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Research guide: census records

Census records are a good place to start your research.  They help you identify not only where your ancestors lived but also family members, birth dates, parents’ names, occupations, religion, place of birth, etc. Census records are particularly valuable because they show the whole family unit, not just individuals. 

Census of Canada

Censuses in Canada were taken every 10 years, starting in 1842. There were also two censuses of the prairie provinces only, in 1906 and 1916.   Census records are available for every census from 1842 to 1921. 

Where to find  Canadian census records

Library Online Resource

Ancestry Library  (In-Library use only)  

  • 1842 – 1921 Censuses; 1825 Census of Lower Canada
  • Index and digitized images


Library and Archives Canada

  • 1842 – 1921 Censuses; 1825 Census of Lower Canada
  • Index and digitized images
  • Helpful information for each census in the “About” section, including common abbreviations

Family Search

  • 1851 – 1916 Censuses
  • Index only; no images

Automated Genealogy

  • 1851, 1901, 1906, 1911 Censuses
  • Index and digitized images

Library Microfilm and Print Resources


Census indexes

  • Print indexes to Canadian censuses have been published by local genealogical societies.  The library holds many of these for Ontario and Quebec. 
  • Search for them in the catalogue with the keyword census and a geographic term (try county, township, village or province name), e.g. lanark census; merrickville census

Where to find censuses from other countries

Ancestry Library and FamilySearch have census records from many countries.  Search by location to find which records are available for a given country.

Census Handbooks

Census handbooks will help you learn about getting the most from census records, Canadian or foreign. Look for these in the online catalogue  using the keywords census manuals; or check the Recommended Resources list Census Handbooks

Tips for searching census records

  • Transcription and indexing errors are common; be creative in spelling names!
  • Generally, each source of census records has its own index (e.g. Ancestry Library uses a different index than FamilySearch or Library and Archives Canada).  If you are having difficulty locating a name in the census, try more than one source.
  • Print census indexes can be valuable because they have been indexed by genealogists with knowledge of the local area.  Don’t forget to check these if you are having difficulty finding records online.