How to find your Canada ancestors

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03 June 2021
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Do you have Canadian ancestors, or did your ancestors emigrate to Canada from another country? Discover how to find your Canada ancestors with our round-up of family history resources.

Discover how to find your Canadian kin with Family Tree's recommended online and on-site resources 

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Ancestry's Canada collections

Both Ancestry.com and Ancestry.ca have strong Canadian family history collections, including passenger lists. The passenger lists begin in 1865 and run through to 1935, effectively providing a record of Canadian immigration. 

Ancestry's Canadian Genealogy Index covers the years 1600s-1900s and comprises over two million records covering all of Canada's regions. Census, land, marriage records and many more can be searched by entering your ancestor's name into the index. Get started here

Canada.ca

The official website of the Government of Canada has a great get-started guide for anyone new to Canadian family history. This includes:

  • How to get started
  • Options for accessing genealogical records
  • Databases for ancestor research
  • Research by ethno-cultural group

FamilySearch

There are two options for using the Canada collections from FamilySearch - either in person at the FamilySearch library in Salt Lake City, Utah or at one of its centres around the world - or alternatively, you can access the online collections at FamilySearch.

The FamilySearch Wiki is a great starting point for library or online research, as it summarises the dozens of different record types for Canada and its provinces.

As well as birth, marriage, death and the census, you can also explore records including:

  • Canadian newspapers
  • Land and property records for Canada
  • Canadian immigration and emigration
  • Cemetery records

The page also includes links to local research resources including libraries and archives, and a guide to starting your Canada family history research.

Généalogie Québec

A genealogy website which is very useful for anyone French-Canadian ancestry and links to Quebec and surrounds. Généalogie Québec promises 'the largest collection of Quebec historical and genealogical documents online' with:

  • 47 million files and images in the database
  • 16 research tools covering the earliest settlers to the present day
  • An online family history community

Although the historical documents focus mainly on Quebec, some of the material covers Acadia, New Brunswick, parts of Ontario, and the north-eastern United States.

The website is based on a subscription membership which you can see here.


QUICK LINK: Trace the UK origins of your Canada ancestors with our census guides


Hudson's Bay Company Records

Originally a fur trading business, Hudson's Bay Company, established on 2 May 1670, evolved into a mercantile business that has employed many hundreds of people over the years. Initially selling and exchanging good at trading posts, the Company eventually offered their goods for sale at fixed-place stores. At one stage, between 1820 and 1870, the Company had its own paper currency. 

The Archives of Manitoba has digitised over 1,000 reels of microfilm that encompass 10,000 volumes of pre-1870 Hudson's Bay Company records from over 500 Company trading posts. 

There are a variety of online search tools, at the heart of which is the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database. Online resources include biographical information sheets, names indexes and common research topics.

At the time of writing (June 2021) the Archives was closed to visitors but once it reopens, researchers will be able to explore the collections once again.

Archives of Manitoba, 200 Vaughan Street, Room 130, Winnipeg, MB R3C 1T5, Canada.

Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is the home of the fifth largest library in the world and is a key location (online or offline) for Canadian family history.

The library and archives has all the resources you would expect from a major repository, including census records covering the years 1640-1926. Also available are passenger and border entry records for 1865 to 1935.

The family history element of the LAC website is accessed via Ancestors Search, which is the online gateway to a range of databases, each of which in turn has its own introduction page and links to digitised images where available.

One key thing to note is that birth, marriage and death records are not held at LAC but instead can be obtained at regional level repositories or at major Canadian family history websites such as Ancestry.ca.

395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A ON4, Canada; website.

Peel's Prairie Provinces 

Peel's Prairie Provinces is an online resource that is particularly prairie ancestors from western Canada. The site includes:

  • 16,000 images
  • 640,000 newspaper pages
  • 14,000 bibliographic records
  • Historical directories for 1905 onwards

Many of the featured items date back to the early years of prairie settlement; much of the material featured on the site is based on the original work of Bruce Peel, with an extremely varied range of both text and images.

You can search by keyword or within the collections of books, newspapers, images and maps. 

Pier 21, Scotiabank Family History Centre

Based at the site that was the entry point for almost 1 million immigrants, Pier 21 has immigration records for 1865 (with a small number before this date) to 1935 - staff specialise in finding immigration records for both online and in-person researchers.

Ship information can also be explored (although this doesn't include passenger lists) with ship lists, oral histories and lists of crossings. 

The Pier 21 site also incorporates the Museum of Canadian Immigration, which could help you obtain further facts and add colour to your research. 

Pier 21, 1055 Marginal Road, Halifax NS B3H 4P7, Canada; website.

Provinces and territories

Canada has ten provinces and three territories, each with its own capital and each with its own family history records. The three territories are Northwest, Nunavut and Yukan. The 'where to search places' page at Canada Archives is a hub from which you can link through to resources specific to the various provinces and territories, including sources held at provincial and territorial archives, and specialist societies. 

Societies and organisations

Canadian Society of Mayflower Descendants

Canadian Society of Mayflower Descendants has been helping researchers with ancestors who emigrated on the Mayflower since 1980. The site also has a list of associated Mayflower societies, some of which cater to the descendants of a particular Mayflower pilgrim.

Cyndi's List

Cyndi's List has two pages of society links, including those for ancestors who were a member of a particular religion.

Royal Heraldry Society of Canada

The Royal Heraldry Society of Canada was founded in 1966 to promote interest in heraldry in Canada. The website is available in both French and English and has a number of free to access articles, including an introduction to heraldry, recommended books and articles, the arms of the provinces and territories and a members' roll of arms. There is also a members' area with online library and resources.

The Ancestor Hunt

The Ancestor Hunt was created by family history researcher Kenneth R Marks and comprises a large database of family history records for Canada and the US that you can either search by location or category.

One of the most unique and helpful resources for Canadian family history is the newspaper research links section - links to over 39,000 free newspaper pages at the time of writing (June 2021).