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 aboriginal heritage somewhere in our family. How do I prove that?
Complete your family tree. Don’t focus too much on finding the aboriginal 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.