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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 ($).

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is one of the Atlantic provinces and consists of two parts: peninsular Nova Scotia, separated from the mainland by the Bay of Fundy and connected by the narrow Chignecto Isthmus and Cape Breton Island. Originally, first led by France, it was known as Acadia and included what is now New Brunswick.

The British name Nova Scotia dates from 1621 when a Scot, Sir William Alexander, was given a charter for colonization. French influence dominated the territory until 1710, when the British captured Port Royal and renamed it Annapolis Royal; in 1763 the mainland was ceded to Britain and the French built the fortress of Louisbourg on Ile-Royale (Cape Breton).

The French-speaking Acadians were caught in the conflict between the two countries until they were expelled in 1755 and 1758. Halifax was founded in 1749 and its small population was augmented by the loyalists in 1783-4. This led to the creation of New Brunswick and Cape Breton as separate colonies (the latter was re-annexed in 1820). Nova Scotia was a Charter member of Confederation in 1867.

The following record groups are the most valuable when researching vital statistics in Nova Scotia.

Church Records

Church registers are an alternate source for vital statistical information. Although parents’ names are not always listed and generally the registers are unindexed, they do contain the records of baptisms, marriages and burials. The amount of information varies with the denomination and the Baptist records, in particular, are scarce. The registers of the Roman Catholic churches are an exception. Marriage entries in these registers are often endorsed to show the parish in which a contracting party was baptized and a record of the marriage was sent to that parish. Thus, if the marriage entry can be located, the origin of the bride and groom may be found.

Township Records

There are also Township Records that contain births, marriages and deaths amongst the land transactions and cattle marks. The Nova Scotia townships that were established by New Englanders kept records similar to those of New England towns. Early in the life of the township the families were recorded, with birth dates of all children being shown, normally together with the record of the parents’ marriage. Once this record was set up, a chronological record of births, marriages and deaths followed. The origin of the immigrant is often shown here.

There is a searchable database of the Township Records. It will allow you to determine if township papers are available for a particular community and provides descriptive information about the township books. This will allow you to plan your visit to the archives and make the most of your time. The contents of the books are not digitized, not available online at present (except for selected pages from the Truro Township Book), and not available through inter-institutional loan. Some of the township books may be available from Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa; if so, this will be noted in the database entries.

Vital Records

According to the book Genealogical Research in Nova Scotia, 4th Edition (1998) by Terrence M. Punch, the vital statistics records for Nova Scotia are located in Record Group #32 at the Nova Scotia Archives.

Marriage records are from about 1849-51 to about 1906-18 and are in R.G. Series “M”.

Marriage Bonds are the only records at the archives up to about 1850. As these are only an intention of marriage, they should be confirmed by an additional source to prove the marriage did happen. Marriage records will generally provide the name, age and occupation of the bride and groom, their parents’ names, birthplace and residence, marital status and place and date of the wedding.

The year the marriage books concluded is the cutoff year for each county’s marriage record. The dates as of 2013 are:

Cape Breton

Death records and birth records are from 1864 to 1877 and can be found in R.G. Series “WB” on microfilm. All records are arranged by county and year. Death records will give the name, age, residence, maybe a birthplace and sometimes their parentage.

During an Irish Genealogical Research Seminar held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a talk was given by Dr. Marble regarding researching of Nova Scotia families. A large portion of the talk was included in the Canadian Genealogist, Vol. 2, No. 4, 1980 which is available online. The article covering this topic was “Genealogical Essentials in Researching Nova Scotia Families”, and is well worth reading. Actually, the other articles are also based on Nova Scotia research and would likely be of great benefit to any researcher working in Atlantic Canada. Although the articles were written in 1980 before any computerization or the Internet, the basic premises are still valid. Access to databases and digital records has reduced the time required to find some records, but the methods of search described in the article are still valid.

A selective group of printed sources is listed in Tracing Your Ancestors in Nova Scotia, 3rd edition by Julie Morris (Halifax, 1987).

Check with the Library catalogue for additions to this list. There is also A Catalogue of Published Genealogies of Nova Scotia Families, written by A.E. Marble (Halifax, 1984) available at the Library.

Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management

Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management
6016 University Avenue
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 1W4
Telephone: 902-424-6060

Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management (NSARM) has some historical vital records online. Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics. As of January, 2013 the website listed the following records as available:

1864-1877, 1908-1911
(delayed registrations 1830-1911)
Bonds 1763-1864
Registrations 1864-1936
1864-1877, 1908-1961
City of Halifax 1890-1908

A searchable database by name is provided and then a digital image may be viewed. If you want copies of the records for genealogical purposes you may purchase them–either e-files or paper–from the website.

Records after the above dates are held by Vital Statistics Office.

The following information has also been obtained from the NSARM website. This institution was formerly known as Public Archives of Nova Scotia (PANS) and some resource materials still bear this name. Although there are some microfilm numbers referred to in this article, they cannot be inter-institutionally loaned from the NSARM. They participate in inter-institutional loan between certain facilities but only as a borrower. Microfilms are not loaned from the Archives.

This information is included to help you understand what other records are available at the Archives. If you cannot personally visit then you may consider hiring a researcher to work on your behalf.

This collection of materials has been organized with name and dates, followed by a description of the records.

Nova Scotia Deputy Registrar - General Fonds 1769-1918

Systematic registration of births, marriages and deaths did not start until August 1, 1864 when the Registration Act added registration to the duties of the Board of Statistics. While registration of births and deaths prior to 1864 was undertaken on a more informal basis, the legislature had regulated marriage from the first session in 1758. They had provided marriage licenses to those not choosing to give notice of their marriage through the reading of banns.

Legislation in 1761 with later amendments and additions in 1782 required township clerks to keep registers of all births, marriages and deaths within their jurisdiction. The forms and procedures to be used in collecting this information were not specified. It was not until 1864 that a centralized agency to collect and present the province’s vital statistics was established.

In that year, the Registration Act provided for the commission of deputy registrars and issuers of marriage licenses. They were required to register all births, marriages and deaths within their jurisdiction and to present regular statistical returns to the secretary of the Board of Statistics. This information was used to compile a provincial register of vital statistics.

This provincial initiative was short-lived, however, since the federal Department of Agriculture and Statistics assumed responsibility for the compilation of information on births, marriages and deaths after Confederation in 1867.

Although the federal government withdrew from vital statistics collecting in Nova Scotia on 1 July 1877 the province continued the registration of marriages, maintaining the position of marriage license clerk within the provincial secretary’s department.

In October 1908, the provincial government resumed the registration of births and deaths when it enacted the Registration of Births and Deaths Act (the title of which was changed to the Vital Statistics Act in 1919). The act created the position of Deputy Registrar-General and divided the province into registration districts, each of which was assigned a district registrar. The provincial secretary was designated the Registrar-General for the province, but the act assigned all functional responsibility for the registration of the province’s births, marriages and deaths to the Deputy Registrar-General.

The Registrar-General’s duties were confined to the “general supervision” of the Registration of Births and Deaths Act and the presentation of the Deputy Registrar-General’s annual report on the province’s vital statistics to the Governor in Council. In 1926, the Provincial Health Officer was made the Deputy Registrar-General. When the Nova Scotia Department of Public Health was revived and reorganized in 1931, the new Deputy Minister of Public Health also became the Deputy Registrar-General, while the new Minister of Public Health was designated Registrar-General.

Fonds consist of nine series:

  1. Birth registration books
  2. Marriage registration books
  3. Death registration books
  4. Marriage bonds
  5. Marriage license files
  6. Returns of marriage licenses issued and marriages solemnized
  7. Returns of registered deaths
  8. Statistics office correspondence and other material
  9. Returns of births registered

Related records may be found in township books from communities that were settled as townships within the colony. These townships were required to keep vital records of settling families.


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

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.