This year is the 150th birthday of Canada—officially celebrated on July 1st—and genealogists throughout Canada (and, of course, those with Canadian ancestry) will be embracing their family history.
Just as we must know the history of a country, we must know, too, the history of Canada where our ancestors lived before researching their genealogy.
One impediment that researchers in Canada come up against is privacy, which is defined by the laws of the federal government as well as by those of Canada’s ten different provinces and three different territories, with each having their own rules and regulations.
The federal government, the keeper of the country’s memory (through the Library and Archives Canada), has strict privacy rules. Because federal censuses aren’t allowed to be released until 92 years after publication, the 1921 census is the last census publicly available, and the next federal census of 1931 won’t be made public until the year 2023!
Furthermore, Second World War (1939-1945) service records are closed to genealogists, with the exception of next-of-kin, who can write to Canada’s Department of National Defence for information. There isn’t even an index!
The good news is that the First World War (1914-1919) service records (members with the Canadian Expeditionary Force – CEF) are being digitized. Right now, they are to the surname beginning with the letter “M”, and they are available at
Thousands of Americans enlisted with the Canadian forces, so it is advisable to check the records of both world wars to see if your ancestor is there.
Privacy laws affect how you research the vital records of your ancestors, too.
For example, the province of Ontario’s birth records are available to researchers until 1913, marriage records are available up until 1934, and death records are available until 1944, plus deaths of Ontarians overseas, from 1939 to 1947. These records are online at both Ancestry and FamilySearch.
But if you want to gain access to records past these dates, you would need to write to the Ontario government for those records although these are restrictions in place, including criteria for eligibility to receive these records because of privacy reasons.
Privacy concerns aside, there are numerous resources available to help you become familiar with Canadian history.
In addition to information on the local history of the population, transportation, and industry, many of these books also give the history of the people who came to the area.
You can put in the terms to search, and once you have secured the book you wish to search, you can also search for a person’s name in the book.
Another place to look if you are researching the histories of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta is Peel’s Prairie Provinces at <http://peel.library.ualberta.ca/index.html>, which has books, newspapers, images, and maps available for free.
This site was started in 2013 and includes 7,500 digitized books, over 66,000 newspaper issues (4.8 million articles!), 16,000 postcards, and 1,000 maps.
These are just some of the places that can start you on your way to researching Canadian records.
To say that the records are limited is true, yet there are many records residing in archives, collections, and libraries—both public and private. But most have not been digitized, much less indexed, whether for online searching, or even to find out if certain information is available offline.
Remember that Canada—as an in-between country, lodged between Europe and the United States—has been a hotbed of migration and movement for many over the years, and it is chiefly for this reason that roughly one-quarter of Americans can trace their family to a Canadian ancestor.
So take some time to go through these resources mentioned above, or through your own online searches in doing Canadian genealogy. The satisfaction of finding that (elusive) Canadian connection is well-worth the effort!