Who lived in your house — in 10 (mostly easy) steps

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1710 Grant Street ca.1905 CVA SGN 422
1710 Grant Street ca.1905 CVA SGN 422

In some ways, researching your home is like an archeological dig. But with a bit of patience you can find out who built your home, who lived there before you, who was murdered there, who died of a comfortable old age, perhaps, even, who’s haunting it now.

1. City Directories:

I always start with the city directories, and now thanks to the Vancouver Public Library, all of B.C. is online up from 1860 to 1955. After 1955 you can find actual copies at the Vancouver Archives, at the North Vancouver Museum and Archives in Lynn Valley or on microfilm at the VPL. The directories will tell you the name of past residents, owners as well as their occupation. The directories also give information about the population of the time, the business climate and advertisements for businesses—it’s a bit like a tourist brochure.

2. Census:census

Once you’ve discovered the people who lived in your house you can find out all sorts of great information through the census records. If nothing else it will give you a whole new appreciation why you slog through the forms every five years.

3. Ownership Title:

If you’re flush with cash you can always visit the Land Titles Office in New Westminster. If you provide them with a legal description (District, Block, Lot), and payment, they will provide you with details on ownership history

4. Vital Events Records:

death cert

It gets better every year with birth, marriage and death certificates onlineMore often than not, you can even find copies of the actual death certificates. This death certificate, for example, tells you that Errol Flynn died in Vancouver in 1959, that he’d been here six days, that he lived in New York City, was a motion picture actor from Tasmania and that he was married to Patrice Wymore (and that’s just the top half) 

5. Heritage Registers:

If your house has historical merit (and this includes mid-century homes) it may be listed on a Heritage Register. Most municipalities have them and they are almost all online now. Your local city hall will also have a file on your house, and don’t forget to check your local archives.

6. The Vancouver Building Register:

It’s worth checking to see if your house is on the Vancouver Building Register. This register lists tons of  information and sources for residential and commercial buildings in Vancouver.

7.  Building Permits

building permits


Heritage Vancouver took on the herculean task of transcribing the original handwritten registers from Vancouver Archives. As of the end of March 2015 they had just under 33,000  pre-1922 building permits online in a searchable database. Heritage Vancouver also says that if you dig through the water permits at Vancouver Archives you’ll find additional clues to your house’s completion date.


8. Heritage House Tours:

It’s worth a shot, if your house is old enough it may be on one of these tours. New Westminster has run an annual tour for the past 35 years. The Vancouver Heritage Foundation for the past 12 Vancouver Heritage Foundation. and if you’re in Victoria you’re really lucky because the Victoria Heritage Foundation has put out a comprehensive set of four books.

9. Google:

Sometimes the obvious is best. Simply google your address and see if anything interesting pops up. Often past sales will give you pictures and information on the owners. 

10. Newspaper databases:

Taking Google one step further, most newspapers are accessible online through your public library. All you need is your library card. For archival newspapers, the British Colonist is online from 1858-1920.

For more information on researching your home’s history see At Home with History: the secrets of Vancouver’s heritage houses 

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.
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  1. Hello Eve,
    I saw this link on FB so followed it to here. I just love the BC directories! I discovered them a few years ago, but recently when indulging in the fascinating hobby of genealogy research I learned that there are shelves of actual directories at the central library branch in Vancouver. They are truly unique. I love the online ones too, and have found out where my paternal grandparents lived in 1942 after they moved to Vancouver from Saskatchewan. I also wrote an article for the Renfrew Collingwood Community newspaper for March 2014. My Dad gave me a 1930 BC directory a while back and that’s what started my love of such research. I enjoy your columns.

    1. Hi Loretta: thanks for taking the time to leave a note. I love the actual directories as well, spent tons of time at the Vancouver Archives and I often pop down to the Lynn Valley archives near my house so I can page through them. Can’t beat online for a time saver though.

  2. Photo credit required! Seen above is the home of Mayor John Hendry at 729 Queen Ave in New Westminster, at the corner of Queen and Douglas Streets (between 7th & 8th Streets). Douglas Street no longer exists, and I believe it is now known as Ash Street. Then in 1899, Hendry is living at the corner of 8th Street and 3rd Ave. And according to James Johnstone, the house was demolished in 1912. As a footnote, you could also add the book “Street Names of Vancouver” to your list in order to sort out all those street name changes (also listed at the vpl with the BCCDs).

  3. …and the actual building permits are a key resource: http://permits.heritagevancouer.org

    We’ve been actively transcribing the original handwritten registers from the CVA, and as of March 2014, have 30,000 pre-1922 building permits online in a searchable database (historical data, not necessarily contemporary data). More to come, based on volunteers transcribing 🙂

    The database covers the three pre-1929 districts of the City of Vancouver, Municipality of South Vancouver, and the Municipality of Point Grey.

    Also, digging into the water permits at the CVA, will give you additional clues to when the house was completed and/or details.

    1. Thanks so much for mentioning this Heritage Vancouver! I better rewrite this to 10 steps! It’s a huge amount of work, but incredibly helpful and I’m extremely grateful to you for doing this.

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