Genealogy: Canadian Censuses Can Hold Valuable Information | Valley life


At one time or another, many Americans have to go beyond the US census to find a relative in Canada. At this time, it is important to know something about Canadian censuses.

There were literally dozens of censuses taken in scattered areas of Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries. Canada was not unified at that time and was under French rule. These first censuses listed only the heads of household. It was not until 1851 that the first complete census of Canada was taken, including both Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec). This census consisted of an agricultural list, describing the land and crops, and a personal list, listing the names, sex, age, relation to the chief, occupation, education, and property information of all the people.

In 1867, Canada became unified into a confederation of provinces. The 1871 census was the first census taken after Confederation and was very large, containing 9 lists. The use of personal time is the one that interests family historians. It recorded each person’s name, age, gender, marital status, place of birth, ethnicity, religion, occupation and education. The other 8 annexes collected information on property, land, livestock, manufacturing, forestry, shipping, fishing and mining. In this census, the agricultural annexes are linked to the personal annex by page and line number. There was an 1881 census and an 1891 census (which for the first time included birthplaces of parents). After 1871, the agricultural annexes of subsequent censuses are not kept.

The 1901 census expanded the list of information collected on each person to include name, age, sex, exact date of birth, year of immigration to Canada, year of naturalization, origin ethnicity, nationality, religion, profession, employment and education. Until a recent change in Canadian law, this was the last census published and available to the public.

However, in July 2005, after a bitter legal fight, a law was passed allowing the release of Canadian census information after 92 years. (In the United States, a census can be published after 72 years.) This law allowed the publication of the Canadian census of 1911. This victory for family historians was not without price, however, because from 2006 , any Canadian census taken will ask subjects if they consent to release their personal information after age 92. If they do not give their consent on the form, the information will be sealed forever.

Other censuses of interest that are now available are the Newfoundland censuses of 1921, 1935 and 1945. These are publicly available because Newfoundland did not join provincial confederation until 1949. 1906, a special census was taken in the northwestern prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

There are two things to know when searching Canadian census data. The first is that censuses were not taken in the same months each decade, so check the date each individual census was taken and the instructions given to the census taker to determine a person’s age. (For example, the 1851 census was actually taken in January 1852.) The second thing to know is rather disappointing: there is no surname index for Canadian censuses. Some databases available online can be searched by location, but not by name. (Update 2022 — this is no longer true. Canadian census indexes can be viewed in various places online — for a fee at Ancestry and for free at Library and Archives Canada and

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