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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 Census Part 1 and Part 2  by Doris Bourrie, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Enumeration Districts

To locate any individual family in a Canadian census it is necessary to know what enumeration district the family was living in when the census was taken. In rural areas this does not usually present a problem, because enumeration districts generally conformed to the boundaries of a township. If a town within the township was large enough to warrant a separate enumeration division, then the enumeration for that town would be done as a separate entity, and listed under the town name in the appropriate Library and Archives Canada finding aid for the time period of interest. If the population of the town or village was too small to warrant a separate enumeration division, then those people would be enumerated as part of the over-all township enumeration, and would not be listed separately in the census finding aid. A county might be divided into enumeration districts composed of townships and possibly towns within the county.

Finding Aids

The two main Finding Aids published by the Library and Archives Canada were discussed in Module 1 of Researching Canadian Census Records-Part 1, Basic Level. They are:

  • Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1891/Catalogue de recensements sur microfilm 1666-1891, Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1987 (latest version).
  • Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1901/Catalogue de recensements sur microfilm 1901, Ottawa: National Archives of Canada.

These two catalogues have been combined in an online database provided by the Library and Archives Canada (Census Microfilm Reels from 1666 to 1901). It is best to insert the name of the township of interest in order to locate all reel numbers that may be required. When you insert the name of a large city in this database you will find that the census for that city may cover a number of reels of microfilm. You need to determine which of these reels would contain the information for the family you are researching.

Large City Enumeration Districts

Enumeration districts for large cities were normally created by dividing the city into wards. These wards might be numbered, or named. As the population increased from one census period to the next, the boundaries of these wards, and possibly the naming system, might also be changed. In most cases, the boundary between two wards would be a major street, and the boundary would be an imaginary line running up the middle of the street. Therefore, the houses on one side of the street would be in Ward A, while the houses on the opposite side of the street would be in Ward B. It is also possible that a long major street within the city boundaries might run through more than one ward within the city.

In order to successfully locate a family in a city census, it is imperative to know the street address of the family at the time the census was taken, and in which ward that street address was located. Published city directories are a major resource for the preliminary research that is necessary to locate a person within a large city. Directories for large centers were usually published on an annual basis.

It is not usually possible to determine just when the information published in a specific Directory was collected. Does it reflect the location of your family at the time the census was taken, or is it possible that it reflects the location of the family some time before or after the census period? It is worthwhile to check the listings for the individual in the directory for the year of the census, as well as the year prior to, and year following, the census period. If the family address remained the same, then you only need to determine what ward that address is located in. If the address changed, then you may need to check both addresses in the census to locate the family.

If you cannot locate a separate city directory for a smaller city, check to see if there is a published county directory for the proper time period. Often a county directory would include a township or rural directory, as well as a separate directory for a smaller city within the county. It is possible that some smaller cities were not divided into wards, but enumerated as one entity. If this is the case, it is then necessary to search the entire city enumeration.

Once the street address for the family has been located, turn to the street section of the directory, and locate the street you need. Determine which side of the street the family lived on, and make a note of cross streets on either side of the house. The street directory might indicate which ward you need to search, but if the street ran through more than one ward you will need to determine the exact location of the house on a contemporary city map which indicates ward boundaries in order to determine what ward you should search.

Once you have completed this preliminary research you may proceed with your census search. By determining which ward your family lived in you may have narrowed your actual census search down to one reel of microfilm for a specific ward, as opposed to five or six reels of microfilm for the entire city.

If you are tracking the family through census records covering different time periods it will be necessary to repeat the process of locating the family in a contemporary directory in order to determine the ward you need to search. Remember that ward boundaries might be changed from one census period to the next, and the fact that you located the family in a specific ward in one census year does not mean they might be in that same ward for the previous census, or for the following census.

Families in cities tended to move more often than rural families, and ward boundaries changed more often than township boundaries.

1901 Census Schedules

Special note should be taken of the advantages of the 1901 census, which includes Schedule 2, Buildings and Lands, Churches and Schools, as well as Schedule 1, Nominal Return of Living Persons.

For the 1901 census, each ward was again separated into a number of enumeration portions, such as C-1, C-2, C-3, etc. with Schedule 2 for portion C-1 appearing on the microfilm just before Schedule 1 for portion C-1. It is sometimes easier to search Schedule 2 of each portion for the Street and number you need, and then cross-reference the page and line number indicated in Column 1 beside your proper street address. You can then proceed to the exact page and line number in Schedule 1 for that portion and locate your family.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian Census Part 1 and Part 2 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course 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 18:36.
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