This page holds resources for Canada at the national level. See provinces for provincial or municipal level resources.
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.)
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.
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.
Need to know more about a famous Canadian? Check out this online encyclopedia.
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
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.”
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.)