Canada Census Records Explained!

By | July 25, 2017

Are you interested in your Canadian ancestors but don’t know what the best resource is to use? Well the Canada Census Records can give you a plethora of information about your heritage. But when were these censuses conducted and where can you find them? Read on as I explain this valuable Canadian resource to you.

Canada Census Records Explained!

You can learn so much about your ancestors from census records. They can also help you immensely to build your family tree. For me, (and I bet a lot of people), I have used this resource immensely to add branches to my tree.

From these records you can find out your ancestor’s year and place of birth, their religion, description of their property and many other aspects about them. They can really help you to build up a picture of their lives.

Credit: Ancestry

Topics included in this post:

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What Census Years Are Available?

Believe it or not but the earliest census conducted in Canada was way back in 1666 in the province of Quebec. Over the coming years there would be censuses carried out in Newfoundland and Acadia. Then in fairly adhoc years of 1825, 1825 and 1842 Lower Canada which is now called Quebec saw censuses, (Upper Canada, now called Ontario also had a census in 1842).

Census Years and Census Dates

From these early census records you may see your immigrant ancestors arrive in Canada from the United Kingdom. Once you have found where they came from you will then know where to look for their birth or baptist records or any other record for that matter.

Today’s modern census dates to 1851 and has been carried out every ten years. The Prairie provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan each had a census in 1906 and 1916.

The United Kingdom Census Records have a 100-year rule, while the United States Census Records has a 72-year rule. Canada has its own rule where 92 years must elapse before there records are released to the public.

The 1921 census record is the latest account of Canada which was released on June 1st 2013.

Lower and Upper Canada Census Records:

  • 1825, 1831 and 1842 – Lower Canada – Quebec
  • 1842 – Upper Canada – Ontario

Prairie Provinces of Canada Census Records:

  • 1906 and 1916 – Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan

Modern Day Canada Census Records:

  • 1851 – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec
  • 1861 – Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec
  • 1871 (April 2) – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec
  • 1881 (April 4) – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan
  • 1891 (April 6) – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon Territory
  • 1901 (March 31) – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon Territory
  • 1911 (June 1) – Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Yukon Territory
  • 1921 (June 1) – Canada

What Can You Expect From Canada Census Records?

From 1871 a number of new key elements were added. This is great for genealogists from this information as we can learn more about our ancestors. Not only that but we can use what we find to locate even more records about them.

More questions added

From the following lists you will see what questions were added. You can also see what questions were specific to certain records.

Added to the 1871 and later census records:

  • Name – Useful in order to find and identify your ancestor
  • Age – If you already know the age of your ancestor in 1871 then you can use this to help you verify that you have the correct person. But be aware that there maybe some discrepancy.
  • Occupation – Another useful element to help you identify your ancestor. Or you may not have already know what your ancestor’s occupation was.
  • Religious affiliation – This information can help you find records such as your ancestor’s marriage and death church record.
  • Birthplace – This information will obviously help you to locate your ancestor’s birth record.

Added to the 1871 and 1881 census records:

  • Father’s origin or ethnic background – This can help you take your family tree back one more generation.

Added to the 1891 census record:

  • French Canadian – For this particular record the government wanted to know whether the individual was a French Canadian.
  • Parents birthplaces – Similar to the two previous records this questioning can help you locate both your ancestors parents birth records.

Added to the 1891 and later census records:

  • Relationship to head of household – This element of the records can help you to build your family tree and its branches. I have used this element extensively to help me build my own tree.

Added to the 1901 census records:

  • Birth date – Previous records asked for the individuals birth year. In this record you can get your ancestor’s exact date of birth.
  • Year immigrated to Canada – Although not quite as precise as the previous question this information can help you to locate your ancestor’s immigration record.
  • Year of naturalization – Following on from the previous question you can learn when your ancestor was naturalized. And then you can use that information to find this record.
  • Father’s racial or tribal origin – Rather than asking whether the individual’s father was French Canadian this question asked for their racial or tribal origin.
  • Building and land – From this question you can find out your ancestor’s residence.

Abbreviations You Can Expect in the Canada Census Records!

When viewing your ancestors census records you may across an abbreviation that you are not quite sure about. For that reason I have included a guide here that lists all possible abbreviations that you can expect to find in these records.

Canada Census Records Abbreviations

The abbreviations to expect:

  • Alb / Alta – Alberta
  • Assa – Assiniboia
  • B.C. – Bas-Canada (Lower Canada, Quebec)
  • B.C. – British Columbia
  • C.B. – Colombie-Britannique C.E. : Canada East (Canada-Est, Quebec)
  • C.W. – Canada West (Canada-Ouest, Ontario)
  • H.C. – Haut-Canada (Upper Canada, Ontario)
  • I.P. – Île-du-Prince-Edouard
  • L.C. – Lower Canada (Bas-Canada, Quebec)
  • Man – Manitoba
  • N.B. – New Brunswick
  • N.B. – North Britain, i.e. Scotland
  • N.E. – Nouvelle-Écosse
  • N.O. – Territoires du Nord-Ouest
  • N.S. – Nova Scotia
  • N.W. / N.W.T. – Northwest Territories
  • O / Ont – Ontario
  • P.E.I. – Prince Edward Island
  • Q – Quebec (the Q sometimes looks like an L)
  • Que – Quebec
  • Sask – Saskatchewan
  • U.C. – Upper Canada (Haut-Canada, Ontario)
  • YT / Yuk. : Yukon Territory
  • U. : Ungava

My Final Thoughts

When I first started to research and write this post I didn’t know what to expect from these records. Even though I am not from Canada I felt though that it was important to provide such a guide to this helpful resource here.

You can learn an awful lot about your ancestors from these records as I have highlighted in this post. And I have also mentioned a couple of times that this resource can help you to build your family tree.

After learning about your heritage from your parents and other relatives census records is the next resource that you should go to.

But where do you find them?

For me I like to check out what is already out there for free. And so for that reason I head to FamilySearch. They do have millions of records within their database. And I have used this free resource considerably.

However, when it comes to finding your Canadian ancestors in census records the results are quite limiting and so you may not find what you are looking for. They do offer an index and image of the original censuses for 1825, 1831 and 1842 but after that their resources are limited.

You will find indexes on FamilySearch for the years 1851 through to 1901 and the Prairie Years as I call them. But they do not provide images and they do not have the latest 1911 and 1921 census records.

Ancestry is the place to go!

For that reason I do suggest that you head on over to Ancestry where YOU WILL find a complete collection of indexes and images from 1825 right up until 1921.

Yes I know that does mean that you will need to spend some money. But genealogy is like any other hobby where you have to part with your cash on occasion. And I firmly believe that if you are passionate about your family history and that you want do your research proud then you have to dip your hand in your pocket from time to time.

Having done this myself I have written my own family history book that I can be proud of. My book contains many branches, stories and information that I have gleaned from this valuable resource.

So do yourself a favor and check out your Canadian ancestors through census records. Who knows what you will find?

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post explaining to you the Canada Census Records. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

12 thoughts on “Canada Census Records Explained!

  1. Courtney

    Wow. This is just jam-packed full of information! I love it! I’m not Canadian … but so much of this I found interesting. I’m adopted, so learning about my heritage/genealogy hasn’t been an easy feat! Some of this information I can definitely use! Awesome, cheers!

    1. Owain Post author

      Glad that this post was some help to you Courtney. You can expect similar information from census records from the United States and the United Kingdom.

      Census records as I have said in the post can help you to build the branches of your family tree. You can also use the information that you find to look for other records about your ancestors.

  2. Sean Greentree

    I have Canadian friends who are clamouring for this kind of information. I’ll have them take a look. A very thorough post and jam-packed with great information. Loved the video too. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Owain Post author

      My pleasure Sean and I’m glad that I could be of help. There is definitely a lot of information included in these censuses and your friends will find it very useful for their genealogy research. Wish them all the best from me.

  3. Pablo

    Thank you for all this helpful information, Owain. Personally Genealogy is a subject that eludes me since my view of the world is a bit different than most. Regardless, the information you provided can be paralleled for almost any culture or nation. I am sure to come back and visit the rest of your site. It sure sparked an interest and who knows, might help with some related matter I have been investigating. Bestest!

    1. Owain Post author

      My pleasure Pablo. Genealogy is interestingly the second most popular hobby in the States and I’m sure it is also very popular in Canada too. I have packed a lot of useful information into this post that will help anyone trace their Canadian heritage. All the best.

  4. Barbara Bishop

    Owain, Love your site. I have been using the Canadian Census for years. I have a question when I am searching back the 1842 census is there anywhere to find what information was collected? Looking at it all I can figure out is name and what the person did. Do you know anywhere to find this information?

    Thank you for all the information you provided. Wish I had found it years and years ago

    1. Owain Post author

      Merry Christmas Barbara. Thank you for visiting and enjoying the site.

      There isn’t much information within the 1842 Canadian census records. You will find given name and surname, as well as occupation, and then district name, county name, and sub-district name.

      Two resources that will help you are Family Search 1842 Canada Census Records and Library And Archives Canada – 1842 Census.

      The Library and Archives site is best as it gives you a lot of information and help with these records. It can also show you how to obtain these records.

      Hope this helps,

  5. Barbara Bishop

    Owain, I just found something on the 1842 census. Looks like it was written a while back. I am doing a copy paste so hope you can read it. You might not want to publish it but here it is. Now to unscramble what I have found. Thanks Barbara Bishop

  6. Barbara Bishop

    Owain, just got the forms. From the OGS member site, am forwarding to you. Please give them credit for the forms. Looks like the information will help me with my 1842 census records

    Barbara Bishop

    I sorry tried to upload but can’t


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