By Valerie Casbourn
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Chinese Canadian genealogy research can draw on many different historical records and resources. Two important sets of records are the General Registers of Chinese Immigration and Chinese Immigration (C.I.) 9 certificates. These records can provide a wealth of genealogical information, and they can be searched in Library and Archives Canada’s Immigrants from China, 1885–1949 database. The help page includes descriptions of these records and others indexed in the database and instructions for searching.
These records were created because of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885. This discriminatory legislation was passed by the federal government to restrict immigration from China to Canada. It was the first law in Canada to restrict immigration on the basis of ethnic origin. The legislation required the registration of everyone who immigrated from China to Canada. It also imposed a duty of $50, known as the head tax, to be paid by each Chinese immigrant arriving in Canada, with some exceptions. The amount was increased to $100 in 1900 and then to $500 in 1903. The legislation was later replaced by the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which abolished the head tax but almost completely stopped Chinese immigration to Canada. It was not repealed until 1947.
A complex record-keeping system of registers and C.I. certificates was established in 1885, and more certificates were added in subsequent years. This system was gradually phased out between 1947 and 1953, after the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed.
General Registers of Chinese Immigration
The General Registers of Chinese Immigration were maintained by the office of the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, located in Ottawa. The registers were intended to record every Chinese person who immigrated to Canada between 1885 and 1949. There are also entries for some individuals who arrived as early as 1860. The registers are in rough chronological order, based on the date of arrival.
The entries in the register can tell you when each individual immigrated to Canada, their age at the time, their place of birth in China, their occupation and the details of their arrival. The General Registers are also a record of payment of the head tax and show the amount paid by each person (if applicable) and any landing certificates issued.
The most well known of these certificates is the C.I.5, also known as the “head tax certificate.” The C.I.5 was issued to confirm payment of the head tax, and most were retained by the individuals who received them. The first version of the C.I.5 was introduced in 1885, and it was issued until 1912 when it was replaced by a new version that included a photograph of the individual.
The fourth line on the General Register page pictured above is the entry for Jung Hang, who arrived in Vancouver, B.C., in May 1899 on the ship S.S. Empress of India. Passenger lists also record people arriving in Canada by ship, but there are no passenger lists for arrivals in British Columbia before 1905. If you are researching someone who immigrated from China before that date, you may find details of their arrival in the General Register.
Jung Hang’s entry in the General Register says that he was 25 years old when he arrived in 1899, which means he was born in approximately 1874. His place of birth is recorded as Ling Chung, Senway, China.
The register entry also shows that C.I.5 certificate no. 23333 was issued to Jung Hang and that he paid the required duty fee of $50, which was the amount of the head tax at the time.
Chinese Immigration 9 certificates
Between 1885 and 1947, every Chinese person in Canada was required to register with immigration authorities before leaving the country temporarily. The practice continued for several years after the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, not ending until 1953. The C.I.9 certificates were outward registration records that documented each person’s departure and return and also included personal details valuable for genealogy. The C.I.9 certificates from Vancouver and Victoria contain, with some exceptions, the certificates issued between 1910 and 1953. The C.I.9 certificates on microfilm reels T-6038 to T-6052 are indexed in the Immigrants from China, 1885-1949 database. These reels contain C.I.9 certificates issued at the ports of Vancouver and Victoria between 1910 and 1920 to individuals who were born abroad and between 1913 and 1952 to individuals born in Canada.
In addition to details about travel, the certificates include the individual’s name (and a second version of their name, if applicable) and their age and place of birth. They also list the person’s occupation and place of residence in Canada. For those who immigrated to Canada, the certificates list the year they first arrived in Canada. There is also a photograph of the individual and their signature in Chinese characters.
This C.I. 9 certificate was issued for Wong Yat Shun on April 30, 1919, and shows that she was sailing from Vancouver to Hong Kong on the ship S.S. Empress of Asia, departing on May 1, 1919. The section at the bottom of the page has a stamp from the port of Vancouver, B.C., that shows she returned on July 19, 1920, on the S.S. Empress of Russia.
The personal details included in the certificate tell us that Wong Yat Shun was born in 1907 in Ladner, B.C., and that she was 12 years old and still lived in Ladner when the certificate was issued.
More resources for Chinese Canadian genealogy
Consult our Chinese Canadians page for more resources for genealogy and family history research, including census records, immigration records, citizenship and naturalization records and published sources.
Valerie Casbourn is an archivist at the Halifax office of Library and Archives Canada.