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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in April 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Vital Statistic Records - Part 1 by Sharon L. Murphy. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Introduction to Canadian: Vital Statistic Records
Where are the Records?
When were they born? When were they married? When did they die? The answers to these three questions are the cornerstones that genealogists use to build their family histories. Where can you find the records containing these vital statistics and how do you use them?
An interesting family history does not consist of only dates and places. It is necessary, however, to discover these facts in order to set the stage and allow the writer to expand on the life of the individual and of the family. Bringing your ancestors back to life, so to speak, can only be done if you know something about their life and their times. Before you can visualize this you will need to construct your foundation and framework with the facts.
What is civil registration?
The government required that all births, marriages and deaths were to be registered with them at the time of the event or forthwith.
What kind of record keeping took place?
Several different statutes determined the official rules of law and as each statute changed, so did the procedures regarding the registration of vital statistics.
Why did the government want to record these events?
There are several reasons for the registration of each type of event. Compiling statistics that could be analyzed was the most prominent and influential factor. The government required facts to track the population numbers and settlement locations. This would provide them with the information they required to plan for the growth and services necessary for this new country.
Death registration was particularly important in order to be able to track the types of illnesses and diseases that people died from. It also provided the information needed regarding the true population of any area. Counting only the births and not the deaths would certainly give a false picture.
It was also necessary to know where various services such as schools, hospitals, and transportation and communication centers should be located.
By analyzing the results an educated decision could be made providing the government with some direction regarding the growth of the country. As the country became more and more inhabited and families began to grow, a record of marriage became very important in establishing the legitimacy rights of the children. It affected the legal status of the rightful heirs. Without some record of a marriage how would a person prove their parentage and therefore their legal rights?
The government required that all births, marriages and deaths were to be registered with them “at the time of the event or forthwith”. In Canada, it is a provincial responsibility to gather and maintain its own vital records departments and systems. Although this these data hasve been collected from each province by Statistics Canada, it is only for statistical purposes and is not searchable.
If you had several ancestors throughout Canada that were born, married or died in various provinces, then you will need to search for the record of each event’s registration in the appropriate province. There is not one searchable register for all of Canada. The legislation and methods of each province differed widely and there was no standard in place.
In 1919 Ontario was the first province to amend its provincial Vital Statistics Act to conform with to the model drafted by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. The national registration area was launched in 1920, with all provinces but Québec cooperating. By 1923 Québec had also come onside and Canada had a complete national registration area. Each province was still responsible for the actual registration of the event and although the forms used had minimum standard questions, each province did have the freedom to add any additional questions it felt were necessary or useful to them.
This standardization was to provide statistics on a national level but the actual policing of the registration was within each province’s authority under its provincial Vital Statistics Act.
You cannot “do” genealogy without history and geography. Focus your efforts to learn the background of your particular area. It will be the most effective use you can make of your time and will save you hours of looking in the wrong places for documents that never existed. It’s hard enough to find the ones that did! As the provinces grew and confederation became a reality, the laws once again changed regarding the registration of births, marriages and deaths. In Ontario the law was in place by July 1st 1869 but often not actually begun until forms were received by the various offices. You will find that there was a delay or overlap of where and when events were actually registered. Each province will have a different arrangement regarding the location and accessibility of these registers. A brief history of the record keeping system for each province has been provided to help you start your quest. You would be wise to contact the facility that you think may be the most beneficial to your research needs and ask for a listing of their records. The Internet is also a good place to find addresses and content and, where appropriate, a reference has been included for you to do so.
The inventory of most of the facilities used to house our vital records is constantly changing and evolving. As time goes on records are moved, microfilmed, and new information is discovered. Although genealogy is a study of the past lives of our ancestors (obviously lives whose past cannot be changed), the location of these records of the past often do change. As the various provinces grew, ultimately the country emerged. The following list indicates when civil registration was implemented. In some provinces, records are available prior to the indicated dates. Refer to each province for more detailed information.
|| Birth 1889, Marriage and Death 1898|
| British Columbia
|| Birth, Marriage and Death 1872|
|| Birth, Marriage and Death 1882|
| New Brunswick
|| Birth 1801, Marriage and Death 1888|
|| Birth, Marriage and Death 1892|
| Nova Scotia
|| Birth, Marriage and Death 1864, Births & Death not recorded from 1876 to 1908|
|| Birth, Marriage and Death 1869|
|| Birth, Marriage and Death 1926|
|| Birth, Marriage and Death some 1889, but not all until 1920-30|
| Northwest Territories
|| Birth, Marriage and Death 1940|
|| Birth, Marriage and Death 1999|
|| Birth 1895, Marriage and Death 1899 |
Important Note: Generally speaking, the government records of births, marriages and deaths remain with each provincial government agency to protect the privacy of the involved individuals and to allay attempts at identity theft. When these records are old enough to be deemed “historic” they have been made accessible to the public by transfer to an archives archival institution. Often there is a blanket 100-year rule in place, but the practice does vary from one province to another. Some government agencies and archives have made much more recent vital statistics open to public access. Provincial legislation on this issue may change from one year to the next, so the student is advised to keep current with the province of interest.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Vital Statistic Records - Part 1 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.