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Genealogy and Family History

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


Civil registration refers to birth, marriage, and death records collected by the government. The Vancouver Public Library holds microfilm copies of B.C. civil registration records that have been released to the public. This guide explains how to access these records at the VPL.

Finding BC Civil Registration Records


Civil registration in British Columbia began in 1872, although a few birth records exist prior to this date. Birth records are released to the public after 120 years, marriages after 75 years, and deaths after 20 years. Prior to 2004, birth records were released after 100 years, so birth records up to and including 1903 are available. 1904 records, however, will not be released until 2025. Current coverage is as follows:

  • Birth Registrations: 1854-1903
  • Marriage Registrations: 1872-1943
  • Death Registrations: 1872-1998

Civil registration records from dates after those indicated above are held by the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency, and may be released, under certain conditions. For more information, call the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency toll-free within B.C. at 1-888-876-1633 or visit the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency website.

Baptismal records (1836-1888) and colonial marriage records (1859-1872) are also available. Please see the Access tab above for more information.


Access to historical British Columbia civil registration records has changed over time: from indexes on microfiche to online indexes and from registration records on microfilm to online digitized images. While records are being digitized, researchers may still need to access the microfilm copies.

Indexes to historical British Columbia civil registrations are available online using two sources:

  1. Vital Events Search from the British Columbia Archives
  2. British Columbia Historical Record Collections from FamilySearch

This guide describes how to use the online B.C. Archives' Vital Events Search. The search strategies are very similar, although, the search interface is different. Researchers may want to also use FamilySearch, especially if they do not get any results from the former. The advanced search functions on FamilySearch are excellent and the search result entries provide fuller transcriptions of information. Unfortunately, the FamilySearch indexes are not up-to-date and may not contain the latest year or two.

NOTE: A known technical issue with the newer Vital Events Search sometimes returns results without the B.C. Archives microfilm number (e.g. B13140). Use Ancestry Library Edition (available for in-library use only at any of our branches), or FamilySearch if a B.C. Archives microfilm number is not shown in the newer Vital Events Search. The newer B.C. Vital Events Search includes some digitized copies of records, so it is advisable to start with this source first.


Civil registration records are available in two formats:

  1. Online Digitized Images - In addition to the indexes, the Vital Events Search currently hosts online digitized images for more than half of all publicly released records; new digitized images will be loaded on a regular basis. The FamilySearch civil registrations databases collectively contain over 1 million digitized images. While records are being digitized, it is recommended that you search both these databases to determine if a digitized copy is available.
  2. Microfilm - The Vancouver Public Library has the complete set of publicly released microfilms (*). These are on Level 6 at the Central Library. 
Format Records and Dates Full Images
(B.C. Archives)
Births - 1854-1903 Some
Marriages - 1859-1943 † Some
Deaths - 1872-1998 Some
Births - 1854-1903 Some
Marriages - 1859-1932; 1937-1938 † Some
Deaths - 1872-1986; 1992-1993 Some
(Level 6, Central Library)
Births - 1854-1903 Yes
Marriages - 1859-1933 † Yes
Deaths - 1872-1988 Yes
† Includes colonial marriages


Vital Events Search can also be used to search for baptisms (1836-1888) and colonial marriages (1859-1872). VPL has the colonial marriages microfilm (B09707). Microfilm copies of the corresponding baptismal records are not available. Contact the originating church, named in the full index entry, to enquire about access to baptismal records referenced in the index. See Church Records for more details.

If a digitized image is not found online, the Vital Events Search can be used to find the appropriate B.C. Archives microfilm reel number and the registration number of the record that you are looking for. See The Three-Step Process tab above for more information on locating a microfilm at the Central Library.

NOTE: There has been no general release of the marriage and death registration microfilm reels since 2009. The 1934 to 1943 indexes to marriage registrations and the 1989 to 1998 indexes to death registrations are available online, but the corresponding marriage and death registrations are not publicly available on microfilm. If a digitized image is not found online, copies of individual registrations not available on microfilm can be ordered directly from the BC Vital Statistics Agency - See Order a Genealogy Certificate for information.

The following death registration reels have gone missing from the collection.

  • B13355 (1976)
  • B13375 (1941-1944) - Indigenous registrations
  • B13377 (1950-1956) - Indigenous registrations


Locating copies of B.C. civil birth, marriage and death records on microfilm at the Vancouver Public Library is a 3-step process:

  1. Use the Vital Events Search to find an entry for the person in whom you are interested. Note the index information.
  2. Locate the correct microfilm.
  3. Find the actual record of the person's birth, marriage, or death on the microfilm.

The following example of a death registration search uses the name of Hewitt Bostock, who died in 1930. The same 3-step strategy can be used to search for birth and marriage records.

Step 1 - Using the Vital Events Search

Search for B.C. vital events using the Vital Events Search.

  • For those entries where a digitized image in not available online, you will need to follow the steps outlined here to find the registration on one of the microfilm reels available at the Central Library.

In the Advanced Search, by default all of the indexes are selected. Use the checkboxes to choose which index(es) you want to search. You can also use the Select All and Deselect All links in the top right of the Event Type box.

Enter your query in the search fields and click on the Search button at the bottom of the form.

In our example, the Deaths Event Type has been selected and the First Name, Last Name, and Date are entered.

Figure 1

If your search is successful, you will see one or more entries displayed in the search results. Each entry will give you the name, event date, place, and age (deaths only). If you determine that the person for whom you are searching is among the entries displayed, note the Registration Number and the B.C. Archives Mfilm Number.

In the example, only one entry is returned for the person we are seeking (Figure 2):

Figure 2

If your search is not successful, try broadening your search areas by using partial or range searches, possible alternate spellings, or surname only. You might also try the databases on the FamilySearch website.

If you are still unsuccessful and you believe that there should be a record, the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency maintains the official record of births, marriages, and deaths and may be able to assist you in locating a registration through other means, for a fee.

If your search returns a record where NOT FILMED is noted in the microfilm field, please see the Not Filmed tab (above) for more information.

NOTE: A known technical issue with the newer Vital Events Search sometimes returns results without the B.C. Archives microfilm number (e.g. B13140). Use Ancestry Library Edition (available for in-library use only at any of our branches), or FamilySearch if a B.C. Archives microfilm number is not shown in the newer Vital Events Search. The newer B.C. Vital Events Search includes some digitized copies of records, so it is advisable to start with this source first.


Step 2 - Finding the Microfilm Roll

B.C. vital events microfilms, with reproductions of full certificates, are located on Level 6 at the Central Library, adjacent to the Genealogy section. Films are divided into separate sections for Births, Marriages and Deaths and are stored in numerical order within these sections.

The B.C. Archives Mfilm Number, which always starts with a B, appears on the label of each box, in the upper left hand corner (see Figure 3). The number in our example is B13140.

Figure 3

Step 3 - Finding the Record

Once you have found the correct microfilm, use the Registration Number to find the actual record on the microfilm roll. In our example, the Registration Number is 1930-09-444275. The last set of 6 numbers are the important ones. The first 3 numbers (444) represent the volume number (volume numbers are also noted on the microfilm box labels, see Figure 3 above). When you have the film mounted on a microfilm reader, look for the volume number displayed either above or below the form.

The last 3 numbers of the Registration Number, 275, will appear somewhere on the top right hand corner of the document. In this example, it appears as part of a longer number (32275) stamped on the record (see Figure 4). In later records, there is a box for this number but on earlier ones it could be placed at random.

Note: Some records will be listed out-of-order, usually at the front of a volume, if they were missed in microfilming or the event was registered late.

The numbering system changed in 1986. The volume number, if it existed, no longer formed part of the registration number. Records are organized in sequential order.

Figure 4


Although the information provided varies according to time period, many B.C. vital event records provide a wealth of information. Death registrations, for example, may indicate the name, address, age, birth date and occupation of the deceased, as well as cause of death, length of residence in Canada and British Columbia, parents' names and birthplaces, and much more (see Figure 5). Birth and marriage records provide similar kinds of information.

Figure 5


Microform reader-printers are available on Level 6. It is not necessary to pre-book. There are additional machines on Level 5, including a machine that will produce digital copies. Print copies are 40 cents each, using coins or a copy card. For more information, please see our Library Equipment page.

Digitized Images
To view a record, click on the Vital Stat Image(s) link on the search results page. Images can be made larger by clicking anywhere inside the image. To reduce the image back to its original size, click again anywhere inside the image. Printing from the Vital Stat Image(s) page does not produce very good copies. It is recommended that you save the image and then use picture viewing software to print (e.g. Windows Picture and Fax Viewer or Windows Photo Gallery).

Saving an Image:

  • Right click anywhere inside the image and select Save Image As... from the menu
  • Choose the location you would like to save the image to (Save in)
  • Change the filename to something that is meaningful to you (e.g. BOSTOCK-Hewitt-death-1930)
  • Ensure that Save as type is JPEG Image
  • Click on the Save button


In a few cases, individuals searching the indexes will find that instead of providing a microfilm number, the index entry indicates that the record was "NOT FILMED". This is because it was a late registration and was filed in a volume of registrations that are not yet available to the public. In these cases, copies of individual registrations can be ordered directly from the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency - See Order Certificates & Copies for more information.

Electronic Resources