OntarioGenWeb’s Census Project

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Ontario GenWeb Project: Census Records
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Census Records

What Is It

Census Records are an enumeration of population - a list of persons or agriculture (livestock, crops). In Canada there are four kinds of census records:

  • Nominal Census - List of all persons living within a dwelling (house, institution, hospital, etc). Census returns from 1851 onward are nominal.
  • Head of Household Census - List of only the head of each household, with statistics on the other persons living within the dwelling (age & sex). Census returns prior to 1851 are primarily head of household.
  • Aggregate Census - Statistics of persons living within a dwelling. Does NOT include any names, but gives age groups (eg. 0-5, 5-10...), ethnic origin, and religion.
  • Agricultural Census - List of only the head of each farming household, along with the size of their land, livestock, farm equipment, and what crops they're growing.

    Each type of census had several parts, or schedules as they were called. The personal schedule was the one that gives genealogists the most information. But other schedules can provide other interesting clues. The death schedule gives a list of persons who died, sometimes just the year prior to the census, sometimes since the last census (one year to ten years prior). Unfortunately the death schedule was only microfilmed for the years 1851, 1861, and 1871. For other census years only the personal schedule was microfilmed.

    Census Years Available

    In Ontario, prior to 1851, each township did a census each year, but few prior to 1842 have survived. Most census returns from 1851 did survive with a few exceptions.

    Starting in 1851/2 there were Canada-wide census enumerations taken every ten years (1851/2, 1861, 1871, etc.) until 1956 when it became every five years.

    Census records past 1911 are currently protected under The Privacy Act and are not available for public viewing until 92 years after they were taken. The 1911 census was released in 2005, and the 1921 should be released in 2013.

  • Pre-1851 – Availability is dependent upon the locality. Most have not survived.
  • 1851/2 – Enumerated 12 Jan 1852, this census year was enumerated over a two year period (1851 and 1852) and much of the records have been lost.
  • 1861 – Enumerated 14 Jan 1861
  • 1871 – Enumerated 2 Apr 1871
  • 1881 – Enumerated 4 Apr 1881
  • 1891 – Enumerated 6 Apr 1891
  • 1901 – Enumerated 31 Mar 1901
  • 1911 – Enumerated 1 Jun 1911

    To see what census records are available for a specific county see our Census Project’s County page. If you have a specific place name see our Census Project’s Township Index

    How Do I Find It

    Finding someone in a Canadian census depends on your method of search. Many census records are now online or will be coming online. These records can be searched quickly with the click of a mouse (more about these online records below).

    With the exception of the 1871 census there is no offline index of census records. But there are indexes for specific townships and years offered for sale by various genealogy societies (such as OGS).

    So in order to find someone in a census using offline research you must first know where they were living during a census year. At minimum you should know the county or district. [Use the New To Ontario Genealogy page to learn how to find out where in Ontario your ancestor lived].

    If an index or transcript doesn't exist for the year/area you wish to search, the only way to find your ancestor in a census is to obtain the microfilm and do a page by page search. This isn't difficult, just time consuming.

    The records are organized first by enumeration district, then by sub-districts. From 'Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm, 1666-1891. Public Archives of Canada': "For the purpose of census enumeration, the provinces were divided into census districts, and those districts in turn were divided into sub-districts. Census districts, with a few exceptions, corresponded with electoral districts. As a general rule, census districts were synonymous with cities and counties, sub-districts with towns, townships and city wards, villages, small towns, parishes and seigneuries were generally enumerated as part of the township in which they were located. However, users should be aware that census districts and county boundaries did not always coincide. In addition, districts were often reduced in size or disappeared completely with the creation of new districts between one census and the next."

    The National Archives of Canada published a list of all known existing census returns that are in their custody (see Books & Links below). To locate a census you need only to know the township or county/district your ancestor lived in. The list will then tell you what returns are available for that area. Before starting a search for census records become familiar with the history of the area where your ancestor lived. Here's an example why:

    The Town of Orangeville was established in the 1830's, but you won't find it listed as having a census return until 1871. Which means previous returns were done as part of the township. In order to locate Orangville in the 1842, 1851 and 1861 census you would have to know it was part of Mono Township. And in order to find Mono Township you would need to know the history of the township. Currently the township is part of Dufferin County, but Dufferin wasn't established until 1874. In 1842 Mono Township was part of Simcoe District and was enumerated as such. In 1851 Mono was part of Simcoe County, but the census return for the township was lost, therefore there isn't a return for Orangeville in 1851. In 1861 Mono was still part of Simcoe County, but was enumerated under the census district of Simcoe District. Things become interesting in 1871 when Mono Township is enumerated with Cardwell District, and Orangeville with Wellington County. What happens if your ancestor lived at the outskirts of Orangeville? Do you look at the Orangeville census, or at the township census? Knowing the history of your research area, and being familiar with surrounding townships can help you determine where to look.

    Like with Orangeville, if the city / town / village you're seeking isn't listed on its own in the NAC list, it will be enumerated as part of a township. You must find out what township the city / town / village was part of at that time. (Use Ontario Locator).

    The larger cities in Ontario (Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa/Bytown, Kingston, London) were large enough to be sub-divided into wards. In order to locate your ancestor in one of these cities (which also included Sudbury & Owen Sound in later years), you should know what part of the city they lived in. The easiest way to discover this is to use city directories. A city directory will not only tell you what address your ancestor lived at, but in which ward.

    How Do I Use It

    You can use the information provided in a census record to track your ancestor's growth. If they were born in 1849, you can find them as a child in 1851 (voila! There's their parents and another generation to research), a teenager in 1861, newly married in 1871, with children of their own in 1881 and 1891, and likely a grandparent by 1901.

    But in order to do all that, you must first find them on the census microfilm. When first viewing the film scroll slowly to the first page. Here you will find a table of contents of sorts that tells you what areas are on this microfilm. Usually they're listed by letter (ie, A - Windham Township, B - Windham Centre, C - Woodhouse Township, etc). This is the order they are in on the microfilm. At the very top of each census page there is a type-written notation of which area you are viewing (ie, A - Windham Township). This way you can fast-forward through the microfilm until you come to the area you are seeking. Once there, scroll each page slowly taking several things into account.

  • You don't know who the enumerator spoke with then they knocked upon your ancestor's door. It may have been the husband, it may have been the wife, a child, a hired hand, servant, or a even neighbour. Would a neighbour be able to supply all the correct information about your ancestor?

  • Spelling variations, mis-spellings, and old-fashioned handwriting.

  • Legibility - Some census films are extremely difficult to read. Nearly all of the 1881 census was overexposed during filming leaving most records next to impossible to read. Take along a clear coloured plastic sheet (yellow is best) to place over the microfilm screen. Sometimes faint writing appears easier to read on a yellow background. If using a microfilm printer ask if you can photocopy onto coloured paper - bring your own (again, yellow is best).

  • Middle names, nicknames & initials - some people gave a different name each census! For example, in 1851 Lillie was 5, in 1861 Elizabeth was 15, and in 1871 Mary was 25. Same person "Elizabeth Mary" aka "Lillie". This isn't always the case, sometimes they are different people, use other resources to determine who the census is referring to.

  • Titles - The 1851 census is rife with wives being referred to only as "Mrs" instead of by their names

  • Usually ethnic origin was that of the father, therefore if the children within the household had a different ethnicity you could wonder if the father was in fact a step-parent. But... ethnic origin didn't always follow this 'rule'. For example, in 1861 "Samuel Miller" was listed as "Irish" but in 1871 he was "Scottish" (his father was Irish, his mother Scottish). If there is a difference with origin, make note but also keep in mind the point above - you don't know who provided the information to the enumerator.

  • Families with the same surname may or may not be related, but record them all just in case. It may save you another trip to view this census when you later discover that another branch of the tree was in the same area.

  • Ages are sometimes an estimate or a guess. The younger a person was in the census, the more likely the age is to be correct. It wasn't uncommon for adults to fudge on their ages, sometimes women would age 5-6 years between enumerations while their husbands would age 10-12 years. Also keep in mind that an enumerator may have had to guess at ages if those being enumerated weren't forthcoming with information.

  • Ages would also depend upon the question asked by the enumerator. Up to and including the 1861 census, people were asked what age they would be on their next birthday (even if a birthday had just passed). From 1871 onward they were asked what age they were the day of the enumeration. Knowing the dates of enumeration can help you calculate approximate birth years:
           1851: Enumerated 12 Jan 1852
           1861: Enumerated 14 Jan 1861
           1871: Enumerated 2 Apr 1871
           1881: Enumerated 4 Apr 1881
           1891: Enumerated 6 Apr 1891
           1901: Enumerated 31 Mar 1901
           1911: Enumerated 1 Jun 1911

  • Enumeration districts tended to change with each census. Therefore finding someone in Sub-District D in 1861 won't mean you'll find them there in 1871. But don't despair, start by looking in the same location, and branch out from there. Chances are they're in a nearby district.

  • Indexes and transcripts are NOT exact duplicates of the census. They are interpretations of what the transcriber or indexer saw - you may see things differently, especially if you are familiar with the family that is represented (ie, the transcriber may see "Hodward" but you may see "Woodward"). Always obtain a copy of the original census from microfilm for verification. And don't take an index or transcript at face value. If you believe your ancestor lived in a particular area, but don't find him in an index or transcript check the source anyway, he may have been overlooked or their name may have been transcribed incorrectly (ie., listed under the "H"'s instead of "W"'s).

    If, after browsing all the pages in township you are viewing, you didn't find your ancester, check the surrounding area. If you were looking in the census of a town or village, check the census of the township this town/village is in. Your ancestor may not have lived in town. If uncertain about neighbouring townships bring a map of the area with you.

    What Does It Offer

    The personal schedule offers:
    18421851/2186118711881189119011911
    Acres of Land
    YES
    See Below
    See Below
    See Below
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Size of land they lived upon
    Age
    NO
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    1861 and prior meant their age upon their next birthday; 1871 onward meant the age they were on the day of enumeration
    Birth place of mother & father
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    YES
    NO
    NO
    Where each person's mother and father were born (two columns - mother's birth place in one, father's in the other)
    Births during the past year
    NO
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Number of persons born into the family within the past 12 months
    Date of birth
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    YES
    YES
    Usually month and year of birth, occasionally day of birth as well
    Deaths
    NO
    YES
    YES
    See Below
    See Below
    See Below
    See Below
    See Below
    Deaths that occurred within the past 12 months
    If Coloured
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    If Deaf & Dumb, Blind, Idiots, Lunatics
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Marital status
    NO
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    M = Married; S = Single; W = Widowed
    Marriages during the past year
    NO
    NO
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Marriages that took place within the past 12 months
    Names
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    Usually Last Name, First Name; 1842 listed only the head of household; 1851 onward listed the names of all members of the family
    Nationality
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    YES
    YES
    Citizenship
    # of Females age 5 & under, 5-14, 14-45, 45+
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Number of females within these age groups
    # of Males age 5 & under, 5-14, 14-18, 18-21, 21-30, 30-60, 60+
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Number of males within these age groups, including the head of household
    # of Natives of [Country]
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    This took up several columns, with a country at the top of each [England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada French Origin, Canada English Origin, Europe or Otherwise and USA]. If a person was a native of one of these countries there would be a / under their name
    # of non-family members
    NO
    YES
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Number of persons within the house at the time of enumeration that were not family members (such as servants or visitors)
    # of persons in family
    YES
    YES
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Number of persons within the house who were family
    # of unnaturalized aliens
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Number of persons within the house who had not yet been naturalized
    # of years person has been in province
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Occupation
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    Origin
    NO
    NO
    NO
    YES
    YES
    NO
    NO
    YES
    Ethnic origin, usually that of the father (eg., English, Irish)
    Place of birth
    NO
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    NO
    CW = Canada West; UC = Upper Canada; EC = English Canada; O = Ontario
    Property owned
    YES
    See Below
    See Below
    See Below
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Racial or Tribal origin
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    YES
    YES
    (eg., Cree, Algonkin, Coloured) In the case of mixed race (one native parent, one non-native parent) - fb = French Breed, eb = English breed, sb = Scottish breed, ib = Irish breed, ob = other breed, Cree fb = Cree and French breed
    Relationship to head of household
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    YES
    YES
    YES
    Religion
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    The Religion In Ontario page includes the religion abbreviations used in the census (eg., WM, B, AB)
    Residence if out of limits
    NO
    YES
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Where they lived if not within the area being enumerated (eg., if they lived in the township but were enumerated within a nearby village)
    Sex
    NO
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    YES
    M = Male; F = Female
    What's grown on land & how much
    YES
    See Below
    See Below
    See Below
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Whether they're entitled to vote
    YES
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    Year of immigration to Canada
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    YES
    YES
    Year they arrived in Canada
    Year of naturalization
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    NO
    YES
    YES
    Year they became a British subject of Canada

    See BelowIn 1851 & 1861 deaths that occurred within the past 12 months were listed as part of the personal schedule (they had their own column). But from 1871 the deaths were compiled in a schedule of deaths that followed the personal schedule. This schedule would give you the name of the deceased, their age, birthplace, and cause of death.

    See BelowAvailable on the Agricultural Census/Schedule. The Agriculture Census/Schedule offers information on the standard of living of your ancestor. The size of their land, type of house, number of livestock, kind of produce. You can find the agricultural schedule:

  • 1851: Immediately after each township's personal schedule
  • 1861: Immediately after each county's personal schedule
  • 1871: In schedule IV
  • 1881-1911: Not available

    To find your ancestor on the agricultural census, you must first find them on the personal schedule and make note of the township, sub-district, household number and line number. Some agricultural census returns do not have the names of the head of household, so the house & line numbers are all you'll have to identify your ancestor.

    What Does It Look Like

    The example below shows part of an 1891 personal schedule census return. By clicking on the examples you will see a larger version.

    1891

    If you have a scan of an Ontario personal, agricultural, or death schedule census return, please consider sending it in to be included as an example.

    Where Can I Find It

    All censuses listed in the 'Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm, 1666-1891' and 'Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm, 1901' (see books & links below) are available on microfilm at:

  • National Archives of Canada
  • Any institution (i.e. Library) that subscribes to Inter-Institutional Loan (not just in Canada! Ask at your local library or genealogy society)
  • LDS Family History Centres worldwide

    Is It Online?

  • 1842: No*
  • 1848: No*
  • 1851: Yes*. Library and Archives Canada has digitized the 1851 Canadian Census and you can view images of the actual census. It is NOT searchable and should be approached in the same manner as if you were viewing it on microfilm.
  • 1861: No*
  • 1871: No*, but there is a head of household index. Note that this index only includes the head of each household plus any 'strays' (persons without families). If you don't find the person you're seeking in the index it doesn't mean they're not there, it just means they weren't considered a head or stray!
  • 1881: Yes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints transcribed the 1881 Canadian Census. You can search it online, or purchase the CD for offline searching. Note that this is a transcription and subject to human error, use the soundex option offered.
  • 1891: Yes*. Ancestry debuted the 1891 census as part of their Canadian Records Collection in July 2008. Access is restricted to subscribers.
  • 1901: Yes*. Library and Archives Canada has digitized the 1901 Canadian Census and you can view images of the actual census. It is NOT searchable and should be approached in the same manner as if you were viewing it on microfilm. However Ancestry also offers this census, and a full index, if you are a subscriber to their Canadian Records Collection.
  • 1911: Yes*. Same as 1901.

    *There are several projects, online and off, that have endeavoured to index or transcribe Ontario census returns (see Books & Links below).

    Alternate Resources

    Other resources that you can use if you can't locate your ancestor in a census, or if a census record doesn't exist:

  • Muster Rolls (see Military)
  • Assessment Rolls
  • Directories

    Related Material

  • OntarioGenWeb's Census Project (an endeavour to transcribe all Ontario census records)
  • Census Forms
  • Questions & Answers
  • Books
  • Links
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