Your ancestors in Canada
O Canada ! Land of our ancestors
Canada is in North America and is one of the worlds most ethnically and multi-culturally diverse countries. This is a result of 3 centuries of large scale immigration. How can you discover your Canadian Ancestors?
Canada is the worlds second largest country by total area and its border with the United States of America is the world’s longest bi-national border. Most of the population live in cities, usually along the southern border.
The capital is Ottawa. The emigration of British nationals to Canada, the military history and the fact that Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state means many of your ancestors may have travelled temporarily or permanently to Canada. The British and French have probably had the most influence on the development of the country (apart from the USA) with colonies established in the 16th century. By the late 19th century Britain controlled much of Canada. Presently ten provinces and 3 territories form Canada as we know it today on the world map (note archives below).
Each of the provinces and each of the territories archives hold records created by their own governments. Parish registers and land records are held and will be of interest to genealogists. A list of the archives, with their websites is detailed below.
Birth, marriage and death (BMD)
Records for the provinces and territories began in the late 1800s. These are generally referred to as vital statistics. The dates records begin are listed below, some earlier records may exist for some provinces and territories (check the relevant archive). Records begin in:
- Alberta in 1870
- British Columbia in 1872
- Manitoba in 1882
- New Brunswick in 1888
- Newfoundland in 1891
- Northwest Territories in 1925
- Nova Scotia in 1864
- Nunavut in 1999
- Ontario in 1869
- Prince Edward Island in 1906
- Quebec in 1621
- Saskatchewan in 1878
- Yukon Territory in 1898
Parish registers like those in the UK are not held in one place. They are usually held by archives, churches and some may have disappeared altogether. A small holding is located at Library and Archives Canada; please note the link in Sources and further websites below. There are transcripts, but again generally not originals held on microfilm.
The Canadian Census for 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1906 and 1911 is the official enumeration of the Canadian population. Before 1851 geographical and population coverage is patchy. Like the UK Census the name, age, sex, place of birth, occupation and marital status is detailed. The racial or ethnic origin may also be stated (Irish, Indian, French etc).
The 1881 census is available at familysearch.org. The 1871 Ontario Census has been indexed by the Ontario Genealogical Society.
Newfoundland didn’t become a province of Canada until 1949. It was included in the census of 1921, 1935 and 1945. Check the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador or for microfilm copies, and the Library and Archives Canada.
Some of your ancestors may have travelled to Canada for a new life or better work prospects. There are no comprehensive lists of immigrants arriving before 1865. The Library and Archives Canada holds some passenger lists for the French Regime (1717–1760, 1778 and 1786), but these aren’t indexed by name.
Under the British Regime some lists have been identified and are indexed by name. These records detail immigrants from Britain to Quebec and Ontario (1801 and 1849).
Passenger Lists, 1865–1935
Library and Archives Canada holds passenger lists. The lists contain name, age, country of origin, occupation and intended destination. These are arranged by port and date of arrival (with the exception of some years between 1919 and 1924). Passenger lists from 1865 to 1922 have been digitized and can be viewed online.
Records before 1925 are not indexed by name. An extensive search will be required unless you know the month, year and port of arrival. Having the name of the ship and the port of departure will also be helpful in your search. For 1925 – 1935, the database Immigration Records (1925–1935) provides the names of the passengers, and the volume, page and microfilm reel numbers for the actual records.
Border Entry Records, 1908–1935
We have to remember that with its land border with the USA many immigrants to Canada came from the USA or sailed from Europe to American ports first. Before 1908 people were able to move freely across the border from the United States into Canada. This means no record of immigration exists for these individuals.
From 1908 to 1918 lists are organised by border port and date of entry. Not knowing this information means a search of the unindexed lists (port by port and month by month). The records contain name, age, country of birth, last place of residence, occupation and destination in Canada.
From 1919 – 1924, individual forms were used to register immigrants to Canada arriving from the United States. In 1925, the use of border entry lists was reinstated. Indexes are available for 1925 to 1935 only.
Immigration Records after 1935
From 1936 the records of immigrants arriving at Canadian land and seaports are in the holdings of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Information on Library and Archives Canada.
(Accurate July 2018)
Sources and further websites
Research ancestors in other countries
Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See https://myfamilygenealogy.co.uk/guidance/ for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.
What stories might your ancestors tell?