Search Help

Census Search

The census database consists of over 50,000 records. Because so much information is available here, and because you can access the data in so many different ways, a few tips on searching the database may be helpful.

You can also use syntax tools called "wildcards" and "query operators" to carry out more complicated and/or nuanced searches. For more information about these tools, please read the notes under Search Syntax on the Search Tips page.

For information on the meaning and usage of the census terms used on the search page, see the 1881 census enumerator’s notes and the 1891 census enumerator’s notes.

The Census Search uses many of the features available on all of the searches on the viHistory site. Help is available on using these common search features.

[Note: the 1871 Victoria census records are handled differently; see the 1871 Victoria Census Search help.]

How to Use the Basic Search

Straightforward and easy to use. This feature allows you to search for individuals by name, occupation and location, for any or all of the available census years. Simply enter the subject’s family name (last name) or other terms and click the "Search" button. The Search Results page will display the subject’s names (family name and given name), age, occupation, birthplace, location, and family number. All of the search tools can be used in a Basic search.

How to Use the Advanced Search

Use this Search form to query the database using one or a combination of many different fields. Most of the additional fields — for religion, birthplace, infirmities, etc. — include pop-up windows accessible via the data list button. Select items by checking the box beside the item and clicking the "Select" button at the end of the pop-up table. The items you've selected will appear in the Search Form. All of the search tools can be used in an Advanced search.

Those Coloured Dots

The Advanced Census Search covers all of the census years (1881, 1891, 1901) available in the database. The 1881 census had only a few information fields, the 1891 census added 11 more, and the 1901 census added another 12. The 1891 census includes almost all of the 1881 census fields, and the 1901 census includes the 1881 and 1891 fields. The Advanced Search form is used for all of the census years, but there are some fields on the form that are not applicable to all census years. To indicate these fields, colored dots () are shown beside the field label.

The dots represent the census years the field is applicable to. If there are no dots, the field is available in all census years. The color of a dot matches the color of the census year checkbox ( = 1881, = 1891, = 1901). If you enter data for a field that is not available in any of the census years you have selected, the search may fail to find any matches, or may not find what you expected it to.

How to Use the "Fuzzy" Search

Not sure on how to spell a name? You can use the Fuzzy Search feature, which searches the database phonetically and finds those names which sound like the one you're looking for. Enter a name in one of the fields, and click the Search button. You cannot use wild cards or search operators in a fuzzy search, so just enter the name. The results will include names that sound approximately like the name you entered. For example, if you search for "Smith" the results will include not only "Smith", but also "Smithe", "Smyth", "Schmidt" and other variations, some of which may seem a bit odd.

There are various methods available to be used in the fuzzy search; see the Fuzzy Search Methods page for more information on how this kind of search works.

The Search Results List

Any results from your search are displayed in the form of a table. Basic information (Name, Age, Occupation, Location and Family Number) is displayed initially. To view more information on the subject – including the subject’s religion, family origin, and marital status – click on the complete record symbol beside the subject’s name. This will display a drop-down window containing all information entered by the enumerator.

The data in the table columns can be sorted by clicking one of the arrows in the Sort ascending symbol found in each column title. The column that the data is currently sorted on will have one of the arrows in red.

To see all available information on a person on a single page, click the person's name in the list. To get a list of everyone recorded at a location, click the location in the list. To see a list of all members of a family, click on the family number.

If you have additional information about a person, click on the annotate symbol at the right of each line. A page will appear where you can submit your information; the information will appear on this site. If the line also has a annotate symbol, that record already has annotations; click the symbol to view them.

If a links symbol appears at the right of the line, the record has links to other records. Click the symbol to see a list of these links.

How to Use Family Numbers

The number connects a person to his or her "census family" or household. This unique feature allows you to distinguish between persons who had the same surname but who were members of different families. Click on the Family number to display a list of all persons who were a part of your subject’s family or household.

For example, a search on the name Dunsmuir will return twelve (12) individuals with that surname. Some of those listed are associated with Family #540, others with Family #283. By clicking on Family #540, the members of Robert Dunsmuir’s family are displayed, along with the names of the family’s English domestic servant, Chinese cook and Swedish gardener! By clicking on Family #283, the members of James Dunsmuir’s family are displayed, along with the names of a cook and a general labourer who were a part of this household.

Family numbers can also be used to indicate the make up of a hotel or lodging house. For example, Frederick Carne, enumerated in Victoria’s Yates Street Ward in Family #71, was proprietor of the Angel Hotel. By clicking on Family #71, the database reveals details of Carne’s wife and children, as well as information about persons who were residing at the hotel when the census was taken.

Family numbers are unique only within a census year and within a census ward. The same number can represent a different family in another census year, or one residing in another ward in the same census year. When the search results are sorted by family number, the sorted results will actually appear in order of the family number, then the census year, then the census ward. When sorted this way, all members of the same family are listed together.

Search by Occupation

Hundreds of distinct occupations were recorded by enumerators. You can use the Occupation Search to sort occupations alphabetically as well as by number of occurences.

Search by Religion

Over 50 religions were recorded by enumerators. You can use the Religion Search to sort religions alphabetically as well as by number of occurences.

Search by Location in Census Sub-districts

Click on the Subdistrict data list icon to show a pop-up table, with the names of census sub-disticts (e.g. Nanaimo and Nanoose Bay, Metchosin and Esquimalt, etc.). Check the name of the sub-district you want to query, scroll down and click on the "Done" button. The sub-district name will appear on the Search Form. You can refine your search by entering names or occupations to the Search Form. Or you can search using only the name of the sub-district. In that case, an alphabetical list of everyone enumerated in the sub-district will be generated.

The location displayed in the results is the census district. The main subdistrict name is shown first (Victoria City, Nanaimo South, etc.), followed by a more specific subdistrict name in parentheses (not all subditricts have this). Following the names, in square brackets, is the district and subdistrict codes used to identify census areas. For example, in 1901 Nanaimo City, North Ward had the code 3 E 1 (3 is the Vancouver district, which included Nanaimo in 1901; E is Nanaimo City; 1 is North Ward). In 1891 Metchosin had the code 4 e, where 4 is the Victoria district and e is Metchosin. You can use the census district search to find district names and codes.

Search for Aboriginal Communities

The First Nations search function works the same way as the Census sub-districts, described above. Click on the Band data list icon to select from a list of seventy-five First Nations on Vancouver Island. (The band names are spelled as they were originally written by enumerators.) In 1881, native bands were enumerated within three federal government Indian Agencies. For information about the agencies and the aboriginal communities within them, see the reference page on First Nations.