Why is that written there? Insights into the Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1926: Instructions to Commissioners and Enumerators

By Sara Chatfield

To glean the most information from a Canadian census return, start by reading the Instructions to Commissioners and Enumerators. At first glance, this publication may seem dry, but it is anything but! By informing themselves on what instructions were given to the commissioners and enumerators, genealogists can learn more about their ancestors, gather more clues, and understand why their ancestors responded as they did. Don’t forget that there will always be exceptions to the rules, as not all enumerators interpreted the instructions the same way.

Here are some of the highlights:

Column 3 – Names of each person in family, household or institution

Census chart titled “Dominion Bureau of Statistics: Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, June 1, 1926” with handwritten entries for each of 25 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, race and citizenship, language and education.

A page for St. Boniface, Manitoba, from the 1926 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Note the entry for Jules Vinckier, who was enumerated as head of a household that included a domestic and a lodger. (e011228052)

The 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces lists “the names of every person whose usual place of abode on June 1, 1926 was with the family or in the dwelling house for which the enumeration is being made.” The key point in that sentence is that the person must call the home for which the enumeration is being made their “usual place of abode.” Genealogists should keep that in mind when searching for families with older children, as they may have struck out on their own by 1926. This also includes lodgers and those employed as domestic help or as a servant.
Dwelling houses could also be considered institutions, such as “hospitals, poorhouses, asylums for the insane, prisons, penitentiaries, schools of learning, military barracks, homes for the aged, homes of refuge, etc.”

Column 16 – Racial or tribal origin

Census chart titled “Dominion Bureau of Statistics: Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, June 1, 1926” with handwritten entries for each of 25 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, race and citizenship, language and education.

A page for Jackhead Indian Reserve, Manitoba, from the 1926 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta (e011226423)

Racial or tribal origin is a column on the census chart that most genealogists find extremely helpful. While this information gives researchers valuable insight into where their ancestors originated, one needs to consider the enumerator instructions for deciphering the answer to this question. According to the publication, “The racial or tribal origin is usually traced through the Father, as in English, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, German, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Bohemian, Ruthenian, Bukovinian, Galacian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Jewish, etc. A person whose father is English but whose mother is Scotch, Irish, French or any other race will be considered in this connection as English, and so with any of the others.”
This line of thought did not hold true for Indigenous families. The instructions state “in the case of Indians, the origin is traced through the mother, and names of their tribes should be given, as ‘Chippewa,’ ‘Cree,’ etc.”

Column 17 – Year of immigration to Canada

 Census chart titled “Dominion Bureau of Statistics: Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, June 1, 1926” with handwritten entries for each of 25 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, race and citizenship, language and education.

A page for North Battleford, Saskatchewan, from the 1926 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta (e011242806) Note the entry for Frank Madon and his wife, who appear to have been born in Canada, immigrated to the United States where they were naturalized, and then returned to Canada as immigrants in 1920.

A researcher might be surprised to see an immigration year for a Canadian-born ancestor. The reason for that notation may be that, according to enumerator instructions, column 17 “applies to all persons, irrespective of age or sex, who were born outside of Canada, and also to Canadian-born persons who had formerly become domiciled in a foreign country but have returned to their native soil.” The publication clarifies further “for those of Canadian birth, the year of their returning home to remain permanently should be given.”

Column 18 – Year of naturalization

Census chart titled “Dominion Bureau of Statistics: Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, June 1, 1926” with handwritten entries for each of 25 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, race and citizenship, language and education.

A page for Regina, Saskatchewan, from the 1926 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Note the notation of “pa” in column 18 for Andrew Susylinski (e011245054)

The enumerator instructions state that a notation of “pa” in column 18 indicates that the “person has applied for papers but has not yet reached the full status of citizenship.” A notation of “pa” would signal to the researcher that more information about their ancestor may be found in naturalization records.

If you are curious about finding your ancestors in other census years, feel free to explore Library and Archives Canada’s Census page.


Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content division at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Plaisance: A French fishing colony in Newfoundland

By Valerie Casbourn

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds records related to the French colonial period in early Canada, and some of these records are available online. Included are records about the French cod fishery in the Atlantic region and the French colony of Plaisance in Newfoundland (1662–1713).

During the 17th century, the cod fishery in Newfoundland became increasingly important to the European fishing industry. France was one of several European countries competing for a share of this fishery, and in 1662, the French established a garrison town at Plaisance, on the western side of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. The French wanted to secure their merchant fishing fleet’s access to the fishery and their share of the European market for cod.

The site of Plaisance was chosen for its proximity to rich fishing grounds, its sheltered and relatively ice-free harbour, and its strategic location. Eventually, the colony of Plaisance grew to have a small permanent population, with military fortifications, and served as a base for the French Atlantic cod fishery.

A hand-drawn and coloured illustration that shows the shore with people on a wooden stage working on curing and drying cod in Newfoundland.

A view of a stage and also of the manner of fishing for, curing and drying cod at New Found Land […] (c003686) A digitized copy of the map L’Amerique, divisee selon l’etendue de ses Principales Parties, et dont les Points Principaux sont placez sur les Observations de Messieurs de L’Academie Royale des Sciences. Dressee Par N. de Fer, Geographe de Monseigneur le Dauphin can be seen at the Osher Map Library website.

The French and English established colonies along the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, which encroached on the Indigenous territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq. The French had little recorded interaction with the Beothuk, who withdrew from the coast and its resources to avoid contact with the European fishermen and colonists. Before the arrival of the colonies the Mi’kmaq navigated the waters between Cape Breton and Newfoundland by canoe. They established friendly relations with the French, becoming important trading partners and military allies.

The colony of Plaisance encountered many difficulties, particularly during its first few decades. Its population was small and poorly supplied, and its early governors were ineffective. However, in the 1690s, the colony became stronger, and the French administration highly valued the Atlantic fishery.

The economy of Plaisance was largely based on the cod fishery. The colony’s small permanent population with its “habitants-pêcheurs” was bolstered each year with the arrival of a large seasonal workforce on the merchant fleet from French ports. All worked intensely to catch and preserve cod during the summer months. The residents of Plaisance relied on the merchant fleet to bring extra labourers, food and manufactured goods, and to ship their dried catch back to Europe to be sold.

During this period, there was ongoing conflict between the French and the English, as well as between the Mi’kmaq and the English. In the 1690s and early 1700s, both the French and the Mi’kmaq conducted raids, sometimes jointly, on English settlements on the Avalon Peninsula. The War of the Spanish Succession culminated in the Treaty of Utrecht, signed in 1713, in which France ceded its claim to Newfoundland to England. The English took over the settlement of Plaisance, changing its name to Placentia. Most of the French colonists moved south to the colony of Ile Royale (now Cape Breton). There they established themselves in the new French settlement of Louisbourg and continued their work in the French cod fishery. The French also retained the right to fish off the coasts of Newfoundland and to process their catch along stretches of the shoreline, known as the French Shore.

Nautical chart, on vellum in coloured ink, of the coastline of Newfoundland, Acadia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Nautical chart of the coastline of Newfoundland, Acadia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Produced after 1713, the chart shows both Plaisance and Louisbourg (e011182107)

Records at Library and Archives Canada

LAC holds records related to the colony of Plaisance, among other topics, in the Fonds des Colonies (MG1). This fonds includes copies and transcriptions of selected records related to the French colonial period in early Canada. The records are in French, and the original documents are held at the Archives nationales d’outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. The Fonds des Colonies consists of records including correspondence, reports, journals, instructions, records of fortifications and commerce, civil registers, and notary documents.

Many records in the Fonds des Colonies have been digitized and are available directly on the LAC website. Use LAC’s Collection Search to search for records about the colony of Plaisance. Try keyword searches, such as “MG1 Plaisance” or “MG1 pêche” (without quotation marks), and use the drop-down menu to search “Archives.” Including “MG1” will limit your search results to records in the Fonds des Colonies; you can search more broadly by not including it. Because the original records are in French, try using French keywords such as “pêche” (fishing), “Terre-Neuve” (Newfoundland), or “morue” (cod).

Related resources


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist based in Halifax with Regional Services at Library and Archives Canada.

Researching early census records

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the launch of an expanded version of one of our most popular research guides: Finding Aid 300: Other census and related documents (1640 to 1945).

This tool is a comprehensive guide to early census and related records found at LAC, with references mainly dating from 1640 to the 1800s. There are also some records from the 1900s, including Newfoundland and Labrador from 1921 to 1945.

New to this version of Finding Aid 300 are links to digitized images of most of the documents. Researchers can access numerous digitized records relating to Acadia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia.

We also invite you to visit our updated Censuses page, which includes links to our databases of census returns (1825 to 1921) and other resources.

Do you have Aboriginal ancestry? The census might tell you

Many individuals do genealogical research to determine whether they have an Aboriginal branch in their family tree. For some, this is simply to confirm or disprove a family story. For others, the research is connected to self-identity, empowerment, possible registration in Aboriginal organizations or funding connected to self-identification.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) cannot make any determination about whether you are Aboriginal, but our documents can assist in your research.

Sadly, sometimes, our family stories are just that—stories. Likewise, family photographs may lead us to make false assumptions. Are we seeing something that is not really there?

You might find the answer in census returns.

Identifying First Nation, Métis or Inuit in historical census returns

Seeking an understanding of Aboriginal identity through family histories and genealogical research can be a challenging task in Canada. Two systems of definitions exist—one based in law and legislation, the other in family tradition and community practice. Continue reading

More frequently asked genealogy questions

We receive many interesting questions from our clients at the genealogy desk at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Here are more frequently asked questions.

How do I start my genealogy search?

The first step is to ask questions (such as “who,” “what,” “where”) and start writing down information. Find out which details in your family tree you are missing.

Some family members might not remember exact dates, but they might remember events (a great aunt may not know the exact year of her grandmother’s death, but she may remember that her grandmother died when she was in high school, and they drove to Toronto for the funeral). This narrows down the years and the province where the death certificate was issued. It also may give you a clue in which newspaper to find the obituary.

You can learn more on our website on how to begin your genealogy search.

Why does LAC have census records but no birth certificates?

The division of power between the federal government and the provinces dictates which government records are part of the LAC collection. We house federal documents such as census returns, military records and passenger lists. The records pertaining to births, marriages and deaths are a provincial jurisdiction and are thus found in provincial and territorial archives. A lot of vital statistic indexes and records can now be found online, but you should also consult the provincial archive for up to date information about its collections. Continue reading

Jean Talon, Intendant of New France, 1665–1672

In the early 1660s, New France was facing many challenges. It had been weakened by 20 years of fighting against the Iroquois and the far-reaching powers of the governor. It was time to reorganize New France, and so Louis XIV, along with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, his minister responsible for the colonies, decided to take action. In 1663, New France became royal property. The governor’s powers were reduced, and the colony was reorganized administratively. An important role was given to the Intendant, as representative of the King, in the administration of justice, police and finances.

On March 23, 1665, Louis XIV appointed Jean Talon to the position of Intendant. Almost 40 years old at the time, Jean Talon had been educated by the Jesuits in Paris, and he had an excellent reputation as an administrator. He had held various administrative positions in the French military and had become the Intendant of the County of Hainaut in 1655.

Jean Talon held the position of Intendant from 1665 to 1668 and from 1670 to 1672, putting in place many initiatives that greatly improved conditions in the colony. First, he worked to increase the population by promoting immigration, encouraging and supporting large families, urging single people to marry, bringing over the filles du roi, motivating soldiers to settle in the colony after their military service, etc.

A watercolour of a domestic scene. A group of people are standing around a central character (Jean Talon). In the background we see a fireplace where a kettle is heating over an open fire, and a woman with a baby is seated next to it. An old man is sitting on a bench in the foreground.

Jean Talon visiting settlers, painted by Lawrence Batchelor in 1931 (MIKAN 2896077)

Talon encouraged people to settle permanently by making it easier to access land, but also by forcing them to live on the land. Added to concession contracts were specific clauses requiring settlers to clear the land and “keep hearth and home” within 12 months, and prohibiting them from selling the land until there was a house built on it and two acres had been cleared.

Talon also oversaw the reorganization of the legal system; he reduced the number of trials by fostering accommodations, promoting out-of-court settlements and asking that cases at the first level be brought before him directly.

In terms of the economy, Talon was a visionary: he dreamed of factories in New France producing textiles, rope, tar, potash, soap, etc. He conducted mineral exploration around Trois-Rivières, a prelude to the Forges du Saint-Maurice in the 18th century, worked toward creating a network of alliances for the fur trade, and built a brewery in Quebec City to produce local beer. By the time he left, the face of New France had changed dramatically!

Library and Archives Canada holds copies of many historical documents written by Jean Talon, including his memoirs and observations on the state of the colony, correspondence, and the censuses held in 1666 and 1667.

Major Update to the 1861 Census of Canada Database

Following the release of the 1861 Census of Canada database in 2013, a number of missing records and misplaced images were reported by Library and Archives Canada clients and staff. We corrected over 133,000 entries! Following is a list of improvements to the database.

Canada West and Canada East Issues

In Canada West, the records for the cities of Hamilton, Kingston, London, Ottawa and Toronto were previously reported missing but the records did exist. The five cities, although enumerated separately in 1861, were tucked away amongst their neighbouring rural districts. For example, the city of Ottawa was listed under the district of Carleton and the city of Kingston was listed under Frontenac. The five cities are now correctly identified as districts and their respective wards are identified as sub-districts.

Additionally in Canada West, the rural districts of Renfrew and Russell were also reported as missing. The records for those two districts and their sub-districts can now be searched. In the rural district of Kent, the sub-districts of Camden and Gore, the town of Chatham, and the district of Chatham have been correctly identified. The images in the districts of Brant and Dundas are now correctly linked.

In Canada East, several image linking errors were corrected, particularly in the districts of Argenteuil, Montcalm and St-Jean. Continue reading

Validating your ancestor’s arrival in Canada before 1865

So you have searched the immigration records prior to 1865, and still no trace of your ancestor? If you didn’t find your ancestor’s arrival before 1865, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has other genealogical resources that can assist in confirming an ancestor’s arrival in Canada.

Where did he or she settle?
Is he or she listed in census returns? LAC’s collection of census databases, which can be searched by a person’s name, can confirm an individual’s presence as early as 1825. Perhaps a reference exists for one of the parents (recorded as the head of the family) or for a sibling.

Many early settlers submitted petitions to obtain land where they could establish their family in Upper Canada or Lower Canada. LAC’s databases provide references to land transactions that give the person’s name, the date of the application and the county or township within a province.

Perhaps he served in the military?
Muster rolls, pay lists and various registers can reveal useful information when tracing former military personnel. Have a look at the Military page where many finding aids are searchable by name. For example, the RG8, C Series (British Military and Navy Records) includes records about Loyalist regiments, the War of 1812, and the Canadian militia. The documents for the RG8, C Series have been digitized and are searchable by name on our website. Refer to the Help pages for explanations of the records.

Life events in records
The date of arrival in Canada can be estimated by searching birth, marriage, and death records for first occurrences such as the birth of a child to confirm the presence of the family in a location. Consult our previous blog on how to search for Birth, Marriage and Death Records.

Published sources
Family histories, historical atlases and other published works can be searched in AMICUS, LAC’s online catalogue. It is also possible that your ancestor lived in a location that published a city directory.

The genealogical community
Many genealogical societies have resources specific to where your ancestor settled. Finding aids that describe a location are valuable tools when searching for ancestors.

Happy discoveries!

Mission Accomplished! Access to 15 Databases in One Stop!

On December 18, 2012, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced the upcoming deployment of a series of 15 databases on Canadian census returns. Following the online publication of the 1861 Census returns database a few weeks ago, LAC is proud to report: mission accomplished!

Now, using the LAC website, it is possible to consult nominal indexes for census returns from 1825 to 1916. That is a total of more than 32 million documents. Moreover, all these indexes are available at no cost!

This massive undertaking required continuous cooperation from members of a number of LAC teams, as well as highly organized operations, over a number of
months. Continue reading