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.

I want to search the 1871 Canadian Census for Gimli, Manitoba, but I can’t find it in the LAC database. Why isn’t it there?

Not all areas in Canada were enumerated in early census returns. Each census return database on the LAC website has a list of the districts and sub-districts that were enumerated (see Ancestors Search). If the exact town for which you are searching was not enumerated at that time, you may find that the township/county/region may have been enumerated earlier. For example, the answer to this question would be that the earliest Gimli (former county of Lisgar) was enumerated was 1891, but Lisgar was enumerated in 1881.

We hope that you have found this information helpful. Contact us if you have any additional genealogy questions or visit us in-person at the genealogy desk!

New books in the Genealogy Services Collection at 395 Wellington Street—March 2016

Here is a list of our recently acquired genealogy publications. You can consult them in the Genealogy and Family History Room located on the 3rd floor at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. The link to the AMICUS record gives the call number you need to find the book on the shelves. Please note that CD-ROMs must be pre-ordered.

If you’re just starting out in genealogy, you should check out our Genealogy and Family History section.

Happy exploring!

Church, Cemetery and other indexes

La population des forts français d’Amérique, XVIIIe siècle : répertoire des baptêmes, mariages et sépultures célébrés dans les forts et les établissements français en Amérique du Nord au XVIIIe siècle : volume 3 – Détroit by Marthe Faribault-Beauregard (AMICUS 4941584)

Fegan’s homes newsletters. Volume 10: the Red Lamp 1913-1920 compiled by Douglas V. Fry & Fawne Stratford-Devai (AMICUS 32667771)

Arnprior area death notices, 2000-2007: compiled from Arnprior newspapers and funeral home notices [electronic resource] by Andriend Schlievert

Naissances & sépultures de Cabano, 1901-1939, St-Elzéar, 1933-1940, St-Honoré, 1871-1940, St-Louis du Ha! Ha!, 1878-1940 by Cécile de Lamirande (AMICUS 43564794)

Répertoire des baptêmes Saint-Sauveur, 1853-2013 by Société d’histoire et de généalogie des Pays-d’en-Haut (AMICUS 43711495)

Registres paroissiaux de Saint-Adelme de 1930 à 2014 : avec l’historique de quelques familles (extrait du livre du 50ième anniversaire de Saint-Adelme), (paru en 1981) et photo de mariage et d’anciens de chez-nous compiled by Madona Ouellet (AMICUS 43249438)

Inhumations sous l’église Sainte-Famille de Boucherville by Gilles Senécal (AMICUS 43918276)

Répertoire des mariages Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, mise à jour 1972 à 1992 : 70 établissements by Jacques Gagnon (AMICUS 40910246)

Family histories and dictionaries

The Linossier and Montagnon family pioneers in the Interlake region: homesteading – R.M. of Eriksdale, Manitoba, Canada by John Paul Linossier (AMICUS 43525032)

Dictionnaire généalogique des familles Thériault : descendance de Claude, 1601-2011 by Camille Albert (AMICUS 39364192)

Les premiers Audet dit Lapointe d’Amérique by Guy Saint-Hilaire (AMICUS 43306689)

The legend of four Weber brothers by Tim Campbell (AMICUS 43188991)

Les Filles du Roy de 1663 : recueil de biographies des 36 premières Filles du Roy arrivées en Nouvelle-France by Irène Belleau (AMICUS 43919407)

L’Association des Saindon de l’Amérique du Nord : Le recueil (AMICUS 34986778)

Mariages Larocque = Larocque marriages [electronic resource] by Charles G. Clermont (AMICUS 43727175)

Local histories

Mercier fête son histoire : des histoires de familles by La Société du patrimoine et de l’histoire de Mercier (AMICUS 43223569)

Très-Sainte-Trinité, Rockland : regards sur notre histoire, vision vers l’avenir : 125e anniversaire, 1889-2014 by Corporation de la communauté Sainte-Trinité (AMICUS 43474887)

Did your ancestors come from Hungary?

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

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on the Hungarians. 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.

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

Top three genealogy questions

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.

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.

Do you have Doukhobor ancestors?

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

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on the Doukhobors. 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.

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

Did your ancestors come from East India?

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

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on the East Indians. 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.

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

Do you have Mennonite ancestors?

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

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on the Mennonites. 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.

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

Nursing Sisters

The incredible contribution of Canadian nursing sisters in the First World War can be best appreciated by examining their experiences during service. Women left their families and homes to answer the call to duty and serve their country. Their dedication to their work, to Canada and, most importantly, to their patients, serves to measure the profound effect they had on the Canadian war effort.

A black-and-white photograph showing a woman in a nursing sister uniform sitting on the edge of a table. She is looking directly at the photographer and has a slight smile.

An unidentified nursing sister (MIKAN 3523169)

Library and Archives Canada holds a variety of materials on the history of military nurses, both published and archival. Below you will find a few examples:

A closer look at their daily lives

There are several recent publications that shed light on the varied experiences of nursing sisters during the Great War. Some focus on the individual accounts of nurses:

Pat Staton’s It Was Their War Too: Canadian Women and World War I offers a more general perspective of their contribution to the war effort.

A black-and-white photograph showing two nursing sisters standing by the bedsides of two wounded men.

Two nursing sisters with wounded soldiers in a ward room at the Queen’s Canadian Military Hospital in Shorncliffe, Kent, England, ca. 1916 (MIKAN 3604423)

In the archival collection, we are lucky to have the complete fonds for six of these nursing sisters, which allows us to delve deeper into what it was like for these women in the field. Learn more about Sophie Hoerner and Alice Isaacson who both served in France, or Dorothy Cotton who served in Russia. If that is not enough, you can learn about Anne E. Ross, Laura Gamble and Ruby Peterkin who all served in Greece.

Looking for a specific nursing sister?

If you are looking for information about a nursing sister who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, you will likely find it in the database Soldiers of the First World War. Generally, nursing sisters can easily be identified by their rank, usually indicated by “NS”. It is also important to note that that many women served with the British Forces through the Victorian Order of Nurses or St. John Ambulance.

Other resources:

Did your ancestors come from France?

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

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on the French. 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.

Library and Archives Canada holds a vast collection of census returns, from 1666 to 1916, in which you can find names of your French-Canadian ancestors.