Top three genealogy questions

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

We receive many interesting questions from our clients at the Library and Archives Canada Genealogy desk. Here are the top three questions asked:

Question 1. My grandfather came to Canada between 1905 and 1914. How do I find his passenger list entry?

First, search the name on one of the indexes available online. Try different spellings and birthdate variations if your initial search is not successful.

If that doesn’t work, there are other documents that indicate the year of immigration. Try census returns or the 1940 National Registration File. If you know the city where your ancestor settled, you may be able to narrow down the year of immigration by seeing when they appear in a city directory.

You can also try searching for other family members that came to Canada with him. Maybe the passenger list entry of his wife, “Esmerelda Jenkins”, might be easier to find than “John Jenkins” (names are for example only).

Question 2. My mother said that we have Indigenous heritage somewhere in our family. How do I prove that?

Complete your family tree. Don’t focus too much on finding the Indigenous link at this point. Pay close attention to information given on the census returns, especially the 1901 census.

All census returns will indicate the location where your ancestor resided, such as the town, village, major city or federal Indian reserve. Some census returns list ethnic origin, such as French, Irish, Indian, “Half-Breed”, “Scotch-Breed”, Algonquin or Mohawk. They can also list colour (“W” for White and “R” for “Red”) and first language/mother tongue, which may help your search.

Many of these terms are now considered offensive and are no longer in use today. Do not fixate on or limit yourself to modern terminology—your ancestor may have been identified under any number of labels depending on the period, location and circumstances.

Question 3. My grandfather served in the Second World War, but never spoke about it. How do I find out what he did?

Your first step in finding out details about your grandfather’s war experience is to apply to the Personnel Records Department for information from his file by filling out our Application for Military Service Information form. After you receive the available information from his Second World War service file, you can continue your research at regimental museums and by reading published regimental histories (some of which may be available in our library collection).

If you have a question that you would like to ask us, please drop by the Genealogy desk at 395 Wellington Street, in Ottawa or email us using our Genealogy Assistance Request form.

Lightkeepers Wanted!

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, lighthouses were an integral part of life in Atlantic Canada, which was home to over 135 of them. It was the responsibility of the lightkeeper to keep the light burning no matter what, a commitment that often involved his entire family. Library and Archives Canada holds records of many lighthouses from Atlantic Canada.

A lighthouse of particular interest is the Cape Bear lighthouse on Prince Edward Island. Next door to the lighthouse is the Marconi wireless station, which received one of the first distress signals sent from the Titanic.

But who were the lightkeepers who kept the lights burning?

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Shaughnessy Hospital – dedication and innovation in war and peace

For over 75 years, Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Hospital served veterans and civilians of British Columbia, providing medical care and rehabilitation services, and becoming a research and teaching centre. Library and Archives Canada’s photos and other records of the hospital document this evolving role, with images including patient care and rehabilitation, buildings and equipment, and staff and volunteers.

The hospital opened in 1917 as a convalescent home for First World War veterans. By 1919 it had increased its capacity for medical services and patient care to become a military hospital.

A black-and-white photograph of uniformed men and nurses seated in front of an elaborate Elizabethan entrance.

Original staff of Shaughnessy Military Hospital – [1919?], copied 1952 (e011156698-v8)

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Thomas Fuller’s Post Offices

At the end of October 1881, the Government of Canada appointed architect Thomas Fuller (1823–1898) to the job of Chief Architect in the Department of Public Works. Fuller—already celebrated for his design work for Ottawa’s Parliament Buildings—would continue in this job until his retirement in 1897. During his sixteen-year tenure, he was responsible for the design and construction of numerous public buildings across the country, including some 80 post office buildings. Fuller designed post offices that were landmarks, and as such helped to foster a federal architectural image (or “Dominion Image”) that was instantly recognizable to ordinary citizens.

Fuller’s post offices were of a unique character, and yet each had a family resemblance. They were usually two-and-half storeys high, rectangular in shape, and had a one-storey rear extension. They also had high gables located at the centre of the street-facing facade as well as a distinctive combination of French Renaissance and High Gothic architectural details.

Fuller also took advantage of site location. His post offices were located at a town or city’s important intersection or at the end of a main street. Fuller used a distinctive picturesque formula—on some buildings he added a tower, on others he might have added a side projection or a corner entrance, a side elevation that duplicated the gable of the main facade, or even a central clock tower. Continue reading

Open Datasets – What’s New?

Library and Archives Canada is in the process of extracting from outdated storage devices, and then preserving, the datasets of studies undertaken by federal departments. The studies covering a wide range of topics, such as the environment, health and immigration, are being made available on the Open Data portal. To learn more about the structure of the data see our blog Open Data: Providing access to historical Government of Canada studies.

Here is a summary of the datasets we have made available over the past few months. Curious about what these studies discovered? Check them out on the Open Data portal

  1. Longitudinal study of immigrants – 1969–1971 arrivals
    This longitudinal study investigated the economic and social adaptation of immigrants to life in Canada.
  2. Canadian airmen of the First World War
    This file includes personnel information for all traceable Canadian airmen who served in the First World War in the British flying services.
  3. Results of Canadian Federal Elections 1974, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988
    These files contain the voting records for each polling station, electoral district and province for all candidates in Canadian federal elections.
  4. Canadians and Work
    These studies were undertaken in the 1970s and relate to Canadians and work. They include national surveys undertaken to assess job satisfaction and work ethic, Public Service Staff Relations Board pay-rate surveys and an employment study assessing the employment adjustment processes of Canadian graduates in the physical sciences.
  5. Environment – Fire and Water
    • The Test fire, fuel moisture and weather observations datasets contain information collected between 1931 and 1961 about weather, fuel moisture and test fire behaviour measurements for eleven field stations across Canada.
    • The 1968-1979 Canadian Oceanographic Identification Centre dataset includes taxonomic data used to produce group, genus, and species catalogues for the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific freshwater areas.
    • The St. Lawrence River studies were undertaken between 1974 and 1976 to describe the water properties, pollution levels and sediment quality of the St. Lawrence River.

The beginning of airmail delivery

By Dalton Campbell

On December 25, 1927, a Fairchild aircraft flew along the north shore of the St. Lawrence from La Malbaie to Sept-Îles, Quebec. As the plane approached each town, the pilot lowered the altitude of the aircraft and threw out a packet of mail attached to a parachute. The postmaster retrieved the parachute and mail as the pilot flew to the next town.

This was the first official Post Office air mail delivery for the communities along the north shore of Quebec. In the winter, these communities—like many others throughout Canada—had been isolated with irregular mail delivery arriving after slow transport by boat or dogsled.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men standing in front of a single-engine aircraft. The men are arranged in a semi-circle around many sacks of mail piled on the ground.

Reknowned pilot Roméo Vachon at the doors of the Fairchild FC-2W aircraft of Canadian Transcontinental Airways Ltd. inaugurating airmail service between Montreal and Rimouski, Quebec, May 5, 1928. The mail was transferred from transatlantic ships at Rimouski and flown to Montreal and then to Toronto, saving 24 hours in delivery. (MIKAN 3390347)

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Home Children: A guide to sending organizations and receiving homes

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the launch of the Guide to Sending Organizations and Receiving Homes.

This guide is an indispensable starting point for researching records about Home Children who came to Canada from the British Isles between 1869 and 1932. With this guide, you can discover what records are held at LAC and other institutions in Canada and in the British Isles. The guide also contains background information on the various organizations and useful links to websites for researching Home Children. The guide was originally compiled over many years by the genealogy staff at LAC.

Start consulting the guide now!

Do you have ancestors of Jewish heritage?

Do you want to know who your first Jewish ancestor was and when he or she arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your Jewish origins?

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on Jewish heritage. This page provides you with historical information, archival documents and published material from the Library and Archives Canada collection, as well as links to other websites and institutions.

The Research Guide to Holocaust-related Holdings at LAC can also help researchers find material relating to a broad range of events and decisions that took place before, during and after the Second World War. It catalogues the extensive Holocaust resources preserved at Library and Archives Canada, including rare books, personal accounts, government files and interviews.

If your ancestor came to Canada between 1865 and 1935, you might find his or her name on the passenger lists.