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

Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada has the largest collection of Canadian census records. All the main census records held by Library and Archives Canada are listed in their two main Finding Aids, compiled by Thomas A. Hillman. Their reference is Record Group 31 (RG 31).

  • 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 Finding Aids provide a guide to the records available for any given area. Helpful information regarding abbreviations used in the census enumeration for the Religion column and the Country or Province of Birth column is included in them.

Libraries and Archives

Most large libraries and the various provincial archives have copies of these Catalogues available, or you may write Library and Archives Canada for information about their holdings. The provincial archives will most likely have copies of the microfilms for their province. Many regional libraries have obtained copies of LAC census records pertaining to their local region, and some larger facilities with special genealogical collections have obtained copies on a wider basis, possibly for the entire province, or even the entire Library and Archives Canada collection.

Depending on the institution, it may be necessary to convert the Library and Archives Canada film reel numbers to that of the local institution. If the local institution has its own numbering system for microfilms, they will undoubtedly have some type of conversion table available to assist patrons locate the correct film.

The LAC website has information about what census years are available on microfilm and what is available in digital format.

FamilySearch Centers

The FamilySearch Centers of the LDS Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormon Church) have obtained copies of most Canadian census records. These will be listed in their Location Finding Aid, under Province, Census, or Province, County, Township/Town, Census.

They have also collected a number of published Indexes to various portions of Canadian census records, and printed copies of census transcriptions. For some researchers these may be more easily accessible than the actual microfilmed census records available through Library and Archives Canada.

History of Canadian Censuses

In 1851 a nominal enumeration was made covering the provinces of New Brunswick, Québec and Ontario. Portions of the 1851 census are missing. Check theCatalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1891/ Catalogue de recensements sur microfilm 1666-1891, Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1987 (latest version) to determine what is available for your area.

At this time a pattern of decennial census enumeration was established. After Confederation in 1867, the taking of a census became a constitutional requirement, rather than a provincial requirement, and in 1871 the first Dominion census was conducted. The 1871 census for Prince Edward Island does not appear to have survived.

Please remember that Newfoundland did not enter into Confederation with Canada until 1949, and therefore Newfoundland census records did not follow the same pattern as census records for the other provinces.

A separate listing of Newfoundland records available through Library and Archives Canada or other institutions will be found in LAC Finding Aid 300. Records for other provinces and other years were added as required by a growing population.

Only microfilmed copies of the census records are available for researching. Paper records exist for all Library and Archives Canada microfilmed records with a “C” or an “H” prefix, except for the year 1881, and are held by Library and Archives Canada. The original paper records for the years 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 no longer exist. Original records for those microfilms with an “F” or “M” prefix are not at Library and Archives Canada, but are held by other institutions, possibly the provincial archives concerned.

Québec Census

The census records taken in Québec have an added bonus for researchers not available in other census records of Canada. In Québec records, a woman did not always lose her identity as soon as she married. Most French records would refer to the wife by giving her maiden name, and then the name of her husband.

For example, Victorine Gauthier, wife of Octave Lalonde: in the census records, Octave Lalonde would be listed with the surname “Lalonde,” while his wife Victorine would be listed on the line under her husband as Victorine Gauthier, both indicated as married.

In some English areas of Québec where the enumerator was English, this practice may not have been followed, and the wife would be listed with her Christian name and married surname.

For those searching Québec census records, the use of the wife’s maiden name is a bonus, leading to a search for the marriage record, and making it possible to determine that you have the correct marriage for the couple.

Census Record for Octave Lalonde and Victorine Gauthier
Family of Octave Lalonde and wife, Victorine Gauthier
Octave Lalonde household, 1871 Census of Canada, Québec, Soulange County (district 110), Paroisse St. Polycarpe (sub-district B-3), page 18, line 4; microfilm C-10053, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

Census for Octave Lalonde and Victorine Gauthier Quebec.jpg

Census Record for Abel D. Turner
Abel D. Turner, wife Charlotte and children listed under surname “Turner” English-speaking enumerator Ira H. Bullock.
Abel D. Turner household, 1871 Census of Canada, Québec, Stanstead County (district 141), Stanstead Township (sub-district A), division 1, page 12, line 7; microfilm C-10089, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

Census for Abel D Turner.jpg

Additional Information

For additional information see: Canada Census, 1851

See: Canada Census, 1881

See: Canada Census, 1891

See: Lower Canada Census 1831

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 wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.