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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Archival Centres  by Ryan Taylor. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


National Archives

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) was formed from the union of the National Archives of Canada (NAC) and the National Library of Canada (NLC). The National Archives of Canada (NAC) was formerly the Public Archives of Canada (PAC) and references to it under this name are often found in older publications. It was founded in 1872 and its current mission is to act as the ‘living memory’ of Canada as well as to manage the records of the federal government. In October 2002, the Government of Canada announced its intention of merging the national library and national archives into one institution, to be known as Library and Archives of Canada.

Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N4
Telephone: (613) 996-5115
Toll free in Canada and the US: 1-866-578-7777

The LAC website gives a first-rate introduction to its work, providing a larger picture of its purpose. As well as information for potential researchers, the website clearly demonstrates an eagerness to introduce archival documents to the general public. The idea seems to be that if those with an interest in historical items see what LAC is doing, and have a taste of the documents available, they may come along for more.

LAC Homepage

The homepage offers a variety of choices. The genealogist will probably want to go directly to the Genealogy and Family History area, where a search can be made by name or keyword of over four million documents for a particular ancestor. The library, archives, image and ancestor collections can be searched all at once or individually. It should be noted, however, that the full text of published volumes of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, which was accessed at the LAC website in the past. If you have well-known persons in your family, information or a picture of them may be available here.

Genealogy and Family History Area

The Genealogy and Family History area reflects the integration of genealogical materials from the former websites of the National Archives of Canada, the National Library of Canada and the previous Genealogy and Family History area. All pages have been updated and reconfigured. It offers advice on how to do research, descriptions of resources at LAC and a great many links to other sites. This last is a most valuable innovation for the LAC site, and means that most Canadian genealogists will want to consult this site early in their research, and keep it bookmarked for frequent reference as they work.

By entering a name in the search box of the Genealogy and Family History area, the occurrences in multiple holdings are identified. The results can be sorted by date, type of search, genealogical resource. The results identify the information necessary for an on-site search or, in some cases, link to the online digital image. The “Ancestor Search” permits a search by a person's name in several of the most consulted genealogical resources at the same time

There are also separate sections for Aboriginal and other ethno-cultural documentary materials. These can be easily located by clicking on the tab “Discover the Collection” from the LAC Home page.

LAC Facilities

But the website is not our principal focus, although it could be termed a genealogical resource in its own right. Most researchers will aim to visit LAC at some point, and use its facilities in person. There is a reference room with finding aids, computer terminals, an assortment of books, and a desk for consulting the archivists. Those calling in person can discuss the problems at hand with the archivists, who will suggest research strategies, instruct in the use of LAC and provide information about services there. As the old NAC site said, the reference interview with the archivists can be one of the ‘most effective elements of your research strategy.’

There is a separate reading room, which is a very congenial place to work, with a darkened microfilm reading room next door. It is possible to order materials in advance for use on arrival, provided five working-days’ notice is given; this is especially important as a great many collections are stored off-site. Requests for material to be retrieved in advance must contain the full archival reference. Those who are working over several days can obtain a locker for keeping up to ten items for use the next day.

The size of LAC makes it advisable to get in touch with them ahead of time to present your research project and discuss the best ways to proceed. Researchers should have consulted published sources and materials available closer to home so that they are ready to use LAC’s archival resources to their best advantage. Their short guide Tracing Your Ancestors in Canada can be found on the website in PDF format and can be downloaded in electronic form or printed. It is also possible to request a book-style copy from LAC. Every Canadian genealogist should read this pamphlet.

As well, the “What to Search - Topics” section on the LAC Website is an extension of the Tracing Your Ancestors in Canada and contains more up-to-date and more extensive information than the booklet regarding Canadian genealogical research.

Contacting LAC

Although it is possible to consult LAC by telephone, only the briefest of directional or information questions should be asked this way; indeed, you may have trouble getting through to their busy operator. They will accept queries by email, regular mail or fax. There are several email forms on the website, all formulated in a useful way to help you supply the information they will need to help you. Choose the form most appropriate for your query and follow the instructions, including consulting the recommended and listed sources first. Please be patient, as it may take several weeks for a response.

It is not practical to send your query the week before your visit. There will not be time for LAC to respond to you. If too little time remains before your arrival, save your query until you arrive in the reference room. There is a separate genealogical reference desk.

The website makes preparation for a visit easy. As well as providing specific information about using the LAC facilities, there are generalized discussions about using their materials, information about specific collections and the chance to search in some online resources.

The LAC searching mechanism, Search All, searches the Library, Archives, Image and Ancestors collections. Each of these can also be searched individually, if preferred, in preparation for your visit.

The most-used genealogical resource at LAC is the census. However, unless you live in the Ottawa area, it would be unwise to depend on visiting LAC to use the census. Both searchable indexes and images (jpg and pdf format) are available for free on the Internet, so you can do all the Canadian-census research you need at home. Census images are also available by microfilm through interlibrary loan, at FamilySearch Centers and in many other places.

Basic Family History Records

Basic family history records can be approached by clicking Genealogy and Family History on the website’s homepage. At this point, a global search field is available, as is a list of what is new in their online resources. Links are also available to two types of resources:

  • most requested records including births, marriages and deaths, census and enumerations; immigration and citizenship; military; land; and employment
  • “how-to” hints including what to do first, choosing a strategy, finding and organizing information and learning more.

As well, in a panel on the left, are links to a variety of information topics including a form to ask for assistance for a very specific look-up in an indexed database. The links, ‘What to search: Topics’ and ‘Where to search: Places’, provide detailed information about the sources that are held at the archives. By following these links it is possible to find out what resources are held, whether they are indexed, and whether the index or even the images are or are not online. For those that are not yet online there is often information as to where they can be located including at LAC and other archives such as provincial ones (eg: land records) or if they have been published in book form (eg: early naturalization records) or are widely available on microfilm (eg: early passenger lists). All of this is a significant help in planning a trip to the archives as there is little sense taking the time to visit if the information is available online, even if one lives in Ottawa. As time passes, more databases become accessible online, either in digitized form or through an index, and so it is worth checking back on a regular basis.

For many records, there are published guides, either in book form or online. These should be consulted before planning a visit to LAC. Some of these may be old, but are still useful, such as Records of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RG 18), by Joanne Poulin (1975). Do look for descriptions of these records on other websites, or connected databases, including Google Books which will also help you prepare for examining the original records.

LAC’s website has references to other kinds of records (school, civil registration) which are provincial or local responsibilities, and provides links to relevant sites for consulting them.

The area at LAC for consulting maps and visual images has the air of a laboratory because so many of these items are fragile or at least capable of being damaged easily. The huge collection of these items may be intimidating, but the staff who work with the images and maps are particularly helpful in guiding users to the things which they need most. The reference interview which researchers have with archivists in this area is crucial to success because LAC workers have such experience with the items in their care and with using the various catalogues, finding aids and reference guides to hone in on the most useful object. Be sure to consult them carefully and then listen attentively to their advice.

The merging of NAC and NLC has strengthened the institution at 395 Wellington Street. LAC’s approach to genealogical research now offers even more to family historians, and there is every reason to think this is only the beginning, as this vast collection offers us more and more to work with.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses
offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 27 September 2014, at 17:53.
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