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Canadian family history starts with census records

2-3 minute read

By The Findmypast team

30 June 2023
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Are you researching your Canadian ancestors? These records are essential.

Perhaps you're looking for ancestors who you know traveled to Canada but have found no trace of since? If so, there is a collection of family records that may well make your family history exploration on Findmypast a lot easier - Canadian censuses.

Canadian census records are a rich resource for family history. Our collection dates from 1851 to 1931 but what can they tell you?

The Canadian Census

The Lower Canada Census is the earliest Canadian census available on Findmypast and was enumerated in 1825. While its title makes it sound like it may not be a full census, it was the most comprehensive survey of the population at the time. Lower Canada in that period covered the southeastern portion of present-day Quebec. Both Lower and Upper Canada were created in 1791 because of the American Revolutionary War and the influx of Loyalists. The first census of the country as we think of it today occurred in 1851. 

When the 1851 Canadian census was taken, the country consisted of Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec) but the census also collected population details for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia. By 1891, this had expanded to 201 census districts and 2,475 sub-districts.

The 1901 Census of Canada covered 206 census districts and 3,204 sub-districts. 9,000 enumerators took the details of 5,371,315 individuals (compared to 4.5 million in 1891). By the time of the 1931 Census of Canada, the population had grown to over 10.3 million.

What Canadian census records tell you

Remember, it's always worth checking the original image of census records, as the information that is transcribed doesn't always tell the full story. Also worth bearing in mind is that, depending on which part of Canada a person hailed from, the results can be in English or French.

The transcript page of each census will tell you slightly different things. As the years moved on, more information was added. See what's included in each census transcript below.

1851 Census of Canada

  • Names
  • Genders
  • Ages
  • Birthplaces and years
  • Religions
  • Relationships to the head of household
  • Locations: sub-districts, districts and provinces
  • A link out to an image of the original record

1861 Census of Canada

All of the above plus;

  • Marital statuses

1871 Census of Canada

All of the above plus;

  • Origins
  • Family numbers

1881 Census of Canada

All of the above plus;

  • Other household members
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1881 Canadian Census

1891 Census of Canada

The 1891 census transcripts includes the same information shown in the 1881 census.

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1891 Canadian Census

1901 Census of Canada

All of the above plus;

  • Birthdates
  • Race or tribe
  • Immigration year
  • Naturalisation year
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1901 Canadian Census

1911 Census of Canada

In 1911, you'll find the same information that's recorded in 1901.

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1911 Canadian Census

For more information on the fields you can find in the 1911 Canada Census, visit the record page.

1931 Census of Canada

The 1931 Canadian Census is the most detailed one available to the public. It includes even more information than those that came before it including languages spoken and whether the household had a radio.

A record from the 1931 Census of Canada

1931 Canadian Census

Census records are some of the best sources you can look at when growing the Canadian branches of your family tree. They'll help you pinpoint ancestors and tell their amazing stories over several generations. Do you have Canadian connections? We'd love to hear about your ancestral discoveries. Tag @findmypast on social media to get in touch.