- How Canadian National Censuses Are Organized
- Find Ancestors in Canadian Census Records All Years
- Canadian Censuses Online
A census is a count and description of the population. Censuses have been taken by the colonial, provincial, and national governments of Canada for a variety of reasons, including taxation and levying for militia service.
Census records can provide family relationships, age, year of birth, description of property, religion, and place of birth. Microfilm copies are available at many repositories and through interlibrary loan. Generally, more recent censuses are more complete. They can provide information missing in other records. Use census information with caution because information (which may have been given by any family member) may be incorrect or deliberately falsified.
The national government of Canada has taken censuses every ten years since 1871 and every five years since 1971. The 1871 census covers the four original provinces: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. The first coast-to-coast census was taken in 1881. Newfoundland was not part of Canada until 1949. For Newfoundland few 19th-century censuses that list names have been found. They mostly contain statistical summaries.
Canadian national censuses, taken for these dates, are available to the public:
- 1871 (April 2)
- 1881 (April 4)
- 1891 (April 6)
- 1901 (March 31)
- 1911 (June 1)
Personal information from later censuses is not available, but some information on deceased persons is available from the National Registration of 1940. Write for application form to:
Census Operations Division
- Statistics Canada
- Ottawa, ON K1A 0T6
1871. The Family History Library and Library and Archives Canada have the entire census, including death (mortality) schedules and agricultural schedules. See Canada Archives and Libraries.
1881 and 1891. The Family History Library and Library and Archives Canada have the personal schedules of both censuses.
1901. The Family History Library and Library and Archives Canada have the personal and the buildings and lands schedules.
1911. The Family History Library and Library and Archives Canada have the personal schedules.
To find microfilm numbers of the national censuses in the Family History Library Catalog, check the Locality Search under:
CANADA - CENSUS - [YEAR]
Information in the National Population Censuses
These censuses list a large proportion of the population. Unfortunately, portions of some have been lost, and some geographical areas within the provinces were missed by the census takers.
The 1871 and later censuses list for each member of the household:
- Religious affiliation.
- Birthplace (country or province).
The 1871 and 1881 censuses list for each person:
- Father’s origin or ethnic background.
- The 1891 census, in addition, asks:
- If persons are French Canadian.
- For parents’ birthplaces.
The 1891 and later censuses ask for a person’s:
- Relationship to head of household.
The 1901 census asks for:
- A complete birth date, not just the year.
- The year the person immigrated to Canada.
- The year of naturalization.
The father’s racial or tribal origin, not whether the person was of French Canadian descent.
The 1901 census also contains a buildings and lands schedule for each locality. This schedule gives a city street address or a farm land description—such as township and range, or township, concession, and lot number—for most families.
Indexes to the National Censuses
Search available indexes before using the census records. As indexes may be incomplete or incorrect, if you have reason to believe your ancestor should have been in the census, search the census even if your ancestor is not in the index.
Most national censuses are not indexed by province. The following index has been prepared for the 1871 census of Ontario:
Elliott, Bruce S., ed. Index to the 1871 Census of Ontario.30 vols. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986–92. (FamilyHistory Library book 971.3 X22i.) This is an index to heads-of-household and "strays" (persons in a household who had a different family name). It shows the person’s name, age, religion, occupation, and census district; it also shows the page number where you can find the person in the census. To see what area each volume covers, check the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ONTARIO - CENSUS - 1871 - INDEXES
The Family History Library has a slightly different version of the same index on compact disc:
Census Index: Ontario, Canada, 1871. Novato, California: Brøderbund, 1996. (Family History Library compact disc Series No. 9 pt. 116.) This is an alphabetical index to heads-of-household in the 1871 Ontario census.
The Internet web site of the National Archives of Canada has an index to the Ontario portion of the 1871 census index. See Canada Archives and Libraries.
All versions of the Ontario 1871 census index include only National Archives of Canada microfilm numbers. To use microfilms at Family History Centers, find Family History Library microfilm numbers in the library catalog.
Indexes to Other Censuses. For other indexes, see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
[PROVINCE] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY], [TOWNSHIP] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY], [CITY] - CENSUS - [YEAR] - INDEXES
When there are no census indexes, look for your ancestor’s location in other kinds of indexes. See Canada Church Records, Canada Directories, Canada Emigration and Immigration, Canada Genealogy, and Canada Land and Property Records and in Wiki articles of the provinces.
A search of the inGeneas database may contain census records for various years for an individual.
Boundaries of National Census Districts
National census records are arranged by province and within provinces by census districts and subdistricts. Census districts are voting districts, not counties. Although a voting district may have the same name as a county, it may not include the same townships. In some provinces, townships are equivalent to census subdistricts. To determine which townships and counties eastern Canadian cities and villages were located in, look in:
Lovell, John, ed. Canadian Dominion Directory for 1871. 8 vols. Montreal: John Lovell, 1871. (Family History Library book 971.3 E4L; films 856124 and 856125; fiche 6046766.) This gives the township and county of each community, which is important when searching census, land and property, local histories, and other records.
Since the boundaries varied from census to census, it is not easy to tell which census district an eastern Canadian township or western Canadian village was in. Contemporary maps of the census districts have been lost or destroyed. Provincial maps showing county, township, and election/census precinct boundaries as of about 1880 for the Maritimes, Quebec, and Ontario are in:
Illustrated Atlas of the Dominion of Canada. Toronto: H. Belden, 1880. (Family History Library film 982194 item 5.)
For 1871 only, useful district descriptions are in:
Censuses of Canada, 1608–1876. Statistics of Canada. Ottawa: Maclean and Roger, 1878, 5: 388–435. (Family History Library book 971 X2pc, v. 5; film 844891.)
Gazetteers published in the 1880s sometimes list the "electoral county" or census/voting district rather than the county where a city or village was located. If you still cannot determine the census district, you may need to search several neighboring census districts to find your ancestor.
Colonial, Provincial, and Local Censuses
Colonial, provincial, and local governments also took censuses. Content varied by time period and by locality. Censuses taken in the 1600s under the French regime sometimes included much more family information than those taken in British North America in the early 1800s. (See Wiki articles of the provinces.)
Fifteen partial censuses of New France and nine of Acadia were taken between 1666 and 1754. Find microfilm numbers of Acadian censuses and book call numbers of published transcriptions in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
NOVA SCOTIA - CENSUS
Censuses of New France are in the Family History Library Catalog under:
QUEBEC - CENSUS QUEBEC - CENSUS - [YEAR]
Detailed family information is in the surviving personal schedules of the censuses of Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario) taken for 1851 (census day was actually in January 1852) and 1861. Less detailed censuses were taken of the Maritime Provinces in the same years, 1851 and 1861. For film numbers of 1851 and later censuses, see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
CANADA - CENSUS - [YEAR]
Find censuses before 1851 under headings such as:
[PROVINCE] - CENSUS
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - CENSUS
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY], [TOWNSHIP] - CENSUS
1861 New Brunswick Census--A free Internet index and images to the 1861 New Brunswick Census can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search Site. For a description of this collection, see 1861 New Brunswick Census.
1861 Prince Edward Island Census--A free Internet index and images to the 1861 Prince Edward Island Census can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search Site. For a description of this collection see 1861 Prince Edward Island Census
1861 Quebec Census--A free Internet index and images to the 1861 Prince Edward Island Census can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search Site. For a description of this collection see 1861 Quebec Census
1861 Nova Scotia Census--A free Internet index and images to the 1861 Prince Edward Island Census can be viewed on the FamilySearch Record Search Site. For a description of this collection see 1861 Nova Scotia Census
Where to Find Censuses
Most available Canadian censuses are listed province by province, subdistrict by subdistrict, and year by year in:
Hillman, Thomas A. Canadian Census Returns 1666–1891. Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1987. (Family History Library book 971 X23ht.) As noted above, many towns and villages were part of larger subdistricts, so they are not listed separately in this book.
Hillman, Thomas A. Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm, 1901. Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1993. (Family History Library book 971 X23n plus 10 microfiche 6334555. Not available at Family History Centers.) The book gives an overview of the personal schedules and the buildings and lands censuses available for certain localities and the districts and subdistricts in the 1901 census. The microfiche, which were originally included as an appendix, give details on district, subdistrict, and division names and numbers.
The microfilm numbers in the above books are for the National Archives of Canada. Public libraries can use these numbers to order microfilms through the interlibrary loan system. To use films at Family History Centers, find microfilm numbers in the Family History Library Catalog.
The following censuses are indexed and online at ancestry.com which is a subscription website that may be available at your local family history center or public library: 1851,1871,1901, 1906 and 1911
The 1851, 1901, 1906 and 1911 censuses are online for free at: http://automatedgenealogy.com/
The 1891 census is available from the Canadian Genealogy Center.
Various other Canadian censuses are online at: http://www.censusfinder.com/canada-census-records.htm
The meaning of abbreviations and acronyms appearing in various Canadian censuses can be found on the website of Statistics Canada.