Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Chinese Canadian history, Historical documents, Historical research, Microform research, Newspaper research, Vancouver history, Writers

Vancouver Sun newspapers online 1912-2018 FREE for in-house use at the VPL (Vancouver Public Libray)

Last week I reported that the Vancouver Sun newspaper is now searchable online within the Ancestry digital resource of the VPL for the date range 1912-2018.

folded newspapers
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This way to search will shave hours off your research time plus give you easy access to news stories that might whet your appetite and inspire you to to write a story, make a movie, paint a picture, or just have fun exploring the antics you humans get into.

It sure beats locating, loading, scrolling, and unloading rolls of microfilm that can eat up lots of time with sometimes negligible results.

This new database allows you to search by keyword, title, news-reporter, or date and to narrow it by country, province, city, and individual newspaper – of which there are hundreds.

If you’re looking for stories from the Vancouver Sun specifically you’ll need to narrow your search by choosing country (Canada); province (British Columbia); city (Vancouver); and finally, newspaper (Vancouver Sun).

Or you search within one  entire newspaper from one a particular day or date-range, or by date-range followed by keyword search within that range.

You can also select any number of newspapers to do a simultaneous search in multiple newspapers anytime or for a specific date-range.

Like any kind of searchable database, there are usually multiple ways to search and you’ll probably find your favourite if you do enough searches and within a short enough  period of time to get it into your head.

I always find it easiest to have a search in mind before I go through a new database. It makes it less vague and probably more useful in the long-run. Here are my steps:

  • Go through each tab on the database’s interface page (what you see on your screen which is a user-friendly rendition of the back-end of the database) and see what options they provide; also any sidebars
  • Keep track of how I do my searches, making hand-written notes on a sheet of paper at each step so I don’t get lost or forget what I’ve done
  • Assess the value of those steps for the type of search I’m doing and adjust/go back/keep as appropriate.

It’s sometimes tempting to get lots of results but if 99% of them are no good you just end up spending time combing through and eliminating them.  Better to get fewer, more specific results than hundreds of useless ones.

Unless you’re just browsing for ideas …….

I did a search for a column I wrote for the Sun  in 1997 which I’d couldn’t find in my paper files anymore.  First I narrowed my search to the Vancouver Sun, then to the date I knew it was published, and finally I did a keyword search within those parameters, and it came up nice ‘n easy.

I’ve just added it to my “Clippings” file that is part of the Ancestry site you might find useful.

If you want to try out online searches from your home or office there is a 7-day free trial after which you have to start paying $74.90 for six months, unless you cancel your free trial before it ends.  So write on your calendar when you need to cancel the free trial if you don’t want to be charged. This is the only way to access it from home after your free trial ends.

But if you can get into any branch  of the Vancouver Public Library, you can get free access to it through the Ancestor digital resource.  Check with a librarian for any help getting into it.

I imagine it’s the same with most public libraries but call your first to be sure.

And would you leave a comment if you get free access to it at another library or your experience using this resource so we can all learn?

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Chinese Canadian history, Historical documents, Historical photos, Historical research, Library, Photos, Vancouver history, Writers

Photo research

Red Cross booth 1918
Red Cross booth at a war-time carnival in Vancouver. Image by James Crookall, circa 1918. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives (photo 260-1048)

 

Last week I wrote about the use and value of using historical photos for research.

Today I’ll give you a few tips on how to track down historical photos in archives and libraries and some of the challenges of historical photographic research

Keep in mind that the kinds of images you’ll find within any given repository will reflect the mandate of that archive – be it one holding records pertaining to Japanese Canadians or one with a local mandate.  See Archival Research – Where to start.

Because many smaller archives were started by passionate local historians, there are many idiosyncratic cataloguing systems and ways in which photos have been organized. Though there is a move toward standardization, it’s always a good idea to check with the reference archivist about the most efficient way to track down what you’re looking for.

For larger archives there has been a move to digitize many images and make them available for research online through a database over the past two decades.

However budgetary constraints, staff time and expertise, and relative priority of the photos will limit how many photos will be available electronically.  For example in a municipal archive, records that help the current city staff plan and implement programs will take priority over records that are merely of interest to the public, however worthy.

Digitizing photos will often take second place to things like indexing city council minutes, planning documents, engineering records and other records used by city staff  in the course  of carrying out their work.

In smaller, local or cultural archives there’s less chance that photos will be digitized. In many cases, photocopies or reproductions may be available to view  in binders or files in the reference room. In other cases, you may only get a list of photos and have to fill out a request form to view them.

Continually weigh your time and priorities.

Consider the amount of time it takes to research a database, fill  out a request form, wait for the retrieval.  This could take up at least 15 minutes of your time only to result in a 2 second look at something to know it won’t help in your research.

Tracking down photos that are described in list format can be even more time-consuming. And disappointing.

Once you request and receive a picture, you may see, immediately, that it is not what you’re looking for. The image might not be exactly how it was described, or there may be several photos that are very similar – for example a series of interior shots of a lumber mill – and not yield as much information as you had hoped. Or the time period might not be right for your research.

On the other hand it could yield just the right image or information you need.

Keep in mind that some historical images only exist in negative format, some of which are glass and therefore fragile, and that panorama images can be huge and unwieldy. All of these things mean there are times when you may have to make a good case for viewing an original image. And even then your request may be refused.

Archives, Artists, British Columbia history, Canada history, Chinese Canadian history, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Paintings, Research, Southeast Asian community in Vancouver history, Vancouver history, women's history, Writers

Beauty of artwork – in more ways than one

Vancouver historical image
Edward Roper painting of Burrard Inlet, circa 188_. Property of the City of Vancouver Archives

I can’t tell you enough how much I love looking at old paintings and photos of a place, not only for the artistic pleasure they give but, from a historical research perspective, for the detail they convey.

Take this painting of the early Vancouver waterfront by Edward Roper, for example. It shows people working – from what I can tell possibly some Squamish people hauling boats onshore, a couple of Chinese men, and others at the waterfront.  It gives me a strong image from that very time, from the perspective of an astute observer.

And even thought the complete image is undoubtedly contrived, there is a lot here to feed my imagination and fuel the creative process for the novel I’m writing set in Vancouver beginning in the 1880s.

Whereas many photos of the times are of people of prominence or group shots of factory workers or picnic groups, there is a lot of historical artwork that shows everyday people doing ordinary, everyday things.

Clothing, attitude, work being carried out, tools, scenery, and more can be conveyed in a single painting that could take a long time to discern through written records or be difficult to set up in a photograph.

Yet, along with historical photos, they are a rich resource for any creative or documentary research you may want to do. They are further different from photos, however, in that an artist can add in details that might not be present or apparent from a photo.

Check your local archival repositories, art galleries, and museums for any local historical paintings they might have in their collection.  Even though, in some cases, the artwork itself may not be very good, drawings and paintings will give you a “snapshot” impression of a place that may be just enough for you to imagine your own creative work emanating from it.

Enjoy!

Alberta history, Alexander St, Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Chinese Canadian history, Fairview, Historical documents, Historical research, Library, Manitoba, Northwest Territories history, Research, Southeast Asian community in Vancouver history, Vancouver history, Women, women's history

The Imperial Automatic Voting Machine Company

space contraption
Artist: Chanut is Industries License: CC Attribution 3.0 Unported

 

In Vancouver in 1903, a company called The Imperial Automatic Voting Machine Company was looking for investors to raise 250 thousand dollars, issuing shares for a dollar each.

The mood in Vancouver was ecstatic that year following the depression of the 1890s, and along with all that money came the a period of scams and reckless speculation.

I wonder what that voting machine was like and how it worked –  if it ever even came into being.

Less dramatic, perhaps, but interesting in a different way,  the city directory where I found the Imperial voting machine company also showed me that on Hastings Street – what is now downtown Vancouver – a couple of blacksmiths, a couple of Chinese laundries, and a few warehouses. Even a foundry with a few boarding houses interspersed here and there.

A little further away there was a harness-maker, a prospector, a steam-boatman, a cannery manger, and a shingle sawyer.

Not the kind of people who live in the city today!

All this I found in the collection of BC Directories 1860-1955 which are available online through the Vancouver Public Library.

And here is a link to a collection of directories covering Alberta, Manitoba, and Northwest Territories Directories going back to 1878.

And another link to locating historical directories across other Canadian jurisdictions. The years vary. Links to Canadian historical directories

Directories exist in almost every other jurisdiction in the English-speaking world and possibly elsewhere in some format, but that is beyond my ken.

If the above links aren’t helpful for your research, do a google search using the term, “historical directory” and the name of jurisdiction.

 

 

 

Archives, British Columbia history, Canada history, Chinese Canadian history, Historical research, women's history

On the Idiosyncrasies of directories

I was using old Vancouver directories this morning as part of my research and am always impressed with what an amazing resource they are.

Directories are like a phone book or criss-cross where you can look up an address and see who lives there, or look up a name and find out their location.

They still have a limited distribution today, but before the internet these annual publications were essential to daily life and daily business.

As with so many historical resources, there is a vast difference in what information they provide and the way they’re arranged

Directories give you names of individuals, their addresses, and also, often, the occupation of the head of the household (usually a man).

But you can also get an idea of  the numbers and occupations of  widows or other single women listed as seamstresses, nurses, stenographers, or those running rooming houses.

 

1903HastingsDirectory

There’s also often a section of a directory that is organized by street address. So you can look up a street and get an idea its character, its people, and the kind of work they do.

Today I wanted one of the characters in the historical novel set in Vancouver that I’m writing to walk along Hastings and Alexander Streets around 1903 and compare it with the same stretch when he arrived in the city in 1886.  I wanted to add some authentic detail about what businesses he would pass and how many houses were still there on these streets, where there are now mostly pawnshops, bars, and social service agencies.

All of this gives an idea of the kinds of noise, smell, and activity on this one street at this one time.

Other street listings might show it was a theatre and entertainment district with cafes and bars, or an area with a number of public institutions – art galleries, courthouses, schools, colleges. Or that it was mostly residential, mostly warehouses, or mostly factories.

Of course there are some limitations to directories.

For example, people of races other than white were often listed simply as Hindoo (sic), Chinese, or Japanese, though occasionally also by name. From this you can surmise the character of the neighbourhood itself, as well as the attitude of those collecting and publishing the directories.

Women too have limited listings and usually only included women who were single or widowed.

To flesh out a story or find other interesting tidbits within directories, be sure to look at the table of contents for each year.

In some years there is no street index – or it is in a different volume. At other times you’ll find government office listings, separate Chinese sections, or year-in-review reports, and more. In the 1903 directory I found a listing of incorporated companies in BC where I found the Imperial Automatic Voting Machine Company.