Canada Genealogy - Essentials


Most years, I've published my own list of essential links for Canadian national Genealogy – these will be specially useful for those new to Canadian research but these are websites useful to me every day.

I have decided to update this list by adding the most useful books too as I feel the best published guides (and indexes) are too often overlooked. From time to time, I'll include more special topic links.

Canada is a 'federation' of provinces and territories; specific types of records are held either by national, provincial or local governments, or by private or non-profit bodies. When I was a girl, we had to know the 'British North America Act' of 1867 which established Canada, its levels of government and their responsibilities (as of 1982, the Constitution Act). This has stood me in good stead since I got into history in 1958! Official military and census records are national Canadian records, for example. Vital statistics are provincial. (There are always some exceptions, and for any grey areas, Canadians - those my age- have always called for a Royal Commission. Don't worry, this is a Canadian joke!)

Borders have changed a bit. Canada didn't become officially Canada till 1867 and that Canada didn't include British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba or Newfoundland and Labrador. These were then either British colonies or for most of the prairies and part of Ontario, lands controlled by the Hudson's Bay Co.  See the Canadian Geographic's historical Maps of Canada for a look at 1867 Canada. You will find that there are many British records relating to Canada and parts of it. Most of those with genealogical information have been copied and are available at least on film in Canadian archives or other large repositories. But, for example, if you are looking for a World War I pilot, you may need to look at both Canadian and British records.

For information specific to British Columbia, Canada, be sure to see the British Columbia section of the FamilySearch Wiki as there are good records there:,_Canada_Genealogy You will see below that I've included here some guides I've written for Canadian research available on the BC Genealogical Society website. Watch for more of these to be added here early in 2020. Penny Allen also has an article "Finding Your Ancestors in B.C.".

As I often say, each of these resources is tried and true, although one or two may sometimes be trying. If it's been a while since you've looked at Canada, you'll notice some changes, especially at Library and Archives Canada. Most changes there are cosmetic, persevere, and you will find new resources there. Many Canadian genealogy and history websites will be available in both French and English.

Notice that almost all are free! Let’s do our best to keep it that way.



Of special interest at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) –

GENEALOGY AND FAMILY HISTORY SECTION (previously known as the Canadian Genealogy Centre). Specialized access to genealogical indexes, images and resources, including digitized census and passenger lists, land records, etc., and guides to searching for both topics and places. (Note - not all databases are included in the Ancestors Search.) LAC is now having some records digitized 'on demand', for example, Border records. And there are a number of microfilmed records that are very simply microfilmed as is. These are, as yet, unindexed.  Canada's World War I attestation papers for the military, nurses and chaplains are available on-line. These serve as an index to the greater collection of World War I service files which LAC has now digitized so almost all service files are on-line:

SEARCH PAGE – 'search all' or search for library items or archival material only, or for images – or try the Ancestors search, but remember this includes only a small number of the collections:

LIBRARY  –  two catalogue searches - AURORA for published materials held at Library and Archives Canada and VOILÁ for those at over 1300 libraries across Canada.

Note - Newfoundland and Labrador (united in 1927) did not become part of Canada till 1949. LAC does have some records for this province, but most are held by the provincial government. Since some of the Labrador borders were disputed, you may find records relating to Labrador in Quebec. See the Newfoundland and Labrador Archives, known as The Rooms: and the free genealogy website, Newfoundland Grand Banks:

Note - Now you can comment on LAC’s services. Do you love what’s available on-line at the site or on Flickr maybe? Is there another set of records you think should be digitized? Or is something missing that used to be easily accessible? Let them know.

An unsung Canadian resource, and now a resource for worldwide genealogy and other research. When I found one of my Whites somewhere new by using this website, I was impressed for life. Indexes to directories, census, etc. “16 million ancestors”. (This is the updated Internet version of the books, the “Western Canadians”, 'Central, Atlantic and French Canadians', compiled by Noel Montgomery Elliot.)  Personal $ subscription fee; for details. New URL: 

Name and place indexes and links to census page images at LAC – for the 1851/52, 1901, 1911 Canadian censuses; also to the 1851 New Brunswick census and to the 1906 Prairie census. All indexed by volunteers:

Canadian census indexes 1851-1901, prairie censuses 1906/1916, earlier censuses, unindexed Merchant Marine agreements 1890-1920, Mounted Police obits 1876-2007 and many provincial databases. Canadian national and provincial research guides in the wiki. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Also check out the FamilySearch research pages for Canada and for Canadian First Nations on Facebook.

CANADIAN PROVINCIAL ARCHIVES – A WEB GUIDE, by M. Diane Rogers, from the British Columbia Genealogical Society:

ANCESTRY.COM / ANCESTRY.CA / ANCESTRY LIBRARY EDITION. Even when information is free elsewhere, Ancestry is worth looking at as its searches are often more extensive and flexible than others and the family trees may provide useful clues.
And because Library and Archives Canada has chosen to enter into certain exclusive agreements with Ancestry, you may find there indexes and images unavailable elsewhere. Canadian census indexes with links to record images at LAC - 1851/52, 1901, 1911, also immigration and passenger list indexes, prairie census 1906/1926, 20th century directories, Canadian soldiers, nurses and chaplains of World War I, indexes of Loyalist claimants and 1812 soldiers, etc.
An important source of more recent information on Canadians is the Canada, Voters index (1935-1980).  
$ subscriptions or use Ancestry Library Edition at a participating library or Family History Centre: See below.

FINDMYPAST. Find My Past promised exciting Canadian content. So far, it's not much and not so exciting. We only recently rated our own category. However, if you are a subscriber as I am the content there will be useful. Now FindMyPast has Canadian censuses and Canadian cemeteries are included in the Billion Graves website search there. The newspaper collection does include a number of Canadian papers (from NewspaperArchive, I believe.)
The most interesting content for many will be in the digital books from the ArchiveCD Books Canada collection - all searchable. 
Don't forget to check PERSI, the Periodical Source Index, for genealogy articles on Canada and articles in Canadian genealogy journals (like The British Columbia Genealogist). FindMyPast has the most up to date PERSI version.  
Check what's available there on the FindMyPast A- Z: a 'Canada' search - and a 'Canadian' search -
$ subscription or use FindMyPast at a participating library or Family History Centre. See below.

NOTE Re free Access to Ancestry and FindMyPast- In the Lower Mainland of B.C., go to Cloverdale Library in Surrey, or to the New Westminster, West Vancouver or Vancouver libraries for free Ancestry Library Edition access or go to a Family History Center in Abbotsford, Surrey or Burnaby for both Ancestry and FindMyPast and MyHeritage. Cloverdale Library in Surrey offers FindMyPast too. See FamilySearch above for Center locations.

And, did you know that CLOVERDALE LIBRARY in Surrey, B.C. is the best place in the west for on-site Canadian genealogy research?  Right now (Feb 2020) Cloverdale's Family History Collection is temporarily housed at the Surrey Central Library due to renovations at Cloverdale.

You will find much helpful information and advice in the library’s “Canadian Genealogical Resources: A Guide to the Materials held at Cloverdale Library” or at an orientation session. 

And the Cloverdale Library has free downloadable genealogy guides to Canada's provinces:

CANADA GENWEB PROJECT. Wide array of Canadian and provincial/territorial resources and projects, for instance, the CanadaGenWeb Family Bible transcription project and the Immigrants to Canada list:

Marj's Place, Marj Kohli. See especially the sections on Child Migrants and Home Children (and see below) and also on 19th Century Immigration:

OLIVE TREE GENEALOGY, Lorine McGinnis Schultz. Over 1900 pages of free information, guides and indexes –many of these are for Canada.
Read the index page and the FAQ first.
Browse the Site Map:
See what’s new:


GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES OF CANADA. Database search and related information and guides:

OUR ROOTS. Digitized Canadian local history books:

CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION (CBC) DIGITAL ARCHIVES. Thousands of historical television and radio clips, search or browse by topics:

ARCHIVES CANADA, maintained by the Canadian Council of Archives. Includes search of archival record descriptions, access to digitized exhibits and projects:

CANADIANA.ORG. Many Canadian sources here are now free. Previously Canadiana had an exclusive agreement with Library and Archives Canada but has now chosen to open these records to all. Note that many of the records they offer are available on microfilm or microfiche elsewhere.

The collection includes many early and older publications and documents from Canada:

And last, but never least, although some of the site is still 'in transition'.

ROOTSWEB, THE big free site for mailing lists and genealogy resources. Canada wide message boards and mailing lists for queries include CAN-WW1-L for Canadian World War I military research, CAN-CENSUS-L, CANADA-ROOTS-L, AUSTRIAN-CANADIAN-L, Irish-Canadian-L:

And for many more of the best Canadian links for many topics and places, see

CANGENEALOGY. Dave Obee’s website for Canadian links. Browse by region and by subject:


Finding Your Ancestors: A Beginners' Guide by Sherry Irvine and Dave Obee (2007).

Counting Canada: A Genealogical Guide to the Canadian Census by Dave Obee (2012).

Destination Canada: A Guide to 20th Century Immigration Records by Dave Obee (2010) - on passenger/immigration records.

Federal Voters Lists in Western Canada 1935-1979 by Dave Obee. Download this book for free at

Canadians at War 1914-1919, A Research Guide to World War One Service Records by Glenn Wright (2010).

Records of The Federal Department Of Indian Affairs At The National Archives Of Canada by Bill Russell (2005).

Genealogy to Go! Migration Canada and the United States (2012) by Elizabeth LaPointe.

List updated January 2020

SPECIAL TOPICS below - Canadian Home Children, Royal Visits to Canada, Western Canada - Land.

CANADIAN ‘HOME CHILDREN’ – From 1869 to 1948, thousands and thousands of children were sent to live and usually, to work, in Canada from Britain.

British Home Children in Canada:

Home Children 1869-1932 - databases and information. Updated Nov. 2015.  Library and Archives Canada: 

British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association (Facebook group):

Families of British Home Children / British Child Migrants (Facebook group):

Home Children, British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO):


 The Crown in Canada, including royal visits since 1953:

The Official Website of the British Monarchy, royal visits to Canada:

The Royal Visit, ONFB,1939 (film, 90 min.) National Film Board of Canada:

The Story of the Canadian Royal Train of 1939, timeline,

Their Majesties in Canada: The 1939 Royal Tour, radio clips, etc. CBC Digital Archives:  

Behind the Diary [of William Lyon McKenzie King], Politics, Themes, and Events from King's Life -
The Royal Tour of 1939 [archived pages at Library and Archives Canada]:

The British Royal Visit [to the USA], June 7-12, 1939, text, photos and film, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:


A few beginning links to information and indexes for Western Canadian land grants, homesteading and CPR land sales. 

**See also the Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and British Columbia Genealogical Societies's websites. 

Finding Aid: Prairie Land Records, Dave Obee:

Western Land Grants 1870-1930, Library and Archives Canada:

Alberta Genealogical Society, Index to Homestead Records, 1870-1930:

Saskatchewan Land Records, Index, Saskatchewan Archives Board:

History of Agriculture in Manitoba, Manitoba, Agricultural Hall of Fame:

Grain Elevators in Canada, 1911-1998, Peel's Praire Provinces:

Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Land Sales Index, Glenbow Museum:

Quick Guide to Land Records, British Columbia Archives (.pdf):

Pre-emption and Homestead Claims, British Columbia Archives (.pdf):

British Columbia Historic Crown Grant search:


**See also the BCGS MANITOBA research links:

Métis Scrip Records, Library & Archives canada:

The Historiography of Métis Land Dispersal, 1870-1890


See also Back to the Land: A Genealogical Guide to Finding Farms on the Canadian Prairies by Dave Obee (2001).


Online-Historical Map Digitization Project:

Peel's Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta:

Historical Maps of Prairie Provinces, University of Alabama Map Library:

Glenbow Museum map collection, many descriptions, not all on-line:


Liz Gauffreau said...

Great list of resources for seeking out Canadian ancestors. Thanks for compiling it! And Jane was my aunt (Melissa Jane Moore, known as Jane, 1870-1950 born in Economy Point, Nova Scotia).

Judy and Michael said...

Thank you for all of the wonderful resource listings. Really appreciate them !