Many genealogists have Canadian family history, whether you live in Canada or not. Between 1815 and 1850 800,000 people emigrated to Canada, mainly from Britain and Ireland. If your ancestors are missing from the census, they may well have sought a new life in Canada. There was also the later wave of 100,000 British Home Children, who were transported to Canada by children’s charities in an effort to improve their welfare.
As in the US and Australia, what’s available through the provincial archives varies a great deal. So whether your ancestors migrated to the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan, worked for Hudson’s Bay Company, or traded through the Port of Quebec, there’s lots online to help you discover your Canadian family history.
Canadian family history: The best websites
Canada’s national repository lacks bells and whistles, but it is easy to find what you’re after while tracing Canadian family history. There’s guidance for beginners, plus source guides to birth, marriage and death records, free censuses dating as far back as 1640 and as recently as 1945 for Newfoundland, the complete First World War military records and much more.
Although this website feels pitched at academia, it has many potentially interesting resources for Canadian family history.
It provides access to millions of pages of digitised content relating to Canada’s past, drawn from magazines, periodicals and books, plus some primary sources.
Clicking ‘Early Canadiana Online’ leads to collections that include Canadian periodicals, plus ‘Genealogy and Local History’ and the ‘Hudson’s Bay Company’. Click on a title and a digitised book appears below.
Meanwhile, the ten-year ‘Héritage’ project leads you to approximately 40 million digitised pages of primary-source documents.
The Provincial Archive in Winnipeg is home to the Hudson’s Bay Company collections. They outline each Hudson Bay Company employee’s history, often with details of parish of origin or place of birth, positions, plus “posts and districts in which the person served, family information, if available; and references to related documents, including photographs or drawings”.
The best place to start with Canadian family history is discovering how your ancestors first emigrated to the country. The FamilySearch wiki leads to plenty of online records – although the amount of material varies from province to province. This page provides a good list of important online collections, some external and some within FamilySearch itself.
The FamilySearch collection Canada Passenger Lists 1881 to 1922 is both an index to and images of ships’ passenger lists, covering the ports of Quebec City, Halifax, Saint John, North Sydney, Vancouver, Victoria, plus New York and Eastern US ports (listing passengers with intentions of proceeding directly to Canada).
This free dictionary of Canadian biographies is great for finding references to influential individuals from Canada’s past. If you have well-known individuals in your Canadian family history, don’t miss out on it.
“Kenneth R Marks’ site The Ancestor Hunt is a great source for Canadian family history because it has a very comprehensive list of Canadian online historical newspapers. Each province (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan) has its own page of links to all the online resources that Kenneth has found in his exhaustive search. The Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon share a page of links.
“To take Alberta as an example… clicking the link leads to the likes of the Alberta Heritage Digitisation Project and the University of Alberta’s Peel’s Prairie Provinces, containing over 66,000 old newspaper issues – that’s around 4.8 million articles!
“The pace of digitisation of these sources has been rather slow in places, so not all Canadian titles and areas are represented.
“However, Kenneth has gathered approximately 2,500 links to those that have been brought online for researchers to freely consult. Kenneth has also compiled links to pay-to-view sites with newspapers and these are well worth looking into.”
Jonathan Scott is the author of A Dictionary of Family History