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

British Home Child Day: how more than 100,000 British Home Children contributed to Canada’s population

Five years ago, Jim Brownell, then Member of Provincial Parliament for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry, tabled Bill 185 to have September 28 proclaimed ‘British Home Child Day’.

Mr. Brownell has close links to two home children: his paternal grandmother and his great aunt. The Scottish-born sisters both arrived in Canada through the home child program. Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 juvenile migrants were sent to Canada from the British Isles.

Mr. Brownell’s grandmother, Mary Scott Pearson, was born in Scotland and arrived in Canada on September 28, 1891 aboard the SS Hibernian. Her first home on Canadian soil would be the Fairknowe Home in Brockville, Ontario.

Perhaps you have come across a home child while researching your family history. It is estimated that eleven percent of the Canadian population can identify a home child as one of their ancestors.

Where to start my research to locate my ancestor?

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds extensive records to assist in your research on Home Children. These records include passenger lists, Immigration Branch correspondence files and inspection reports, non-government collections and private fonds (Middlemore’s), as well as indexes to some records held in the United Kingdom. Consult The Records section for search tips and explanations on the documents held at LAC.

Passenger lists and other immigration documents are often the first sources consulted. Not only are the names of children listed, but the name of the ship, the dates of departure and arrival, the name of the sending organization in the British Isles and the destination of the child in Canada are also included. All of these details are key in tracing immigrating ancestors.

A black and white image of a house with melting snow all around. In front of the house are two horse-drawn sleighs with people around them.

Miss Macpherson’s receiving home “Marchmont” in Belleville, Ontario (home for immigrant children from Britain) (MIKAN 3591133)

The Guide to Sending Organizations and Receiving Homes provides a list and description of associated places, societies and institutions in the United Kingdom and Ireland and the associated places and Homes in Canada. A fourth column gives the names of people associated with the organizations often mentioned in passenger Lists. For example, Thomas Barnardo and John Hobday were associated with Barnardo’s Homes. Agnes Burges and William and Mary Quarrier were associated with Quarrier’s Orphan Homes of Scotland, whose Fairknowe Home was based in Brockville, Ontario. Children who had been baptized in the Catholic faith were usually placed with Catholic families or religious congregations, often in Quebec.

Military sources and census records

Many home children grew up and enlisted in the Canadian Forces during both the First and the Second World Wars; some chose to remain in the United Kingdom after the war. Consult our Military Heritage page to research personnel service files and other military resources.

If you would like to discover more on where a child resided, consult the Census records for the relevant time period. Please note that home children can be researched with the same surname listed in the passenger list. Most home children kept their birth name and were not formally adopted by the family with whom they resided.

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

Finally, don’t forget to read previous articles about Home Children: Introduction, Edward Brignall, Harold Mornington, Wallace Ford and The Honourable James Murdock

Other sources

Sharing genealogical data in the electronic age: the GEDCOM application

You have just met relatives who share your passion for family history and you are looking forward to gathering data about your “new” relatives. In order to share the genealogical records you already have, here’s how you can exchange genealogical data, no matter what software your recipient is using
The GEDCOM file format specification was designed to transmit and receive genealogical data such as location and date of birth, marriage and death information in a standard format. Welcome then to the equivalent of an online family reunion!


Developed by  Family Search, GEDCOM text files contain information and links for exchanging genealogical data between two parties regardless of the software. Files can also be downloaded from a website, imported into genealogical software, and added to Family Tree. The files can also be transmitted as attachments to emails. You can recognize a GEDCOM file by its extension, “.ged”.

I say Bennett, vous dites Benoit. Soundex: How to find spelling variations of a surname

You are deep into your genealogy research and coming across documents that show a code like T650 instead of a surname? What does the code mean? Well, it’s a code from the Soundex phonetic system, used to index surnames.

Many American archival records have been indexed using this system. It’s a way to search surnames while ignoring minor differences in spelling. The code uses the first letter of the surname, followed by three numbers associated with the sound of the name. Letters of the alphabet are assigned a number (0 to 9). Vowels (A, E, I, O, U and Y) and the letters H and W are ignored. Also, if the same letter occurs twice in a row in the name, it is counted only once (e.g., Lloyd becomes Loyd). If there are fewer than 3 letters in the name, 0 is used for the last digit.



B P F V 1
C S G J K Q X Z 2
D T> 3
L> 4
M N 5
R 6


SMITH = S530

To help you identify different spellings of surnames, we suggest that you use the following Soundex indexing site: Avotaynu Consolidated Jewish Surname Index. It can also be used for non-Jewish surnames. To help you identify the Soundex code, you can use the JOS Soundex calculator.

Did Your Ancestors Come From Ireland (Eire)?

Library and Archives Canada Blog

Do you wonder who your first Irish ancestor was and when he or she left Ireland and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your family’s Irish heritage?

If so, the LAC website is a great place to begin your research. For instance, you will find a page specific to genealogical research for the Irish. It provides you with historical background, LAC’s archival collections and published material, as well as links to other websites and institutions.

If you know your Irish ancestor came to Canada before 1865, the following three databases are great starting points for your research:

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

Tracing your Irish ancestor in Canada is the first step. Tracing your ancestor in…

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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!

Your ancestors and the War of 1812

During the War of 1812, many French Canadians fought under the command of Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry in the Canadian Voltigeurs, a light infantry unit. The Voltigeurs’ main battle exploit was the Battle of the Châteauguay, which was fought on October 26, 1813, when some 1,700 Canadians helped drive back more than 3,000 Americans, preventing a major attack on Montréal.

Here are a few avenues for research that will help you determine whether your ancestors were among the Voltigeurs:

Library and Archives Canada has many documents on military service, including documents related to the War of 1812. Drafted mainly in English, these include muster rolls and paylists, along with land claims and petitions scattered throughout the collection. However, there are no military service files for specific individuals, unlike what is available for the First World War.

The starting point for your research is to find a contract of service, which all Lower Canada militiamen had to sign before a notary. This was the case for Joseph Auclair (1794-1861), who took part in the Capture of Detroit and in the Battle of the Châteauguay. This document provides physical details and the name of the regiment and of the commanding officer. The Notarial Records blog article explains how to find this key document.

Certificate of enlistment of Joseph Auclair by Jean-Baptiste-René Hertel de Rouville, captain, Canadian Voltigeurs unit, drafted before the notary Charles Pratte, December 27, 1812, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Certificate of enlistment of Joseph Auclair by Jean-Baptiste-René Hertel de Rouville, captain, Canadian Voltigeurs unit, drafted before the notary Charles Pratte, December 27, 1812, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

You can also find references to medals awarded to veterans of the War of 1812 in our Medals, Honours and Awards database. With a bit of patience, you will be able to locate the name of your ancestor on paylists, also called Nominal Rolls and Paylists. Many militiamen were also granted land. These grants, announced in The Quebec Gazette, were confirmed by land patents, which can be found in our Lower Canada Land Petitions database.

Lastly, to save you time, it is very important to read the search help pages carefully to find out how documents are organized.

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

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.

Timothy Eaton

There’s no better time than the internationally celebrated St. Patrick’s Day for highlighting the history of Irish Canadians. So let’s take this opportunity to learn about Timothy Eaton, the famous founder of the Eaton’s retail chain. Born in Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Timothy Eaton settled in Canada with his family around 1854. You can find out more about him in various Library and Archives Canada (LAC) resources—here’s how.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online contains an interesting biography of Timothy Eaton, with a number of genealogical details such as the dates of his birth, marriage and death, and the names of his parents.

Unfortunately, since few lists of arrivals prior to 1865 have survived, Timothy Eaton’s name cannot be traced on any passenger lists.

LAC’s various databases—particularly the census databases—are excellent sources of information. For instance, the 1871 census lists Timothy Eaton as a merchant living in Toronto West with his wife Margaret and their three children, Edward, Josina and Margaret. Continue reading