Census Search Tips and Tricks

Genealogists researching census records may encounter various challenges, including:

Spelling variations

  • Indexers may sometimes have trouble making out enumerators’ handwriting or interpreting records when they are in poor condition
  • Enumerators’ ability to spell and transcribe the information they received correctly may greatly influence search results
  • Enumerators occasionally translated names into their mother tongue or transcribed them phonetically. Accordingly, French-Canadian names like Jean-Baptiste or Marie-Anne might be translated as John Baptist or Mary Ann

Date variations

  • Many dates of birth may also be inaccurate. For example, our ancestors sometimes had trouble remembering their children’s exact date of birth and even their own

Inaccurate information

  • The household member interviewed by the enumerator might have provided incorrect information, which will also influence search results

Help is at hand!

Over the years, genealogists at Library and Archives Canada have come up with research tricks. Here are a few that are sure to help:

  • If you located your ancestor in the 1901 census, for example, but have trouble finding him or her in the 1911 census, just jot down the names of your ancestor’s neighbours from the 1901 census, then try to find them in the 1911 census. With luck, your ancestor will have stayed at the same address, and you will easily trace him or her
  • If you are having difficulty finding an ancestor, try limiting your search criteria; for example, if your ancestor has an uncommon name or surname, search for him or her using only that name
  • You may find information about your ancestor in a city directory if he or she lived in a large city. If this is the case, try searching the directory of the city your ancestor lived in to confirm his or her residence there. Read our blog post What Can Canadian Directories Do for You? to learn more
  • Our Genealogy and Family History section provides search tips and a list of abbreviations found in censuses

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

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