B13870 - 1901 - delayed B13892 - 1926 B13363 - 1935-1937
B13871 - 1902 - delayed B13893 - 1927 B13374 - 1938-1940
B13682 - 1903 B13894 - 1928 B13375 - 1941-1944 *
  B13895 - 1929 B13376 - 1945-1949
  B13896 - 1930 B13377 - 1950-1956 *
  B13897 - 1931 B13378 - 1916-1950 - delayed
  B13898 - 1932  

 

Aboriginal Names
Names were recorded in early documents according to how the person completing the form thought the name sounded. Usually, this name appears in the index in the surname field with a given name shown as "unknown". Early registrations often contained only one European name which appears in the surname or the given name fields and the word "unknown" appears in the other field for the missing surname or given name.

Marriage Registrations
Many early Aboriginal marriage registrations contain only one European given name for both the bride and the groom (e.g. John unknown and Mary unknown). If the name of the father of the bride and/or the groom was shown on the registration, those names were inserted in the index as the surname of the respective bride and groom (e.g. John, son of Peter became John Peter, and Mary, daughter of Casimir became Mary Casimir).

One strategy is to search marriage registrations by the name of the community or reserve, and leave the given and surname fields blank. To reduce your results, restrict the search to a year or range of years. Searching through the microfilm of the registrations may be the only way to find some registrations. This has been made easier by filming "Indian" registration on separate reels.

ADOPTION

Explore the topic of aboriginal adoption with the following resources:


WEBSITES


AT VPL

The Adoption of Native Canadian Children (1984)
Margaret Ward 
362.734 W26a

For Seven Generations: An Information Legacy of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1995)
Level 6. Ref. CD-ROM 970.5 C2137fs

Project Eagle Feather
DVD 362.7089 P96e

Stolen from Our Embrace: The Abduction of First Nations Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities (1997) 
Suzanne Fournier and Ernie Crey 
370.1174 F77s

CHURCH RECORDS

For information on records from churches in Canada, please see the Church Records section of the Genealogy and Family History guide.


BC BAPTISMS
An online index to baptismal records in British Columbia from 1836 to 1888 is available through the B.C. Archives' Vital Events Search. By default, the online form searches all of the event types. To search only the baptisms, you will need to deselect the births, marriages, deaths, and colonial marriages check boxes. Access to the full records is through the church named in the index.

Searching by Event Place can be a very effective way to browse the index (e.g. Lillooet).

Many entries show only a western first name and no surname.

  • Parent's surnames marked UNKNOWN
  • OR - parents with first name + UNKNOWN

Not all entries are for infants - some were adults, and sometimes a baptism preceded a marriage, etc.

RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS

"Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870's. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children" (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada "About Us", paragraph 1).

Indian Residential School System in Canada
This research guide from the Xwi7xwa Library at UBC is full of resources to help researchers looking for information on residential schools in Canada.

The Children Remembered - Residential School Archive Project
Survivors from residential schools across Canada and Church leaders and staff participated in this United Church of Canada virtual exhibit that includes photographs, individual residential school profiles, bibliographies and Internet resources.

List of Indian Residential Schools in Canada (Wikipedia)
Locate schools in your area of research. Once you know the name of a school, you can try to find that school on a census.

Conducting Research on Residential Schools (PDF)
This guide is a tool to help researchers navigate the records of the Indian and Inuit Affairs Program, where the bulk of the records related to Residential Schools are located, in Record Group (RG) 10. It also provides a starting point for research in other parts of LAC’s collection. Finally, it provides approaches that may be applied to research into, for instance, the Indian Day Schools system, and indeed many other subjects in the area of Aboriginal history.

Where Are the Children: Healing the Legacy of the Residential Schools
This virtual exhibit gives a voice to the untold stories of so many Aboriginal boys and girls who attended residential schools in Canada from 1831 to the 1990's.

School Files Series (PDF) (Library and Archives Canada)
This PDF document from Library and Archives Canada provides a microfilm list of files dealing with all aspects of Indian school administration throughout Canada. For more information, see the archival description: MIKAN 157505.

CENSUS

Note: Federal census returns are useful genealogical sources because they list the ethnic origin of every individual inumerated in the census. According to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, entry of the term "Indian" in the federal census returns does not in itself constitute legal proof of origin for the person concerned. Please consult the Library and Archives Canada Censuses web page.
 

Early "Indian censuses" found in RG 10 fonds were statistical in nature and did not identify each and every individual in the Indian population. Some were just lists of Indian heads of families.

Beginning in 1871, the Annual Reports of the Department of Indian Affairs included band censuses taken by Indian agents. These include statistical information on band populations and has been digitized by Library and Archives Canada. See Indian Affairs Annual Reports 1864-1990.

In 1939, departmental agents began recording not just the names but also the sex, age, civil status and band number of every Indian. After 1951, the Indian register became the means of recording this information.

Not all Indian censuses created by the Department of Indian Affairs and its agents found their way into RG 10 fonds. Some did not survive; others have yet to be transferred to Library and Archives Canada.


FINDING CENSUS RECORDS ONLINE

Library and Archives Canada
LAC has a number of searchable Canadian Census databases. Not all of these databases can be searched nominally (by name). Quite a few, if not all, have a keyword search field. The 1881 census index includes a field for Ethnic Origin. In all cases, enter the term "Indian" (as it was recorded historically).

Finding Census Records:

  • Archives Search - use this database to find descriptions of censuses in RG 10.
  • Archives Search - use this database to locate file information. Search by name of bands or agencies. Many of the documents have access restrictions.
  • To order a print or digital reproduction of material in the collection at Library and Archives Canada, please visit their Reproduction Requests web page. Note that there may be restrictions to access for some documents.

Ancestry Library Edition
Most Canadian census records have a column for race or nationality, and you can search ALE using the term "Indian" (as it was recorded historically) in either the race/nationality field or the keyword field. Ancestry Library Edition is available at VPL locations only; no remote access.

Notes about searching by racial origin:

  • Some "off-reserve" aboriginal people were enumerated as "white" or could have been of mixed race
  • Head of household was "white" and the other members of the household are listed the same
  • Or the reverse can be true due to transcription errors

Automated Genealogy
Automated Genealogy hosts several indexing projects for Canadian censuses and offers the option of searching within "Aboriginal Agencies" (i.e. reservations) in the 1901 Census Records for ABORIGINAL AGENCIES, British Columbia.


READING THE RECORDS

  • "R" for red was used in the column for "Colour"
  • Anything entered in columns for "Religion" can be clues to finding parish records
  • Surnames could be taken from father's European given name

MILITARY RECORDS

Indigenous Soldiers - Foreign Battlefields

Informational pages about military participation during both world wars. Includes biographical information on Aboriginal soldiers noted for "outstanding accomplishments."

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Inuit and Métis

INUIT
The aboriginal people of Arctic Canada are the Inuit. From 1867 to 1939, the Inuit people fell outside the responsibility of the Department of Indian Affairs. Due to the fact that Section 92 (24) of the British North America Act mentions only "Indians" and no other Aboriginal group, the Inuit were considered regular citizens. The Québec government sought compensation for assistance provided to Inuit living within the province, arguing that the Inuit should be a federal responsibility just as Status Indians were. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1939 that, for administrative purposes, the Inuit should be considered as "Indians" and be the responsibility of the federal government. A short time after this ruling, a specific branch in the Department of Mines and Resources was mandated with the welfare of the Inuit.

Archives Search

  • Useful genealogical records may be found in the Northern Affairs Program sous-fond (RG 85) using the keywords "Eskimo$" or "Inuit$" or the name of a person or a place.

Project Naming

  • The goal of this project is the identification of Inuit portrayed in some of the photographic collections of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in Ottawa.

Genealogy - Avataq Cultural Institute

  • As Inuit tradition is essentially oral, in 1987 the Avataq Cultural Centre began an important research program aiming to document Inuit genealogical data in Nunavik.

MÉTIS
The Métis are people of mixed First Nation and European ancestry who identify themselves as Métis, distinct from Indian, Inuit or non-Aboriginal people. Not all Canadians of mixed Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry identify themselves as Métis.

Websites of Interest

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