How to make the most of your reference appointment

Reference librarians and archivists at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are happy to assist you by:

• showing you how to make the best use of our research tools
• directing you toward suggested resources

You may wish to take a proactive approach to your research project before making a reference appointment. Being better prepared in the following ways will allow you to maximize your time with a LAC professional.

Have you laid the groundwork using sources near you?

Local municipal and university libraries provide a wealth of resources to researchers. These resources are an important first stop for anyone embarking on a historical research project.

Read everything you can about your subject. Books and journal articles provide important background and context for your research project. Verifying the bibliographies and source citations of such published items can often help identity additional research resources, which may or may not be held at LAC.

Take notes! When consulting any source, be sure to take well-organized notes and to fully transcribe all references. For published sources, you will need to have the complete title, the author’s name, and the place and date of publication. For archival sources, be sure to note the name of the archives that holds the records, the collection name, collection code, box or volume number, file titles and dates. Bring these references to your appointment at LAC along with the tools necessary for taking additional notes.

Have you done a preliminary search with our online tools?

Our Academic Researchers page can help you set the stage. If you are unfamiliar with what an archive is, we recommend our guide on Using Archives and our blog post Discover Finding Aids!

Remember that not everything we have is available online.

Do you have the right archive or library?

LAC holds a wealth of archival material of national and federal significance relating to Canadian history. However, we do not hold everything. Provinces, universities, counties, cities, corporations and social organizations all maintain their own unique archival and library collections. Depending on your topic, these may prove to be not only the most relevant but possibly the only resources available to you.

For example, information relating to land grants, local land titles and lot history is generally held at the provincial level. If you are interested in the history of a local arts festival or business, then the city archives or local historical society will likely be the best resource to consult. Please note that in the case of corporations and social organizations, their unique historical records may not be open for public research. In the case of some unique provincial resources, a fee for use may be required.

For the scientific research and innovation community, the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, which is the national science library at National Research Council Canada, represents a valuable online resource.

Immigration and Citizenship records at LAC: Did your ancestor arrive in Canada before 1865?

This article, the first of a series depicting Immigration and Citizenship sources, offers insight into pre-Confederation arrivals in Canada. Very few records compiled before 1865 still exist. Most surviving records, which are from various sources, have been indexed by name in databases.

Here are the key resources*:

The Immigrants to Canada database was compiled from documents such as immigration and land records and some private fonds, namely the Peter Robinson Papers. It provides access to more than 28,000 references to records held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

The Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book (1832) database provides access to 1,945 references and digitized documents to people who received assistance from the Montreal Emigrant Society in 1832.

The Immigrants at Grosse-Île (1832-1937) database is the result of an agreement between Parks Canada and LAC. It contains more than 33,000 records spanning a 100-year time period. The references describe various events for immigrants arriving at the city of Québec and their time spent at the Grosse-Île Quarantine Station.

The Upper Canada and Canada West Naturalization Records (1828-1850) database gives references to the names of 2,967 persons naturalized in what is now the province of Ontario between 1828 and 1850. The 188 registers have been scanned and digitized images are accessible in this database.

The Citizenship Registration Records for the Montreal Circuit Court (1851-1945) database provides access to more than 8,000 references to the Citizenship Registration Records for the Montreal Circuit Court. The records have been digitized and linked to the database references.

If you think some of your “ancêtres” can be traced back to France, LAC holds a small number of lists from the French Regime (1717-1786).

Coming soon!

Stay tuned for the following related upcoming articles:

  • Validating your ancestor’s presence in Canada before 1865
  • Immigration sources from 1865 onwards (most of them in databases)
  • Border entries to Canada via the United States

*Note: Don’t forget that the Search Help page of a database is the best place to find out how the records are arranged.

Sir John Franklin Expedition

On May 19, 1845, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror left England under the command of Sir John Franklin in search of the Northwest Passage. This expedition was without a doubt a most ill-fated venture, as not a single member returned alive.

An iceberg, HMS Terror and some walruses near the entrance of Hudson Strait.

An iceberg, HMS Terror and some walruses near the entrance of Hudson Strait
Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1979-49-1. Source

Major search efforts were launched to find the missing men, including three expeditions to the Arctic in spring 1848. Rewards were also offered in 1849 and 1850 for any information about Franklin’s expedition. These searches did produce results: in 1850, the first relics—the graves of three crewmen who died in 1846—were found at Beechey Island, west of Devon Island.

In July 1857, Lady Franklin also financed an expedition under the command of Francis McClintock aboard the ship Fox. On May 5, 1859, William Hobson, Lieutenant of the Fox, found a document placed beneath a cairn containing two messages. The first, written by Franklin on May 28, 1847, indicated that the crew of the two ships had spent the winter of 1845–46 off Beechey Island, and that all was well. The second message, dated April 25, 1848, indicated that the Erebus and Terror had been trapped in ice since September 1846, west of King William Island, and that 24 men had died, including Franklin on June 11, 1847.

In the wake of expeditions undertaken to find Franklin, numerous maps were drawn, including the Discoveries in the Arctic Sea, 1616-1927 and the Chart showing the vicinity of King William Island. These identified the sites Franklin visited, the places where his group wintered and the site in which his ships were abandoned. The second map also mentions the diverted courses the two wrecks may have followed.

Although we now know the fate of the members of this expedition, every attempt to find the wrecks of the Erebus and the Terror has been unsuccessful, despite the magnitude of the searches and modern technologies deployed.

For more information about the period prior to the expeditions:

For more information about the periods prior to and following the expeditions:

For more information about the period following the expeditions:

Publications, bibliographies and guides held at Library and Archives Canada:

Please visit our Flickr album for more photographs.

Project Naming: The first ten years and beyond

Initiated in 2002, Project Naming is a community engagement and photo identification project that aims to reconnect Inuit with their past by identifying the people and events portrayed in photographs held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). We have added the names of individuals and descriptions of activities to our database, which you can search online.

Over the last ten years, we have digitized more than 8,000 of those photographs and have received identifications for approximately 1,900 individuals. New information about these pictures is gathered through a variety of methods, including an online form, community slide shows and other social gatherings, weekly features in local newspapers, social media and on-site research visits.

Quite often, identifications come as a result of intergenerational conversations that take place in person or virtually—or both. Such was the case when Nunavut News/North published a photograph of Rhoda Qaqsauq, and her daughters, Lucy Evo and Janet Tagoona, on February 11, 2013; upon discovering this picture, Deborah Kigjugalik Webster shared it on Facebook, thus sparking a lively conversation between her and other family members.

An example of a successful on-site visit occurred in June 2012 when a group of Elders and youth from Arviat, Nunavut, located on the southwest coast of Hudson Bay, made a trip to Ottawa. They looked through hundreds of photographs and negatives taken between the 1920s and the 1970s.

This enabled them to identify 31 family members in 17 images. Louisa Gibbons discovered her mother, Catherine Kopak, and her grandmother, Yarat, in a picture taken in Kingayualik, near Padlei.

Elder Eva Muyunaganiak (left), Louisa Gibbons (centre) and Elder Mary Nowtalik (right).

Elder Eva Muyunaganiak (left), Louisa Gibbons (centre) and Elder Mary Nowtalik (right).

Elder Eva Muyunaganiak also discovered a photograph of her mother, Uyaupiak, dating from the late 1960s. Today, the remaining 22 Elders in the community of Arviat are the only ones able to recognize people and describe what life was like in photographs taken more than 50 years ago. Elder Muyunaganiak passed away in September 2012; her death reminds us of how time-sensitive an initiative Project Naming is.

Project Naming has now evolved into a broader community engagement initiative that has expanded beyond the territory of Nunavut to other Aboriginal communities in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavik (northern Quebec) and Labrador. We hope to build upon this dialogue with members of Northern communities using new technologies and social media.

To learn more, listen to our Project Naming and Canada’s North podcast.

The Battle of the Atlantic (1940–1943)

Although the waters of the Atlantic witnessed many a naval battle throughout the Second World War, the longest and most important, the Battle of the Atlantic, reached its height between 1940 and 1943, pitting the Allies against the German navy and its formidable fleet of submarines, known as U-boats.

$90 Killed this U-BOAT! War savings stamps drive, 1943.

$90 Killed this U-BOAT! War savings stamps drive, 1943. Source

The Battle of the Atlantic’s crucial struggle was to protect the convoys of merchant ships against enemy German naval forces, which tried to block their way. Most of these convoys set out from North American ports and were bound for Great-Britain.

Convoy in the Bedford Basin, near Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 1, 1942.

Convoy in the Bedford Basin, near Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 1, 1942. Source

The Battle of the Atlantic saw U-boats penetrate deep into Canadian waters: the Royal Canadian Navy was actively involved in the battle, fighting fiercely to protect its merchant navy.

Freighter SS ROSE CASTLE, in convoy, torpedoed by U-boat, November 2, 1942, near Wabana, Newfoundland.

Freighter SS ROSE CASTLE, in convoy, torpedoed by U-boat, November 2, 1942, near Wabana, Newfoundland. Source

However, despite all efforts, enemy forces sunk over 70 merchant vessels, claiming the lives of over 1,600 Canadian crew members. Nevertheless, the Allies are considered to have prevailed in the Battle of the Atlantic since the Germans failed to stem the flow of merchant shipping convoys bound for Great Britain, which helped provide the supplies essential to the allied victory. Be sure to visit the Canadian War Museum for more information about this Second World War battle.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s contribution to this effort is well documented in the collection of Library and Archives Canada. Some suggestions and references for further research are provided below.

Since most convoys setting out from Canada departed from Halifax harbour, a large volume of records were produced by the Naval Control Service in Halifax. Documents available for consultation include the following:

Please visit our Flickr album for more photographs.