On February 23, Jennifer Clay gave an A to Z workshop to home owners wanting to research the history of their homes. Jennifer has written a guest blog based on her presentation.
By Jennifer Clay
I live in a 1926 heritage home in North Vancouver, and while I had a vague idea of the previous occupants of our home, the key word is ‘vague’. So when my daughter Kristen, 11, was looking for ideas for her heritage fair project, I suggested she research the history of our home.
Our first stop was the local archives where we were shown the City Directories (1871 to 1996). These directories are like an old fashioned “411.ca”—you can look up your address, find out the name of the occupant, his profession, his employer and the name of his wife (after 1934).
The City Directories are just one useful resource at the Archives. You can also look for Building Permits, Property Tax Assessments and Fire Insurance Maps to determine the name of the owner, the type and value of structures built on your property and the relevant dates. You may also be able to find photos of your house, its occupants or your neighbourhood. The Vancouver Public Library has over 90,000 historical photographs. BC Archives has five million, Vancouver Archives about 1.5 million, while the North Vancouver Museum and Archives has a searchable database of 15,000 photos.
If you wish to trace the genealogy of the previous residents of your house, you can search for their names in the 1852, 1901 and 1911 Canadian Census documents, and can also find a wide range of birth, marriage and death certificates for Vital Events which took place in BC and elsewhere in Canada.
By doing all this and more, I was able to trace the family of the first owner (John Bull) back to Britain in the early 1800’s. I found out that he left his home in Ontario in the 1860’s, went to Brooklyn, married the (Catholic) daughter of Irish immigrants, had seven children—including twin girls—and in the 1890’s, brought his family to the Slocan region of BC to seek his fortune. It’s unclear if he found either gold or copper during his 20 year stay, but we did learn that he lost one of his twin girls, Henrietta Maud, on August 8, 1904 in a drowning accident. When my daughter and I figured this out, we both felt a sense of loss ourselves, as by this time, we felt an emotional tie to this pioneering family who once inhabited the same space that we now inhabit. After their stay in the Kootenays, the family came to North Vancouver, where John Bull started a Coal and Building Supply business, built our house at the age of 75, worked until he was 82 and died at 83.
I’m not done yet. It’s my goal to find a photo of John Bull, be it through his descendants or through the archives of the Slocan Valley. It remains to be seen if I will be successful but it has already been a fun and very rewarding journey.