6 best Canadian family history websites

Jonathan Scott hunts down online resources for researching Canadian family history

View of Busy Bon Secours Market

For genealogists with Canadian connections, there’s a host of material online.

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We’ve attempted to cover as much ground as possible, taking in archives, commercial sites, as well as lesser-known labours of love.

Of the commercial sites, Ancestry probably has the lion’s share of Canadian data, while there’s all kinds of free material on FamilySearch. The national repository, Library and Archives Canada, has free databases, finding aids and more besides.

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.

1. Library and Archives Canada 

Library and archives canada

Canada’s national repository lacks bells and whistles, but it is easy to find what you’re after. There’s guidance for beginners, plus source guides to BMDs, the census, immigration and citizenship and much more.

I recommend clicking ‘Discover the Collection’, as the A-Z quickly gives you a flavour of the wealth of material here. It leads to databases, indexes, guides and projects – including those on external websites.

Most importantly, there’s all kinds of freely searchable primary source material including censuses from 1901, 1911, etc, plus military personnel records (the digitisation of Canadian Expeditionary Force service files will be ready by 2018), BMD material, directories and more.

2. Canadiana

Canadiana

Although this website feels pitched at academia, it’s a fascinating resource that’s similar in scope to British History Online.

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.

3. Manitoba Archives

Manitoba

The Provincial Archive in Winnipeg is home to the Hudson’s Bay Company collections. This particular URL takes you to an alphabetical list of ‘biographical sheets’.

They outline each person’s employment 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 wider Archives of Manitoba (including HBC) are currently being digitised and made available through the Keystone Database.

4. Passenger Lists

Canada online genealogy records

The FamilySearch wiki is a good general starting point, leading 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.

At FamilySearch, for example, you will find Canada Passenger Lists 1881 to 1922. This 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).

5. Dictionary of Canadian Biographies

Dictionnaire biographique du canada

This free dictionary of Canadian biographies is great for finding references to influential individuals from Canada’s past.

You can search by subject keyword, or scroll the A-Z for names and subjects. Searching under ‘Scott’, for example, we find two Jonathans – a lay preacher, Congregational minister, and author born in 1744, and a Nottingham-born Methodist clergyman, who died in Brampton, Ontario, in 1880.

6. The Ancestor Hunt

The ancestor hunt

Chosen by Lorine McGinnis Schulze, creator of Olive Tree Genealogy and author of genealogical mystery Death Finds a Way:

“Kenneth R Marks’ site The Ancestor Hunt 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 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.

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“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.”