Canadian Research Tips & Hints
The best records available online for researching your Canadian ancestors include civil registrations, census records, church registers, and cemetery records. The Canadian Researcher is blessed with the availability of a plethora of genealogical records; because of the meticulous record keeping of the Catholic Church, many French Canadian records dating from the 1700’s are also available.
Identifying the place in which your ancestors lived and the time period they lived there will help you to discover which online records will be of help to you. If you are searching in a time period other than the ones mentioned here or your ancestor’s name does not come up in the searches, try visiting the websites of genealogy libraries for the province where your ancestor lived.
Often the provincial or historical library website will have additional searchable surname indexes of records that have not been included in this article. Try contacting one of these libraries either on line or by email and asking for help with finding a particular record.
Also, when searching for a particular ancestor over a period of time you may find that the boundaries of the province where your ancestor lived have changed. In this circumstance, it is helpful to know when a province became organized and joined the Confederation of Canada. Below is a brief summary of the dates that the individual provinces joined the Confederation:
- Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia – 1867
- Manitoba – 1870
- British Columbia – 1871
- Prince Edward Island – 1873
- Alberta and Saskatchewan – 1905
- Newfoundland – 1949
The list below is a brief summary of the dates when provinces were required to begin Civil Registrations. Compliance was irregular during the first few years that a province was required to complete civil registrations, so expect the records during these years to be incomplete.
- Quebec – 1926
- Ontario – 1869
- New Brunswick – 1888
- Nova Scotia – 1908
- Manitoba – 1882
- British Columbia – 1872
- Prince Edward Island – 1906
- Alberta – 1898
- Saskatchewan – 1905
- Newfoundland – 1892
Finding Genealogy Records Before Civil Registration
For all provinces prior to civil registrations, church records were usually the only source of dates for births, marriages, and deaths. FamilySearch.org has a searchable index for the following Canadian records (including both church and vital record sources:
- Canadian births and baptisms from 1661 – 1959.
- Canadian deaths and burials from 1664 – 1955.
- Canadian marriage records from 1661 – 1949.
It was not until 1867 that the taking of a census became a legal requirement for provinces and territories. Here is a brief summary of the dates by province when census records were taken. (When a census record is called a Nominal Return, it means that family information was collected. This includes full names of all family members along with ages, gender, occupations, ethnic origin, marital status and other details like the relationship to the head of the family.)
- Quebec – First Census taken in 1666
- Ontario – 1851-52 Census first to name all household members
- New Brunswick – The first nominal census in 1851
- Nova Scotia – Earliest Census was 1752, first nominal census 1871
- Manitoba – Census records from 1832; first nominal return 1879
- British Columbia – Earliest census records available are for 1881
- Prince Edward Island – First Census 1728 and the first nominal Census 1881
- Alberta – First Census 1881
- Saskatchewan – First Census is 1881
- Newfoundland – Census records from 1671, first nominal census 1891
Points to remember when researching Canadian records
- The information that was required for the Civil registration varied over time and from province to province. For instance, a death registration prior to 1906 in Ontario did not require the names of the parents to be listed.
- Be aware there may be several transcription errors. Most indexed registrations are a copy or transcription of the original. For example the name Frayer may have been indexed as Frazer because of copying errors.
- The location where you will find the registration record will not always match with the place where the event occurred.
- Don’t expect to find people born within the last 90 years. For reasons of privacy civil birth registrations within the last 90 years are not available to the public.
- Civil registrations of deaths are the most easily accessible.
- Don’t expect to find marriages from the last 60 years listed in any of the civil registration indexes. For every province marriage registrations are the most available for searching. However, marriage registrations which occurred in the last 60 years are usually only given to a descendant. Each province has its own laws dealing with the privacy and disclosure of civil registrations.
- Don’t overlook the fact that individuals of Canadian birth often migrated or had extended visits to the United States. A good example would be Maritime Canada 1860-1920. Historians have estimated that between 1871 and 1901 that close to 30% of the populations of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island migrated to the United States to find work. Many migrated especially to Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
For searchable nationwide Canadian genealogy resources visit FamilySearch.org. In addition to valuable genealogy records from some of the individual provinces, Familysearch.org has indexed a general collection of records for Canada. Two time periods are covered:
- Canada Births and Baptisms, 1661-1959
- Canada, Ontario, Toronto Trust Cemeteries, 1826-1935
FamilySearch.org also has a searchable collection of Canadian historical records (click on show all 58 collections for the full list), including the following census returns:
- Canada Census Mortality Schedules – 1871
- Canada Census – 1851
- Canada Census – 1871
- Canada Census – 1881
- Canada Census – 1891
- Canada, Lower Canada Census – 1831 Browse Images
- New Brunswick Census – 1861
- Nova Scotia Census – 1861
- Ontario Census – 1861
- Prince Edward Island Census – 1861
- Quebec Census – 1861
Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada has digitized the Census records and provides searchable indexes for many of them, including:
- Census of 1851
- Federal Census of Canada (Ontario) – 1871
- Census of Canada -1871
- Census of Canada -1881
- Census of Canada -1891
- Census of Canada -1901 no surname search
- Census of the Northwest Provinces, 1906 (no surname searchable index). You can find a searchable name index at AutomatedGenealogy.com
- Census of Canada -1911 (no surname searchable index)
Besides the digitized Census records, there are several other general indexes available at Library and Archives Canada. Some examples include:
For searchable surname indexes for the 1906 and 1911 Canadian Censuses try Automated Genealogy. This website freely provides the census images and searchable surname indexes for the 1901, 1906, 1911, and 1851. Some of the searchable name indexes are incomplete.
Take advantage of the fourteen- day free trial at Ancestry.ca Though you may find that some of the same resources that Ancestry.ca has are available for free on other websites, you might find it advantageous to use Ancestry.ca if only to access a more complete searchable surname index. Here are some of the Canadian Collections included at their website.
- Census Collection (1851-1916)
- Ontario Births, Marriages and Deaths
- Soldiers of First World War
- Quebec Vital & Church (Drouin)
- Passenger Lists
- Border Crossings
Each province of Canada has their own research resources. Please click here to go to the Provincial Resources page..