Thank you very much to the members of the Facebook group Saskatchewan Genealogy Network for the inspiration for this post.
You’ve found your family in the 1916 census but can’t find them in the 1921 census. What can you do? It helps first of all to know where to find the census records (for free). Note that neither Family Search nor Ancestry has them all:
- 1916 – Library and Archives Canada, Family Search
- 1921 – Library and Archives Canada, Ancestry (free!)
- 1926 – Library and Archives Canada, Family Search
Step 1: First search by name
You might find it useful to note down what you’ve tried as you go:
- Go directly to the 1921 census on Ancestry and try searching for your people: i) with full names; ii) with partial names; iii) with wildcards in their names; iv) with only last names; v) with no names but using names of parents; and any other creative search; and
- Try searching for your people on Library and Archives Canada with all the above, plus with last name, age and province only, i.e., [last name] Rose, aged 25, Manitoba only.
If none of that works, see below.
Step 2: If they are rural
- Here’s where things really start to get interesting. Go to the 1916 census and note down the elements at the top of the census: province, district, district no., enumeration district no., and name of city / town/ village / township or parish. See the sample above: Saskatchewan, Swift Current, #2, Village of Gravelbourg.
- Go to the Canada Census, 1921, Districts and sub-districts at LAC and find the corresponding district by first choosing Districts and sub-districts, then choosing province of Saskatchewan, then searching (CTL-F on a PC; CMD-F on a Mac) for the keyword of Gravelbourg on the page. In this case, Gravelbourg moved from District #2 in 1916 to District #11 in 1921. See below.
- Go to Ancestry’s Browse this Collection feature, and use the dropdowns at right to select the province, district, and sub-district. Be careful now, because the design of the page is misleading – the sub-districts scroll down. Find the applicable sub-district – in this case, #11, and click on it.
- This will bring up the sub-district of the census, page 1. You’ll also see the filmstrip and the index (the mini-icons centred low on the page), as well as the number of pages. This is the slow part, but I’d advise ignoring the index entirely and reading through the entire sub-district census. After all, if you’ve already tried name-based searches, chances are your people’s names were either transcribed incorrectly, or misspelled by the enumerator.
Step 3: What if you can’t find your town, or it’s too small to be listed?
In the above example, the town of Gravelbourg was listed in the sub-districts at LAC in 1921, making it easy to find. What if your town is too small, was absorbed by a neighbouring entity or disappeared, or your address is a farm in the middle of the countryside? You may be able to find them using the legal land description. For this example, I’m going to choose a farm and family at random: Manitoba, District #5 Marquette, Sub-district #10, Township 16, Range 21, W1 – the Thomas Rose family. Here they are in the 1916 census:
- Take note of the family members, address and neighbours: Thomas and Jennie Rose, children Leslie, Morley, Willema, Phillis; with neighbours Michael Elyteski Charles Barwise, and George Patterson.
- Their address is 16-21-W1. That means Township 16; Range 21, West of the first meridian. For more on legal land descriptions, see this link from ISC.
- Go to the Districts and sub-districts at LAC. There’s no town, but you can find the sub-district by using the province, district, township and range: Manitoba, Marquette, Township 16, Range 21. In this case, Sub-district #10 is now sub-district #24.
- Go to the 1921 Canada census at Ancestry. Use the three dropdown menus at the right for province, district, and sub-district: Manitoba, Marquette, #24. Click on Sub-District 24.
- You’ll find the first page of the census for Township 16, Range 21. There are 21 pages. Go through it page by page, and you may just find your ancestors.
- Here is the Rose family: Thomas, wife Janet, children Willema, Leslie, Morley, and Phillis.
Step 4: If they lived in a city
If your family lived in a large town or city, where it’s impractical to go through all of the censuses, you’ll need one extra bit of data: their address. You can find addresses in city directories.
If they lived in the prairies, you can find city directories for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba at Peel’s Prairie Provinces here. If they lived in BC, find the city directories at the Vancouver Public Library here.
After that, you can use LAC’s handy street indexes for big cities here. Here’s the results for the 1921 census for Pender Street in Vancouver, BC.
For a deeper dive into using Henderson’s City Directories, see my post here.
Step 4: Try going backwards
If none of that works, try going at it from the opposite direction: by going backwards from 1926, using the 1926 Census of the Prairies. In this case, we can find the Rose family, still living in Marquette, but the sub-district is now 32. Note too that the neighbours are still the Pattersons.
Step 5: Try looking on a map
I looked in vain for an easy-to-use map of the 1921 electoral districts – ideally something with hi-res images that would allow me to do a search for my district. Well, one out of two isn’t bad. Here are 310 hi-res maps of electoral districts from 1915 at LAC. Hopefully, someone adds a lookup table at some future point.
What do you think? What did I miss? Please leave a comment below.