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Canadian Censuses

Overview

Many censuses were done by the Canadian government since 1666 and contain various sorts of information ranging from names and age groups to religious affiliations. "Most records prior to 1825 simply indicate heads of households, and in many instances are incomplete. The 1825 census indicates the head of the household, the number of persons living in each household, age groups and marital status. The censuses for 1831, 1842, 1851 and 1861 answer essentially the same questions but in greater detail, and give information pertaining to houses occupied, number of buildings, types of housing, property ownership, etc. From 1851 onward all persons, not just heads of households, were enumerated, and an agricultural census was compiled separately. In the 1861 census for Ontario and Quebec, the agricultural returns appear at the end of the nominal census for the whole county. [The 1871 census was] the most extensive. In 1881, the number of schedules was reduced to eight." (Thomas Hillman, Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm. Z 7165 C2 H54 1981 Microforms Room.)

Search Strategies

Censuses are the most heavily used genealogical sources. Unfortunately, most people rush through them and don't get the most out of these fabulous records. There are many valuable tips for using censuses. We recommend that you read chapter 5, Research in Census Records, in The Source (Salt Lake City, Ancestry, 1997 edition). This will outline the use of censuses and the many tips for getting the most information.

Key points to consider:

  • Photocopy the page on which your ancestor is found. You may see something later that you didn't notice the first time you found the page. You will lose information if you choose to transcribe instead of photocopying.
  • Read the pages before and after the ancestor's page. You may find other family members living near by. 
  • Find each census for the life span of your ancestors. Compare the information that is given every ten years. You are bound to see differences in ages, years of immigration, and number of children living at home.
  • Consider the source of the information given. The census pages do not indicate who gave the information so the researcher must consider that these pieces of information are leads and not necessarily facts. The researcher must compare these sources with others.

What the Society Owns

The Library has acquired on microfilm a complete file of all the available schedules of the Canadian Censuses from 1666 to 1901. 

The Library has also attempted to acquire all available published indexes to these materials.

How to Access These Records at the Society

Research by Mail/Fax
There are not many indexes to Canadian censuses, so you will need to know what year, province, district and sub-district to request a search of the censuses for Canada.

If the search requires more time than our staff can provide, you will be directed to a list of researchers. If you would like our Reference Staff to locate and photocopy pages from the censuses, it is very important for you view our Services page for an explanation of charges before you place any order.

Who will you find?

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