Canadian Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

Don’t overlook free digital records with my Heritage Canadiana / Library and Archives Canada hack, part 2

[updated 21 Sep 2023] Have you ever done this? Searched on Héritage Canadiana (HC), gotten lost and confused, and left hours later without learning a single fact related to your current research? Oh good. It’s not just me then. Let’s get clear on HC: what is it, how does it work, and how does it relate to Library and Archives Canada (LAC)?

In my last post, I showed the link between LAC and HC by first exploring LAC and then searching for the “secret” digitized reel at HC. This post will show how to start with HC to find more information at LAC. If you’d like to start with part one, see Don’t overlook free digital records with my Library and Archives Canada / Heritage Canadiana hack, part 1.

Background: what is a microfilm reel?

Héritage Canadiana stores and makes available digitized images from microfilm reels. If we are researching at HC, we should first understand what is and is not on a microfilm reel. A reel:

  • Could contain thousands of images
  • Should have titles to identify the reel
  • May have markers showing the breaks between sets of documents
  • May have camera operator notes at the end of the reel
  • May be a part of a series, meaning any reel could continue from a prior reel or keep going on the next reel

All of this means that understanding a reel’s organization will i) improve the likelihood of finding the document you want; ii) shorten the amount of time it takes to find; and iii) adds context and understanding.

None of this is obvious at HC and indeed, it’s easy to lose track.

What information is available at HC?

Let’s do this step by step. The home page at HC has the search box. I’ve entered “parish registers” as my search term.

The next page will be the hyperlinked search results. In this case I have 225 results for “parish registers.”

Scrolling down, I’d like to see “Parish Registers – Manitoba.”

There are two tabs: the List of Reels tab, and the About tab. The results here show three reels: “H-1344,” “H-1812” and “H-1813.” Altogether, there are 6852 images of Manitoba registers – how exciting!

The About tab is a summary of what the reels contain. Sometimes this page has a good description and sometimes there is no explanation. When the information is scanty, the risk increases you will miss something important.

Interpreting results at HC

If your search stopped here, you would perhaps click on the reels, see there are thousands of images, and give up. If only there was a finding aid to help you navigate the collection and find what you seek.

Go to LAC for the finding aids

The archivists at LAC have spent decades writing finding aids (FA) to help find and interpret the collections in their care. Here’s how to find the FAs. Go to LAC’s Collection Search.

Type in the reel number. I’ll use “H-1344.” Hit the green search button. There are two references to reel no. H-1344 at LAC.

FAs will provide much more information about the collection than is shown at HC. Remember: the function of HC is storing images. The function of LAC is managing archives. The first result, “Kipling card index [textual record]” is the FA for the sub-series of index cards that are found on the reel. The second result, “Kipling collection [textual record (some microfilm)]” provides details on the collection of which the index cards are one of three parts. Without this information, you might miss the related collections. As well, multiple results for a single reel reference number could mean there are multiple collections on one reel.

From the “Kipling card index” can be seen Record Information which contains important information not shown at HC: the dates, place of creation, arrangement of reels, and description of the records. Reading both FAs will provide historical context – essential to our understanding of genealogy and history.


I like poking around in HC. There’s the thrill of discovery – what will I find today – but once I find something, I automatically want to know more about it. This is when we need to find our way back to LAC. There are other ways to search LAC – by collection title or mikan number to name two – but using the reel number gives more targeted results.

[updated 21 Sep 2023] I had the pleasure of meeting with HC and LAC today. I’ve edited this post to reflect my enhanced understanding of both organizations.

Thank yous

This is a shout out to the archivists – those unknown and unsung heroes who write the finding aids that make our lives easier. They do an enormous amount of work to explain collections and I salute all of you, past and present. Thank you to the members of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, parent organization of Héritage Canadiana, and to Library and Archives Canada.

I would like to take a moment to thank you, my readers. This week my total readership passed a milestone: two hundred fifty thousand. WOW! This is also due in no small part to Gail Dever’s genealogy à la carte and Empty Branches on the Family Tree’s Friday’s Family History Finds. Thank you, both!

9 thoughts on “Don’t overlook free digital records with my Heritage Canadiana / Library and Archives Canada hack, part 2

  1. Great articles, thanks Linda! I’ve always wondered about the relationship between LAC and Heritage Canadiana, and your articles explain it perfectly. Looking forward to some serious searching soon!

  2. These two blog posts are another “Finding Aid” for the LAC/HC sites, Linda. Much appreciated!

    1. It really shouldn’t be this hard. Yet it is. Sigh. Thank you for the lovely comment, Celia.

    2. Until they tie those two sites a little closer (and more efficiently), it looks like this might be the way, Celia.

      Thank you for reading me. 😃


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