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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 Research: New Brunswick Ancestors  by Althea Douglas, MA, CG(C). The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Government of Canada Records

Most records of interest to genealogists fall under provincial jurisdictions. The federal government, however, is responsible for citizenship and immigration, the military, census records after 1867, the National Registration of the 1940s and the various boards and commissions that watch over all things that move between provinces on land: transportation, railroads, canals, airports, etc.
More important in the Maritimes is federal control over what moves on water: ships and shipping, the men who sail them, fisheries, harbours and wharves, Coast Guard, search and rescue, etc. all controlled by some government department. In colonial times, much of this fell under the British Colonial Office or Board of Trade. There were a limited number of appointments, and usually the appointee had British connections or influential friends.

After 1867 positions on such board were political plums, awarded to friends of government, as were the many appointments such boards made: Register of Shipping, Inspectors of wharves or fisheries or Harbour master, and of course, Postmasters at almost every crossroads (now a searchable database).

Library and Archives Canada

In May 2004, Bill C-8 received royal proclamation amalgamating the National Archives and National Library and changing the name toLibrary and Archives Canada (LAC). It has happened before. The National Archives of Canada Act, proclaimed in 1987, changed the name of the Public Archives of Canada (PAC) to the National Archives of Canada (NA) and updated the Public Archives Act of 1912. That earlier legislation had made official a service that had been developing as the Archives Branch of the Department of Agriculture since 1872. [1]

Eventually all records generated by government departments and agencies, designated for preservation, should be deposited with Library and Archives Canada. Here they are organized and arranged according to whatever system is presently in fashion. The current online indexes tend to function by subject or topic, rather than by department. That does simplify things, since departments meld, separate, merge, split and change names and functions with every change of government, if not minister. Now, just find the “subject heading” that fits.

Libraries Galore

However, the federal government’s holdings range far beyond Library and Archives Canada. Would you believe in July 2001 there were 82 libraries listed in the “Directory of Federal Libraries” on the homepage of the Council of Federal Libraries—Conseil des bibliothèques du gouvernement fédéral. The federal system started with the Parliamentary Library, established in 1841 when the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada were united. My 1940 edition of The Encyclopedia of Canada (edited by W. Stewart Wallace) tells us: “It has been successively located at Kingston, Montréal, Québec, Toronto, Québec, and Ottawa, where it is now inadequately housed.” Still true. Much early material was lost by fire, the leaking roof caused problems, but today the building in being repaired and restored.

TheNational Library Act was only passed in 1953, so it is a relative newcomer to the scene, though as the Legal Deposit, it acquires all publications in all formats—all forms of print, spoken word and musical sound recordings, video recording, multimedia, microform, and electronic media, CDs, etc. It also collects material published prior to 1953, and encourages donation by private collectors. Since the 1970s, considerable rationalization of collections has taken place between the Library of Parliament, National Archives Library and the National Library. The result is some almost complete runs of 18th and 19th century magazines and serials, as well as the British Army Lists now among the rare books at LAC. Today Library and Archives Canada is devoted to archival management and conservation and those other 80 libraries also have specialized collections.

LAC is the centre of the inter-library loan spider-web, with a union catalogue, AMICUS, listing the holdings of most of the libraries and library systems in Canada, including those 80 plus federal libraries and their regional branches. Your local library can use this system to secure you a loan (or photocopy of relevant pages or entries) of just about anything published on almost any subject. Your local university library or main public reference library may be more adept at this than your neighbourhood branch, but in theory all are served equally.

Federal Records

Military and naval records, the census records, citizenship and immigration holdings are all explained in Tracing Your Ancestors in Canada, free from the Canadian Genealogy Centre website.
Tracing Your Ancestors makes no mention of a wide variety of federal government records that are not specifically related to genealogy. Yet, if you know they are there, they may add to your research, particularly if someone was employed by some government department or agency.

The catch with finding employment or appointments has always been to figure out just what department you should be looking for. For example, in earlier times, the Department of Agriculture was responsible not only for matters agricultural, but for archives, exhibitions (from Pony Shows to World’s Fairs), meat inspection, attracting settlers and even some immigrants.

Read the Instructions

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the PAC/NA published a number of different guides to their collections, and to the records of individual departments and commissions. As well, there are the RG and MG inventory lists. Each will contain some introductory material that explains the history of the unit, its administrative changes and responsibilities. Read it, I know it is dull and you have limited time and want to get to work, but knowing the background of any department or board will speed your research, it really will.

London and Paris

Soon after the PAC was established in 1872, offices were opened in both London and Paris to locate and copy documents relating to Canada. Between 1883 and 1945 successive teams of researchers in Paris copied by hand 450,000 pages of French records, while in London similar work would produce over 650 linear feet of transcripts. With the introduction of microfilming in the 1950s copying increased greatly, expanding to other archives and museums in both countries.
French records of des Colonies (MG1), la Marine (navy MG2), la Guerre (army MG4) and other agencies and departments have been copied (MG 1-8) and the British Colonial Office (MG11), Admiralty (MG12), War Office (MG13), Audit Office (MG14) and Treasury (MG15), these last being where you find the raw data on Loyalist claims, much of which has been abstracted and published. These and many other papers can be found at LAC, usually on microfilm. Usually, but not always, because every now and then you come across manuscripts, in beautiful clear handwriting, that are not the 18th century originals but 19th or early 20th century copies. Most of these are also on microfilm, but not all.

They were originally arranged in a number of Manuscript Groups (MG) but as the collection has expanded, so has the number of MGs. If the reference you find to some manuscript is earlier than about 1980, you should check the MG Inventory List Binders for conversion charts, what was once in MG12 may now be in MG15.

MG9 - Provincial, Local and Territorial Records

One curious collection, “Provincial, Local and Territorial Records” is held by the Manuscript Division. New Brunswick records are MG9 A (Nova Scotia MG9 B), and they are a mixed bag of colonial administration records on microfilm and actual local records rescued by agents of the Public Archives. There are church registers, transcripts of graveyards, township books, missing fragments of census returns or tax rolls. Suffice to say, MG 9 is a catch-all with a lot of family information.

MG9A - New Brunswick Records

We have noted how scholars and “amateurs” in New Brunswick rescued documents, founded historical societies and museums, but had no official archival repository until the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick was finally established in 1967. Some documents made their way to LAC in Ottawa.

In particular the Executive Council’s files of Land Grant Petitions were for a time in the safekeeping of LAC, so a researcher may access them in two places, under two different arrangements and will cite sources and write footnotes accordingly. Note: Double-check references.

Visual Records

Library and Archives Canada’s collections of visual images is growing almost daily, and some indexes can be searched on the Internet, so pictures of people and places can sometimes be tracked down, albeit often with difficulty. Single photographs are only indexed in the LAC system if someone at some time ordered a print. Once this occurs, a copy negative is made, a small print mounted on a card, and all relevant data is fed into the system. There are huge collections of newspaper photographs, as well as individual photographer’s archives where only a handful of pictures are in the index. They can be found and prints ordered. Just because someone or something is not indexed does not mean there is no picture. Learn how the system works, and work it, no one else can.

Census and Directories

Just a brief reminder, when you are doing census hunts, where knowing addresses can shorten the task immeasurably. The National Archives hold the census microfilms and the National Library who have the city, county and provincial directories. These are both located in the same building at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.

Voters Lists

Records of the Chief Electoral Officer for Canada (RG 113) includes lists of voters prepared during the federal elections from 1935 on. These are available at Library and Archives Canada on microfilm. However, they are arranged by electoral district, so you must know the street address and figure out the district using annual Canadian almanacs. A real problem in big cities like Montréal and Toronto, but not too difficult in New Brunswick.

What’s Not At Library and Archives Canada

Records created by government departments are supposed to end up at Library and Archives Canada, but at present, Statistics Canada still controls the 1940 National Registration data. Citizenship and Immigration, and the assorted transportation boards and commissions also tend to hold on to their files, just in case they ever need them.
Privacy Laws[2] make both archivists and government bureaucrats reluctant to release any information about anyone, living or dead (families can sue too). Bureaucrats, however, find the Access to Information laws make a lot of extra work, and I have noticed that when there starts to be a demand for access to older records they have sat on for years, all of a sudden their reluctance to let the archives have them will evaporate. So going after such reports, perhaps train wrecks or passenger arrivals, can only result in good for all researchers.

National Registration Records

Our census records for 1941 are closed, but you should know about the 1940 National Resources Mobilization Act registrations that are held by Statistics Canada.[3] World War II had started and the Government of Canada wanted to know what residents of the Dominion could do to further the war effort or perhaps thwart it. This registration was made under the War Measures Act, and so, once a person has been dead for 20 years, or was born over 110 years ago, the data can be released for a price. Genealogical searches (in 2009) were processed at a cost of $45 (plus applicable taxes).

Registration took place in mid-August, 1940. Everyone 16 and older registered, and if I remember correctly, for the next three or four years, one had to register when one turned 16. The information: full name, address, age, birthday, conjugal condition, number and relationship of dependents, place of birth and full details on citizenship, languages spoken, level of education, health and/or disabilities, occupation and details of work experience with a special section on knowledge of farming and details of any military service. Contact Statistics Canada in Ottawa, telephone: (613) 951-9483, for current details and prices. You must provide full name, place of residence in 1940, any identifying details such as age, birthday, and proof of death at least 20 years ago.

  1. Lacasse, Danielle and Antonio Lechasseur, The National Archives of Canada 1872-1997, Historical Booklet No. 58 (Ottawa:Canadian Historical Association, 1997), brief and informative history of the development of the NA.
  2. See A. Douglas, "The Privacy Dragon", Here be Dragons, too!, pages 75-78.
  3. See Wayne C. Renardson, "The National Resources Mobilization Act, 1940" Families, Vol 28, No. 1, February 1989, pages 37-40.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: New Brunswick Ancestors
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 <br> 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.