This page holds resources for Canada at the national level. See provinces for provincial or municipal level resources. Updated 11 Nov 2021.
There are over 3.5 million records available for the Canadian census. That’s the good news. In July, 1871, British Columbia joined the existing Canadian confederation of Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories. If your ancestors lived in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, or Quebec, you might be in luck.
The bad news is that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, the Yukon, Newfoundland, and Nunavut are missing, because they all joined later. (Nunavut joined 128 years later, in 1999.)
If you haven’t been on LAC lately, it’s worth another look. In 2019, LAC rolled out my three favourite words in the English language: centralized database search. Bearing in mind that the usual spelling issues still apply, you can now search all the collections at once.
Ever thought: I wish there was someone to help me read this totally illegible record? There is. In this incredible source, volunteers transcribe census records for the Canada censuses 1851, 1901, 1911, 1921, and the Prairie census 1906. There are other census goodies here too, such as Moncton, NB parish records 1851-1921 and the 1871 census of Kings County, NB.
The search for family history can sometimes resemble a game of historical What’s my name? You might know your long ago family ancestor as one name, but he or she may have gone by a name variation or diminutive (short form) or nickname. Further complicating matters is that the names of Canadian family members tended to become anglicized over time. For example, your great grandfather William may have been known as Liam in his day. Here’s a great site that clearly explains name etymology, and provides lists of name variations and diminutives.
The Canada Gazette publishes the official doings of the government of Canada. This archive contains the monthly publications of the Gazette.
Did any member of your family work for the feds in the postal or civil service? Where they clerks or typists? Were they appointed engineers? You might find something interesting here. I know I did.
I also found a few notices of people doing bad things and going to prison, which certainly made interesting reading.
HINT #1: Read the Search Help first. I didn’t, and could have saved myself some time!
HINT #2 – If you’re looking for immigrants, try the keywords “certificate of citizenship”, “Citizenship Act” or “persons granted certificates”. You’ll find a lot of Asian immigration ~1947-1967. Look for the index pages to help you get oriented. They will look like this:
HINT #3 – Searching by keywords is such a timesaver, but remember search functions miss a lot of results. It’s the nature of the beast – bad scans = bad results, due to poor quality of text and scans. If you think you’re in the right neighbourhood, try reading the entire month’s edition.
The Canada Gazette also published notices of divorce, which got me really excited for a while, but I was only able to find Notices of Divorce where at least one party was from Quebec or Ontario. Unfortunately, work on digitizing the Gazette has stopped, and this site is archived, so it’s unlikely there will be more coming in future.
Did your person run for political office? You will find them here.
Intriguingly, you will also find published notices of “unclaimed balances”. These are bank accounts over CAD$100 that have not been touched for more than nine years. I’ll tell you more, as soon as I check to see if any of my family has money left over in any forgotten bank accounts..!
This is the website for the Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, located in Halifax, NS. Its first focus may have been immigration to Canada via Halifax, but it is now a rich resource for research into Canadian immigration. I found results for immigration to Quebec, New Westminster, and Victoria.
(Say CAN-lee.) Online laws and legal cases for Canada.
Need to know more about a famous Canadian? Check out this online encyclopedia.
Thanks to the work of Kenneth R. Marks and Miriam Robbins, we have a site for Canadian directories. This site is always being updated. As of July 2020 there are directories for Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. Plans are underway for Alberta, BC, Newfoundland & Labrador, PEI, Quebec, and the Territories.
It gets more complicated but not impossible to acquire a copy of a divorce order after 1967. You must have the consent of one of the divorcing parties, fill out an application, and pay a fee.
I was reading the 1935 Canada Voter’s list, which, if you haven’t had the pleasure, is organized by street. Here’s a collection of maps from Elections Canada which helps figure out where the districts were drawn.
Cemetery records are invaluable – for me, the first place to look when searching for long lost ancestors are cemeteries and death certificates. Start with Find a Grave, then go to Interment.net, even if Find a Grave locates your person. Also, I find that sometimes, a specific search for a name on the landing page might come up with no good results, while a more general search for a location might uncover the person you’re looking for… or their relatives. Remember too, that families are often buried together, so searching nearby is a good practice.
After I spent a weekend locating long lost ancestors in far-flung places, I joined the volunteer community at Find a Grave in February, 2018. It feels great to be able to assist someone else’s genealogical research this way.
Here are some tips if you can’t find that elusive ancestor on Find a Grave:
- No Boolean searches, but you can search long, commonly-misspelled names by entering only the first few letters. For example: LaFontain, LaFountain, Lafontaine will all be found by entering “Lafo“
- Search by cemetery – don’t stop with one cemetery – look for all the adjacent ones at FAG’s cemetery search here
- Use FAG’s cemetery links to find other family members
- Look at every detail – the headstone if available
- Use FAG to find the cemetery, then see if the cemetery has a nearby plot search, just in case the people you’re looking for are buried near their relatives or friends
Nothing brings home what life was like better than the big news of the day. This site is better for the USA than Canada but still has some great links.
Historian Marian Smith breaks down the tiny details on a passenger list that might become the breakthrough clue you were searching for, and does it in a clear way with lots of examples. For Canada, see “[Passenger List] Terminology and Abbreviations” on this page.
A part of what makes genealogy so addictive for me is seeing history again through the eyes of our ancestors. It personalizes events, disasters, dates, and famous names in a way that catches my imagination and really makes it all come alive for me. The Canadian Encylopedia is a good start for those of us who woudn’t mind a refresher on our Canadian history.
This website is the project of the publishers of the three volume Historical Atlas of Canada. I own this set and it is invaluable in understanding Canadian history.
Thanks to a conversation on the Facebook Group Genealogy Squad, I learned there’s a secret code on death certificates. Your eyes, like mine, might have glossed over them, and if you’re thinking what’s a death code? have I got news for you. For a great article on death codes, see Family History’s The “Secret” Codes on Death Certificates That Can Tell You How Your Ancestors Died.
Sadly, no longer free, but not too expensive either.
Wondering where the borders were at a certain point in Canada’s history? Here are 12 maps to help you along.
From the site: “The Memory Project Archive houses more than 2,800 testimonials and over 10,000 images from veterans of the First World War, Second World War, the Korean War and peacekeeping missions. While the archive no longer accepts submissions, it remains the largest of its kind in Canada. Canadians can access the interviews, digitized artifacts and book a speaker.”
Did your family vacation at Niagara Falls for their honeymoon?
For the years 1949-2011, Ancestry holds the records of couples who opted to sign the Niagara Fall register as honeymooners, and they helpfully provided their last names, addresses, and dates of marriage. Niagara Falls attracts couples from all over the world, but especially North America, so try a few of your names and see what pops up.
NOTE: This is a link that goes to the Ancestry file. You will need to have access to Ancestry, either with an account, or perhaps at your local library. If you’re at the library, you are looking for the Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, Honeymoon and Visitor Registers, 1949-2011. Double check that you’re searching this particular file, because Ancestry has a habit of defaulting to the general SEARCH.
Links, links, and more links to Canada by province but I haven’t been too successful on this site. It seems many links depended on the once-powerful RootsWeb server, which has been offline for at least a year (2017 forwards). Additionally, for at least the links I need, it’s like a dead link cemetery. Meh. It happens. Free stuff isn’t guaranteed to be around forever. (Note to self: check all my own links from time to time.)
A listing of some of the notations and information you will find for Canadian passenger lists and immigration documents. For passenger lists in the USA, see “Guide to Interpreting Passenger List Notations” on this page.
I must admit that when I first found this file, courtesy of the Facebook Canadian Genealogy Group, that I was intrigued. After searching for a few names and locations (example: “Sask.”), however, I changed my mind and hoped none of the people I was searching for were on this list. That’s truly an odd position to be in, for a genealogist!
Not only for Canada, Randy has developed searching tools that are wonderfully suited to the genealogist. He’s refined Google to develop AncestorSearch, which is like Google but returns far more refined results for people. I tried it with my known ancestor, and then again with me, and was pleased to see what came up. He’s also got a nifty tool called Historical US Counties that shows changing borders and boundaries in the USA by date, so for example when your ancestor kept crossing the border from Saskatchewan to North Dakota, you can see when Dakota was the Dakota Territory (1870) and when it was broken into counties (1880). HUGELY helpful for those of us who don’t know our American history. Randy’s got more – go and play. Aside from being helpful, it’s fun.
This page is organized roughly by date, beginning in 1700. (There are even 2 lists dating from 1783 (St John, NB) and 1784 (Halifax, NS).) The next category is 1800, with destinations Australia/New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, USA, and “Other” where there’s an interesting one from China to England in 1862. The last category is 1900 with destinations Quebec (1902), Canada via Philadelphia (1905, 1906), Montreal (1914), and Sydney, NS (1917). If you wanted to know more about the ships, check out Fleet Lists, Ship Descriptions, Ship Pictures, etc.
Another way to come at the information is by looking at it by Ship Arrivals, Reports, etc. This page is categorized like Ship passengers lists above, except it’s more about the ships, but still with some detail about the passengers. 1700: arrivals to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia plus more; 1800: Australia/New Zealand/South Africa, Canada 1813-1884, General (including Newfoundland and Nova Scotia 1760s), USA, and Other (including British transport ships 1839-1846); 1900: arrivals at the Port of NYC, 1923.
In this intriguing effort, the volunteers at Automated Genealogy link the WWI records of soldiers with the Canadian censuses of 1901 and 1911.
Just the explanation I’ve been looking for – a dream set of maps for genealogists who’d like to know the changing borders of Canadian history, from 1867 to 2003.
This is one of the best descriptions of the township system in Canada I have ever seen, because it includes the provinces of BC and Ontario. If you’ve ever wondered what “DLS” meant, or wondered how Ontario was different from Saskatchewan, or why British Columbia was different from Alberta, this is the page to see. This is the only page I’ve ever seen that included Legal Subdivisions (LSDs) subdivisions in its descriptions, encompassing the urban and the rural. Also has a free lookups, limited to ten lookups/month. If you’re wondering why you might need this tool, I have one phrase for you: homestead files.
Before you get excited, to date we do not know of any train passenger lists for Canada. However, if you would like to know more about the trains, routes, documents, and companies, check out these links and sources.
I get so used to Ancestry that I … forget to look anywhere else!