Canada Vital Records
See also Canadian Vital Records (KP) for additional information about online sources.
Civil governments have created records of births, marriages, and deaths, commonly called "vital records" because they refer to critical events in a person’s life. In Quebec, vital records created by the government are called "civil registration" (état civil), the term generally used outside North America. Vital records are an excellent source of accurate names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. But the births, marriages, and deaths of many people were never recorded by civil authorities. Other vital records are described in "Church Records" and other sections.
Vital records are the responsibility of the provinces except for the registration of First Nations individuals (Native Canadians), which is a federal responsibility. In some provinces, authorities began registering births, marriages, and deaths since the 1860s. Complete registration in all the provinces and territories was achieved in the 1920s. After this date, almost all individuals who lived in Canada are recorded.
To find a civil vital record, you will need at least the approximate year and place in which the birth, marriage, or death occurred. You may need to search other records first to find clues about these events, such as family Bibles, genealogies, local histories, biographies, cemetery records, censuses, pension files, newspaper notices, and probate files. In the 18th and 19th centuries these other records must often substitute for civil vital records, though they may not be as accurate as those kept by church authorities and local or provincial governments.
General Historical Background
The recording of civil vital statistics developed slowly in Canada:
1620s: Roman Catholic priests in New France (Quebec) began keeping vital records. In keeping with French law, second copies of these church records were filed with Quebec civil authorities, even after the British conquest.
Late 1770s–early 1800s: In colonial Nova Scotia, town clerks recorded vital information, but these records are incomplete. Elsewhere prior to provincial registration, many local or district governments kept vital records, especially of marriages.
1860s: Some provincial governments of eastern Canada recognized the need for accurate vital records.
1890s: Civil registration began in most of the remaining provinces, but not all births, marriages, and deaths were registered until the late 1920s.
1926: Civil registration of vital statistics separate from church record keeping began in the province of Quebec. Vital records registration became a completely civil matter in Quebec in 1994.
Information in Vital Records
The information recorded in civil records of vital registration varied over time. Later records generally give more complete information. Vital records are usually written in English or French, but content varies by time period and province. For example, before 1907 in Ontario, parents’ names were not usually on death certificates, but they are after that date.
Birth records generally give the child’s:
Date and place of birth.
Names of parents.
Later records may also give:
Name of the hospital.
Age of the parents.
Occupation of the father.
Marital status of the mother.
Number of other children born to the mother.
Marriages were usually recorded where the bride resided. If you believe a marriage took place but cannot find a record of the marriage, search records of intent to marry.
Records of Intent to Marry. In addition to marriage records, you may find records of a couple’s intent to marry:
Marriage bonds are written guarantees or promises of payment made by the groom or another person (often a parent or other relative) to ensure that a forthcoming marriage would be legal. The person who posted the bond was known as the surety or bondsman. The bond was recorded by a district or county clerk. These documents were frequently used in some eastern Canadian provinces up to the mid-1800s, and in New Brunswick to the early 1900s.
Contracts or settlements (contrats de mariage) are documents created in regions colonized by France, especially Quebec and Acadia (early Nova Scotia), for the protection of legal rights and property. They are usually included with notarial records, not with church or civil registration of vital statistics. See the "Notarial Records" section of this outline.
Records of marriages. You may find the following records that document the actual marriage:
Marriage Registers (registres de mariages). Civil officials recorded the marriages they performed in registers, usually preprinted forms bound in a book and kept in the civil office. If the marriage was performed by someone else, such as a minister or justice of the peace, that person was required to report the marriage information to the local official.
Marriage registers give:
Date of marriage.
Names of bride and groom.
Notes if bride or groom was single or widowed.
Names of witnesses.
They may also give:
Ages of bride and groom.
Birthplaces of bride and groom.
Residences of bride and groom.
Name of person giving consent.
Names of parents.
Names of previous marriage partners and their death dates.
A note whether a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage.
Divorces were uncommon before the mid-20th century, but some did occur. Fewer than 900 divorces were granted in all of Canada between 1867 and 1913. Only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and British Columbia had their own divorce courts during this time. Parliamentary divorces were required for residents of Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories until about 1919. Until 1930 in Ontario and until 1968 in Quebec and Newfoundland, obtaining a divorce required an act of the Parliament of Canada. The act(s) for a divorce often include detailed genealogical information. To get a copy, send the names of the spouses and the estimated year of divorce to:
Clerk of the Senate
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4
Government offices and courts dealing in divorce proceedings and statistics are listed in:
Canadian Almanac and Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (Family History Library book 971 E4ca; computer number 160632.)
Divorce information may also be available from the provincial vital records offices (listed below).
Death records may provide important information on a person’s birth, spouse, and parents. There are often civil death records for people who have no birth or marriage records. Deaths were usually registered within a few days of the death in the town or city where the person died.
Early death records generally give:
Date and place of death.
Twentieth-century certificates usually also include:
Age or date of birth (and sometimes the place).
Residence or street address.
Cause of death.
Name of person giving information (often a relative).
(Often) name of spouse or parent.
Information about parents and the birth date and birthplace may be inaccurate since the person giving the information may not have had complete information. Some information may not have been required by authorities at the time.
Locating Vital Records
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of some civil vital records registration or indexes of many provinces and counties in eastern Canada. However, some records were destroyed, were not available for microfilming, or were restricted from public access by the laws of the country or province. You may research records at the library, but the library does not issue or certify certificates for living or deceased individuals.
Most of these records date from the late 19th century. For civil registration records, see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under all of these headings:
CANADA - VITAL RECORDS
[PROVINCE] - VITAL RECORDS
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - VITAL RECORDS
[PROVINCE], [COUNTY], [CITY] - VITAL RECORDS
For the province of Quebec only, see:
QUEBEC - CIVIL REGISTRATION
QUEBEC, [COUNTY], [CITY] - CHURCH RECORDS
The library now has these and other sources (some of which are described in the research outlines for each province):
The provincial government began registering births, marriages, and deaths in 1872. The early records are very incomplete. The library has:
Death registrations 1872 to 1977 and index 1872 to 1976.
Marriage registrations 1872 to 1922 and index 1872 to 1921.
The provincial government began recording births, marriages, and deaths in 1888. The library has:
Birth registrations (arranged alphabetically within each year) 1888 to 1899.
Marriage returns (alphabetically within each year) 1888 to 1919.
Provincial death returns (arranged alphabetically by year) 1888 to 1895
Some county death register books 1888 to 1919.
In 1864 the provincial government began registering vital statistics, but the records were not complete. The government quit registering births and deaths in 1877 and began again in 1908. The Family History Library has:
Birth and death records from 1864 to 1877 and indexes.
Marriage records 1864 to 1910 or later and indexes.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. The library has some early county and district marriage records and marriage bonds. Indexes are available for some of these.
Registration of vital statistics began officially in Ontario on 1 July 1869. A substantially complete registration was achieved by 1930. The library has:
Birth registrations 1869 to 1901 and indexes.
Marriage registrations 1869 to 1916 and indexes.
Death registrations 1869 to 1926 and indexes
The library’s collection continues to grow, and the Family History Library Catalog is updated annually. Check it again every year for the records you need.
Records Not at the Family History Library
Vital records dating from the 20th century are at the vital records office for each province. Earlier records may be at vital records offices or at provincial archives. To protect the rights of privacy of living persons, access to and use of most modern records is restricted.
A general discussion of record-keeping practices and the vital records available in each province is in the genealogical handbooks listed in "For Further Reading." See also:
Kemp, Thomas J. International Vital Records Handbook. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994. (Family History Library book 929.1 K32i 1994; computer number 735457.) Some Canadian sample forms and fee schedules are outdated.
The Family History Library also has a guide to Vital Records in the United States and Canada, which is frequently updated. (This guide is not available at Family History Centers.) For current specific details, contact the provincial archives or the vital statistics offices named in the research outline for the province.
Vital Records Offices. Each province has its own schedule of fees for vital records searches. Many offices want requests made on their own special forms. Some offices will search a three- or five-year time period on either side of the date you suggest, but some will search only a specific day, month, and year. Some provinces provide information only to the person whose records are sought, or to family members when the person’s proof of death is furnished. If the original certificate is found, a genealogical abstract is provided for no additional fee. Photocopies of the original certificates are not usually provided.
Two useful addresses not mentioned in the research outlines for the provinces are:
Registrar of Vital Statistics
P.O. Box 1320
Yellowknife, NWT X1A 2L9
Department of Health and Human Resources
P.O. Box 2703
Whitehorse, YT Y1A 2C6
Quebec: Some pre-1900 records are in regional branches of the Archives Nationales du Québec. Many of these have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library.
British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario: Microfilm copies of unrestricted records from archives are at the Family History Library.
To request records from other archives and records not yet microfilmed, write to the provincial archives mentioned in the research outline for the province.
City Archives. City archives in Canada may have copies of vital records, but they cannot furnish copies. By law, requests for vital records must be addressed to the appropriate provincial archives or vital records offices.
Archive inventories (see "Archives and Libraries") describe the record-keeping systems and available civil registration records in Canada. These and other guides are in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
CANADA - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES
[PROVINCE] - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES
After deciding who has jurisdiction over the records for the time period you need, write a brief request to the proper office. Send:
- Money order for the search fee, usually between $25.00 and $50.00.
- Full name and the sex of the person whose record is sought.
- Names of the parents, if known.
- Approximate date and place of the event.
- Your relationship to the person.
- Reason for the request (family history, medical, and so forth).
Request for a photocopy of the original document. If this is not available, request a "genealogical certificate" if you want the most detail possible.
If your request is unsuccessful, search for duplicate records that may have been filed in other archives or church registers or for newspaper obituaries and cemetery records. Information about deaths and some family information may be included in wills and other probate records. Birth dates can be estimated from censuses. See "Archives and Libraries," "Cemetery Records," "Census," "Church Records," "Newspapers," and "Probate Records."