Introduction to Finding Ancestors in Manitoba (National Institute)

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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: Manitoba Ancestors  by Laura Hanowski. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

The Basics

The Research Plan - the 5 W Approach

A successful search involves setting a research plan, conducting the research using all the resources available, citing all the sources for the data and documents used and then analyzing the results before setting your next research goal. Whenever you run into a brick wall a return to the 5 W approach, will help you to redefine your goals and look for sources that you have overlooked.

  •  Who - are you looking for?
    Many of the settlers in Manitoba have come from countries where English is not the principal language. As a result many names are written as they sounded to the person writing them down. This in turn means the researcher must be open to many different ways to spell a name. Beware of name changes for either the given or legal name as well as “a.k.a.” or “dit” names. Focus on family groups rather than individuals to determine the family of origin.
  •  When - did the ancestor live in Manitoba?
    The date that your ancestor first came to Manitoba gives the researcher a starting point to look for records that have been created by that ancestor(s). This date helps you find which agencies were in charge of record keeping at the time and when or if these records are now available to the public or remain under Freedom of Information, Access to Information or Privacy legislation.
  • Where - in the province did your ancestor live?
    Many of the early places where your ancestors lived no longer exist. It is important that the researcher knows how to use gazetteers and maps to find these locations. Equally important is finding the location of records. Many of the early records are now found in archives and libraries so it is important to learn where these archives and libraries are located.
  • What - records did your ancestors create?
    Researchers begin by searching for birth/baptism, marriage and death records. Use a timeline to find what other records such as immigration, census, military, tax, voter’s lists, directories, church and local histories, newspapers, company, court and school records may have information about your ancestors.
  • Why - are you searching and why were the records created?
    The reason for your search will help you to determine which record to obtain first and then which records can provide additional information. Each level of government creates records to help them carry out their mandate. Genealogists must learn why the records were created and how to use these records to find more information about their ancestors. The information found in one record can lead to more information recorded in other records.
  • How - can I access the record?
    Much information being sought by researchers is open to the public. However, some government records are restricted by law. Rules regarding privacy and copyright issues are much stricter than they have been in the past. Researchers need to understand what their rights and responsibilities are in this regard. The current guidelines are available from government offices, at the public library and online at the national and provincial archives web pages.

Manitoba Freedom of Information and Privacy Act

This website explains just what these acts are, which records fall under their jurisdiction, along with a copy of the application and complaint forms.

Records of the Government of Canada and the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act (ATIP)

This website provides background information about the acts and lists the categories of records subject to review under the ATIP Acts. There is also specific information about how the acts affect the researcher, particularly when wanting to use restricted records found in the Library and Archives Canada Specific information about when a researcher may have to use the acts is found with information about the different government departments.


A vital part of research is understanding the copyright rules. How we use a document for our private use is quite different should we wish to publish this same document either in an article, a book or on a website. For this we are subject to the Copyright Act.

The National Archives of Canada website sets out the “Copyright/Permission to Reproduce” guidelines for use of their materials. You will find this under “Important Notices.”

Libraries and archives will have Cancopy guidelines posted next to the photocopying machines. You can learn more about the Copyright Act and your responsibility about reproduction of documents, maps and pictures in the following manner:


  • Dryden, Jean. Demystifying Copyright: A Researcher’s Guide to Copyright in Canadian Libraries and Archives. Ottawa: Canadian Library Association, 2001.

The Internet

Access to the Internet can help you make more effective use of research facilities and the records stored there. It is important to remember that the Internet is a tool not a source. Databases enable one to search records using the many ways of spelling a surname. However, it is the explanations about the records which are most valuable. If you are unsure about the name and location of a particular record there are many search engines which can enable you to find out if web-pages exist for the agency or record you are looking for. Search engines are particularly helpful to find new addresses for websites that may have changed their location on the web. Two recommended search engines are:

  • Dogpile - this search engine searches many other search engines
  • Google - can search for Canadian or worldwide sites

Recording Your Findings

It is important for genealogists to record the source of each piece of information they use in order to verify their findings. It also means that they can find the original record again if it needs to be rechecked. This information enables others to consult the same records to verify the information. Equally important is the need to analyze the information and the records. Some record centres are now putting the citation guides for resources in their institutions on their websites. The following books are the standard texts used by genealogists for analyzing evidence and citing sources.


  • The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual. Washington, D.C.: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2000.
  • Douglas, Althea. Tools of the Trade For Canadian Genealogy. Toronto: The Ontario Genealogical Society, 2000.
  • Hare, Alison. “Citations for Canadians.” Families 42 (September 2003).
  • Hayward, George. “Citing Genealogical Sources at the National Archives of Canada.”Generations: The Journal of the New Brunswick Genealogical Society 57 (Fall 1993).
  • Merriman, Brenda Dougall. About Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Genealogists. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 2004.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown.Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1997.
  • National Archives of Canada. Guideline for the Disclosure of Personal Information for Historical Research at the National Archives of Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services, Canada, 1995.
  • Stevenson, Noel C. Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to the Standard of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship and Family History. Laguna Hills, California: Aegean Park Press, 1979.

Code of Ethics

As researchers we are anxious to learn as much as we can about our family. However, this knowledge brings with it responsibilities. Because we learn or find information about family members does not mean we have the right to share it without their permission. By publishing “facts” we could inadvertently deprive others of insurance or other benefits they are entitled to or worse still leave them open to identity theft. Permission must also be sought before pictures you receive from family members are shared. Give credit to the owners of the pictures and documents information provided by others. The old adage “treat others as you would wish to be treated” is a good rule to follow.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Manitoba 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

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.