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.


If you're interested in tracing your Canadian genealogy, Ancestry probably have the best Canadian data, while there’s all kinds of free material on FamilySearch.

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 genealogy.

Read the full version of this article and much more expert family history advice in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine June 2023, on sale now

The best Canadian genealogy sites

1. Library and Archives Canada

The website of Canada’s national heritage organisation is in a state of transition as staff move longstanding content towards a new look. Via the homepage you’ll find details of the upcoming 1931 census release and links to previous censuses, alongside source guides covering migration, naturalisation and citizenship, as well as military records such as Canadian Expeditionary Force service files from the First World War. The best starting point is probably the A-to-Z of tools and guides, which you’ll find via the homepage’s ‘Collection’ menu. Note that when the 1931 census goes live you will only be able to browse images, but Ancestry and FamilySearch are both working to make the records more accessible. There is also a list of family history societies.

2. Nova Scotia Births, Marriages and Deaths

Via Nova Scotia’s vital statistics hub you can search through millions of names from vital records in the region, linked to digitised images, free of charge. The parent website too is full of digital highlights, including thousands more images, documents and old newspapers.

3. The Ancestor Hunt

This website provides a valuable service with a frequently updated list of places to find free historical newspapers published in North America, Europe, Australia and the Caribbean. You’ll have to start by scrolling down, since the page begins with US titles. The Canada section is organised by province – click through to find state-wide and small-scale collections. There are some online adverts, but the website wouldn’t survive without them.

4. Canadian Research Knowledge Network

This website is a warren of fascinating rabbit holes. It’s now merged with Canadiana – a group that began republishing heritage material in 1978, moving digital-only in 1999. A 10-year digitising spree has produced many millions of pages of primary-source documents. There’s also a digital-heritage index that lists accessible collections across Canada, including those held by universities, libraries, heritage organisations and archives. There are dead-ends, however. You may find links to the national ‘Virtual Museum’, for example, which was mothballed in 2020 and replaced by Digital Museums Canada.

5. Home Children Canada

From 1869 through to 1939 more than 100,000 children were emigrated from the UK to Canada, often to become indentured farm workers or domestic servants. This registry of home children is run by the charity Home Children Canada, and keep in mind that it differs from LAC’s equivalent database because the latter uses a broader definition of home children. The parent charity continues to catalogue stories, reconnect families, build the Home Child Registry, and identify sites where ‘lost’ individuals were laid to rest.

6. Expert's choice: Peel's Prairie Provinces

Chosen by Penny Allen, owner of the site UK to Canada Genealogy:

"One of the places where I research my family history is the prairies of Canada. At the turn of the century, immigrants from all over the world were encouraged to take up Canadian farmland. However, it can be difficult to find an ancestor who went to a small town in Canada. If you’re in this position, consider the University of Alberta’s Peel’s Prairie Provinces digital collections. My favourites are Peel’s Prairie Postcards, an image archive of more than 15,000 postcards; Henderson’s Directories; and Newspapers. These cover Alberta (primarily), Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

"The postcards collection includes topics such as activities and sports, business and industry, buildings and organisations. Henderson’s Directories are the Canadian version of Kelly’s, containing addresses of citizens and businesses. They cover from the early 1900s to the post-1950s in all three provinces, although not for every single city or town. Finally while commercial sites may offer good search functionality, the newspapers on Peel’s are free. The website is especially good for weekly titles from the tiniest towns on the Alberta prairies, which reveal daily life on the prairie as well as the names of residents in church events, politics, or those visiting relatives from out of town."

More Canadian genealogy sites

  1. Ancestry

Browse free and subscription-based collections for the country, from nationwide population surveys to service records and militia pay lists.

2. Anglican Church of Canada

This directory has information about archives that look after diocesan archival records.

3. Archives of Manitoba

The Archives of Manitoba’s website is well worth a visit, not least because in November 2019 staff completed the digitisation of 1,052 reels of microfilm, encompassing more than 10,000 volumes of records from the Hudson’s Bay Company. These include journals, correspondence, accounts, lists of servants, engagement registers and minutes.

4. CanGenealogy

Founded by researcher, speaker and writer Dave Obee, this website holds useful guides to where to find Canadian genealogy records, by region and category of record.

5. Canadian Headstones

View free images and transcriptions of Canadian headstones and memorials across the globe.

6. Dictionary of CANADIAN Biography

Learn about key figures in the history of Canada.

7. FamilySearch

Learn about key Canadian genealogy resources with the FamilySearch Wiki.

8. Nanaimo Family History Society

This group has built a passenger list index with 757,749 listings from 1,403 ship arrivals. See also TheShipsList.

9. Olive Tree Genealogy

This long-running website, started by the late Lorine Olive McGinnis, collects links and free genealogy records for research in Canada.

10. Ontario Name Index

This free database from the Ontario Genealogical Society contains millions of names.

11. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

Here you can search 3,633,530 names (and counting) from 39 databases.


Jonathan Scott is the author of A Dictionary of Family History