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Census returns contain the official enumeration of the Canadian population. They are one of the most useful sources for genealogical research. They can help you discover when and where your ancestor was born, the names of parents and siblings, what year an immigrant arrived in Canada and manyother details.

Research at Library and Archives Canada

About the Records

Census returns are federal government records in our Statistics Canada fonds (RG 31). For each census, the records are arranged by province or territory, then divided into districts. Those districts were based on the federal electoral districts, which usually corresponded with counties and cities. Districts were usually divided into sub-districts, correspondingwith townships, parishes and larger towns.

Census of Canada, 1871, Montreal, St-Louis Ward. Library and Archives Canada, RG 31, District 105, Sub-district a-1, p. 1, reel C-10040

Census of Canada, 1871, Montreal, St-Louis Ward, Library and Archives Canada, RG 31, District 105, Sub-districta-1, p. 1, reel C-10040.

Census of Canada, 1871.  Ottawa, St-George’s Ward, Library and Archives Canada, RG 31, District 77, Sub-district c-2, p. 9, reel C-10014
Census of Canada, 1871. Ottawa, St-George's Ward, Library and Archives Canada, RG 31, District 77, Sub-districtc-2, p. 9, reel C-10014.

For most provinces, the returns of 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1906 and 1911 list each person by name, with the following details:

  • age;
  • sex;
  • country or province of birth;
  • religion;
  • racial or ethnic origin;
  • occupation; and
  • marital status.

The 1901 and 1911 returns also include date of birth, year of immigration and addressor location of land.

Census returns before 1851 are rarely complete for any geographical area and most list only the head of each household. Note that some portions ofthe 1851 Census have not survived.

More detailed information about census records can be found in the online help pages of our Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm, 1666-1901, and our census databases of 1901, 1906 and 1911.

Column Headings

The column headings are different in each census year. The Global Gazette [http://globalgenealogy.com/globalgazette/gazgw/gazgw-0075.htm] provides links to various Web sites with blank forms showing the column headings.

Agricultural Returns

Agricultural returns provide information such as lot and concession number, acreage, livestock and agricultural products. For the 1851 and 1861 Census, the agricultural returns are listed by the name of the head-of-household.The agricultural returns for 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 were not retained.

1851: For each sub-district (e.g., township), the agricultural returns follow immediately after the personal returns.

1861: For each county, the agricultural returns follow immediately after the personal returns for the whole county.

1871: The personal returns for each enumeration sub-district appear in schedule one. The agricultural returns are schedules three to five and are keyed to schedule one by page and line number rather than by name.

Research Tips

  • In order to undertake a search in census, you must know the approximate locality, as the arrangement of these returns is by township or parish within each county.
  • Small towns and villages are enumerated within their respective townships; larger towns and cities are listed separately.
  • In the case of cities, particularly the larger centres, it is very helpful to know the ward in which the person lived. The ward can often be determined by consulting the street index at the front of published City Directories.
  • To determine the province and county for a particular place, you can search the Post Offices and Postmasters database. Enter the place name in the Office Name field and if there was a post office there, it will indicate the federal electoral district, which usually corresponded to the county and census districts.
  • If you do not know the name of the township or parish within which a village is situated, we suggest that you consult a provincial gazetteer. You can also find maps and other geographical information on the various Web sites linked to the Canada GenWeb Project [www.rootsweb.com/%7Ewebsites/international/canada.html].
  • Maps may be of assistance such as Electoral Maps of Canada.
  • You can transcribe information from census returns onto pre-printed blank forms that can be purchased from some genealogy organizations such as the Ontario Genealogical Society [www.ogs.on.ca/].

How to Access Library and
Archives Canada Records

Census Indexes

Census returns were enumerated geographically, not by name. The information for each sub-district was recorded in the order in which the enumerator visited each household. Many genealogical societies and individuals transcribe and index census returns by name and make them accessible on the Internet or publish them as books or CD-ROMs.

Research Online

Due to the poor legibility of some census pages, indexes are not 100% accurate. Indexes provide references to actual census pages. We recommend that you always consult those pages to find additional details.

By Place

Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm, 1666-1901

This database allows you to identify the microfilm reel numbers for specific places and counties. Use the Census of the Northwest Provinces, 1906 and the Census of Canada, 1911 databases to identify microfilm reel numbers for those years.

Census of 1851 (Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia)

Census of Canada, 1901

Census of the Northwest Provinces, 1906 (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta)

Census of Canada, 1911

Toronto 1911 Census Street Finder [www.ontarioroots.com/1911/index.html]

By Name

Census of Ontario, 1871

Census of Canada, 1881 [www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp?PAGE=census/search_census.asp]

Census of the Alberta District and the Northwest Territories, 1901 [www.agsedm.edmonton.ab.ca/census.html]

Prince Edward Island Census Data Search, 1841, 1881, 1891, 1901 [www.edu.pe.ca/paro/census/default.asp]

Automated Genealogy (1901, 1906 and 1911 census) [http://automatedgenealogy.com/census/index.html]

1906 Census of Canada (Prairies) Transcriptions [www.afhs.ab.ca/data/census/1906/]

Ancestry.ca (1911 census) (subscription required) [www.ancestry.ca]

Census indexes for specific places are available on many other Web sites.

Use AVITUS to search for indexes for your area of interest.

Keywords: census and name of place or province

Research in Published Sources

Consult our Bibliography for further information on this topic.

Search for census index in AMICUS using authors, titles or subject terms such as:

  • census index Alberta; and
  • census index Halifax.
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