Some of my most heartening experiences as an archivist involved connecting people with key records that illuminate their ancestry. Genealogy is more than a hobby; it satisfies a deep yearning for connection.
Millions of archival records pertinent to genealogy are available online. The BC Archives preserves a vast quantity of these and is a pioneer in microfilming and digitization partnerships. We provide digital access to BC Vital Statistics Agency records and supply content to FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.ca. The Archives is rich in information about British Columbians.
By the time I finally got around to researching my own family three years ago, a host of records were now available online: vital events records – births, baptisms, marriages and deaths; census records; military attestation papers; and ships’ passenger lists. The latter are held by Library and Archives Canada.
I immersed myself in the quest to populate my pedigree chart and eventually located records of over 600 individuals in Lower Canada, England and Scotland to whom I was related. My French Canadian ancestry can be documented back to Jacques Bourdon (1645–1724) who arrived in New France in 1666. I was also able to trace my ancestry in Gloucestershire to the 15th century.
Beyond this, though, there was more significance for me in learning about ancestors within my memory – for instance, those depicted in a treasured family photograph and with whom I had a close connection, though only partly understood. As a child, I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask relatives the right questions: Why did you emigrate? What were conditions like? How did you feel about your prospects? Genealogy has given me a second chance.
Here is what I learned from applying archival records to the bare-bones information I had concerning this photograph of family and friends in Burnaby, BC, around 1912:
This sole surviving photograph celebrates the reunification of a family clan from a tiny village in Gloucestershire to Central Park, BC (now Burnaby), a stop mid-way on the Vancouver-New Westminster streetcar line. These people worked hard as homemakers, nurses, farmers, plumbers; several worked for the Union Steamships Company. We often assume our ancestors worked hard. The 1911 census records that my grandfather worked a 60 hour week as a nurseryman, likely for Brown Brothers Florists.
A number of my family found initial employment at Essondale Hospital, where their Uncle Ted Stinchcombe was the head groundskeeper. They worshipped, married and were eulogized at St John the Divine Anglican Church on Kingsway. They went to war, raised smaller families than their own in England (one or two children), struggled during the great depression, watched anxiously as their sons headed off to another world war, and knew the joy of seeing their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Did they want to recreate “England’s green and pleasant land” thousands of miles away on the Pacific? I don’t think so. They saw themselves as Canadians. The old country was just that – old. My grandfather married a pretty young nurse who had arrived to work at Essondale in 1913. He was an acetylene welder by 1918, a far cry from his trade as a stonemason in Gloucestershire. They started a dairy farm near Aldergrove, a forty-acre stump ranch that they toiled over until 1943. They raised two children there, my Mum, June Smith, and my Uncle Ben.
Their district was called Aberdeen and while there were predictable surnames such as MacKinnon, and others of UK origin, there were also new names: Lundeburg, Frankoski, Fleugel, LeFeuvre, Emmanuel, Catto, Danyliuk, Skulimoski, Nishimoto and Marayama. The kids all mixed at the local school, the mothers in the community association and the fathers through the dairy cooperative, road work and logging, almost anything to supplement the family income.
My grandfather was a local secretary for the Fraser Valley Milk Producers’ Association – part of the cooperative movement – and a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor of the New Democratic Party. He worked to elect Robert Blatchford Swailes to the BC Legislature in 1933. My grandparents participated in their communities and embraced their new country.
During the war, my grandparents sold the farm and returned to Burnaby – it was just too hard to run with everyone engaged in war work. After Pearl Harbor, neighbours Nishimoto and Marayama were interned. Their berry farms were confiscated and they never returned to the valley.
My grandparents, the Smiths, returned to England only once, near the ends of their lives, in 1958, this time aboard the Empress of Canada. They were not restricted to 3rd class quarters as they were 49 years earlier. They enjoyed reunions with family and friends but my grandfather lamented the “decay” of his boyhood village. By that time he spoke of the English as “them”.
Several ancestors, including my grandfather, tended the grounds and gardens at Ocean View Burial Park during the ’40s and ’50s. Quite a few of the people in the photograph and their children and spouses are buried there, just a short walk from the site of the 1912 photograph.
Is any of this important to anyone besides me? Mainly, it is personally satisfying. However, this is also a micro-example of chain-migration theory in action. I feel that the more of these examples we can assemble, the more we can understand immigration. These stories remind us in the 21st century that, except for the First Nations peoples, everyone else came here from somewhere else.