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Duration 47:12

Finding your family in Canada

Researching in Canada is vastly different than researching in the UK. Records are especially different in areas originally settled by the French. This talk gives an overview of record keeping in Canada, how the records are organised, and where to find them.

Michael Leclerc is a noted genealogical author, editor, and presenter. He is co-editor of Genealogical Writing in the 21st Century: A Guide to Register Style and More, second edition. He is a previous board member of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and the Association of Professional Genealogists. After 15 years at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, he recently joined Mocavo as chief genealogist.


As you mentioned I am an American and you are asking an American to come to England to talk about Canada. Okay. My own family goes back to Canada straight away. Two of my grandparents were born in Canada and my other two grandparents, their parents were born in Canada. My American roots don’t run very deep but I would encourage you at any point if you do have a question please feel free to ask because there are a couple of places where I don’t want to lose you and get your head all muddled and then we come back and you don’t have any idea where anything is anymore. My job is to remember to repeat the question for the people who are listening to the podcast later, who can’t see this, see you raise your hand or can’t hear you.

So the first thing we are going to do to get started is to compare the UK with Canada. The UK is about 94,000 square miles; Canada is ten million square miles. Canada, I believe is the second largest country in the world after Russia. It certainly has the largest coastline. So you will quickly discover that it’s a little bit trickier…How many of you have researched Canada before? [Show of hands] Excellent. I will try my best not to bore you and to give you something you haven’t learned before.

The first thing I’d like to do is review a little bit of the history of Canada and the reason I like to do this is…How many of you learned about the history of Canada when you were in school? Probably a few, but not a lot. (The one who grew up in Canada said ‘yeah, me’.) It is important to understand the history and some significant dates because they actually impact on the records and the record keeping and where you are going to find the information.

Canada actually starts in 1605 with the first settlement by Samuel de Champlain which was at the area that is now Quebec City. I actually had ancestors in that very first settlement. Canada had been around before that time for a while but this was the first permanent settlement. Before that there were temporary people, they were there fishing and exploring but nobody stuck around for very long. And there are two very distinct by the way, two very distinct. Even though Canada was settled by the French there are French Canadians and Acadians and they are not the same people. The people who are French who are in what is today Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Maritime Provinces they are called Acadians, that was the first Territory that was transferred to British control. The French Canadians settled in what is now Quebec and the Mid-West of what is the United States and down and out to the Pacific Coast.

In 1670 the Hudson’s Bay Company formed and they kind of jumped around and went over the top and end up on Hudson’s Bay and Rupert’s Land and that area.

In 1710 the British captured Acadia, ‘I don’t hold a grudge; my grandfather did but I don’t, ‘and in 1755 we carried out The Expulsion, Le Grande Derangement. This is where the French, when they were first conquered in 1710 were never asked to swear loyalty to the English Crown. Forty five years later the English Crown said ‘we need you to swear allegiance’ and when they didn’t, or they wouldn’t, they refused to swear allegiance to the King they were kicked out and they were sent back to France. They were sent into Quebec, to Massachusetts and then there’s a whole bunch in Louisiana and they ended up being the Acadians as we call them today. But the reason for this is in the 1750s this is where we are to see the people in the southern British North America, Massachusetts, New York and points south there is starting to be some conflict with England. And so England is starting to say ‘Okay, we need to kind of reign in these French and make sure we have control of them.

Three years after The Expulsion starts the remaining territories and all of Acadia fell to the English and so this is the end of French control in that area of Canada. Quebec is still French.

In 1759 of the following year we have the Battle of The Plains of Abraham and that’s when France loses all control of any territory in what is today Canada. They kept what is today the Mid-West of the United States and those points west but the area that is now Quebec and Ontario that stuff was ceded over to England. That was formalised four years later with the Treaty of Paris.

In 1774 the Quebec Act passed in Parliament and we will talk about that again in a minute because that’s very significant in terms of how record keeping is set up in Canada. That one Act made a huge impact.

In 1791 there were created two colonies, Upper Canada and Lower Canada. Upper Canada is today Ontario, Lower Canada is today Quebec. The reason that this was separated into two different colonies is because, the War for American Independence is over and there are a lot of loyalists, people who are loyal to the British Crown, and when the war is over they didn’t want to stay in the United States. So they went up to Canada but the territory that was Canada was very huge. And it was filled with a lot of French who didn’t like the English and the English didn’t like the French. So the loyalists went over here – that wasn’t settled very well. And that was called at that point Upper Canada which is today Ontario, so that is a primarily English speaking Province. It is called Upper Canada even though it’s lower on the map because it’s ‘upper’ on the St Lawrence River, which is going this way, so it’s really counter-intuitive – Upper Canada is actually lower on the map. It becomes much easier in a little bit when they changed the names. I guess people were becoming really confused so they changed the names to Canada East and West. That was far easier to figure out on the map.

In 1812 – we have the War of 1812 starts between Britain and the US. This is important because this is the last time a major battle was fought on Canadian soil. And the reason this is important is because in Canada they didn’t lose any records due to wars or things like that because there hadn’t been any disagreements on Canadian soil in 200 and some-odd years which means a lot of the records survive. Unlike those of us who a researching our French ancestors when we go to Normandy because there is nothing left because they got trampled in World War Two.

The next important date is 1841. The two Colonies of Canada East and Canada West unit into the Province of Canada and this is only Quebec and Ontario. Canada starts as just those two areas; everything else is still a Colony. Okay?

In 1837 there were actually rebellions in Upper Canada and Lower Canada: they wanted independence and 1841 was Britain’s response: ‘Well let’s change the government around. We’ll give them a little colony and we’ll give them their own government’. It was an attempt to appease them. It did; but it didn’t. There was still a lot of conflict in Canada and at this point there is a huge movement for Canada to join the United States. Very huge, almost successful. They came this close and there was only one thing that stopped it from happening. In 1861 in the United States, our Civil War started and during the American Civil War no attention was being paid to anything except fighting that war and getting it settled, and that took five years. The War ran from 1861 to 1865. That gave the people in Canada who were opposed to annexing themselves to the United States time to organise…a really strong opposition.

So when the American Civil War finishes and they come back to Canada and say ‘Yes, let’s talk about you joining us’ again, now the opposition has got together and said ‘No we don’t want to do that’. And they were successful in stopping that from happening. And in 1867 the Dominion of Canada was formed and it was formed with Quebec and Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were joined together and this is the first real independence of some sort from Britain.

Three years later Manitoba joined the Dominion and the Hudson’s Bay Company signed over the Territory of Rupert’s Land and the North West Territory to the Dominion of Canada. Now there’s not a whole lot of people there. That’s that huge area in the north of Canada. There’s a whole lot of polar bears and ice. It may be one of the biggest countries in the world but all the population – now this is all of Canada – but all the population is here and here [points at a map]. All this is ‘No Man’s Land’. Very, very tiny populations, even from the very beginning even until today. It’s all huddled all along the coasts and down along the American Border, very close to the border. So that’s the only places you will be looking for your people – for the most part.

So that’s in 1870 and in 1873 British Columbia joins the Dominion. Two years later in 1875 Prince Edward Island joins; 1898 the Yukon Territory joins. That is very significant. Why? Why did the Yukon Territory join Canada in 1898? [murmur in audience] Even more important than Alaska; the Yukon gold rush. So Canada was like ‘You need protection, you need help. You may have ancestors who left England. Many, many English came and they were heading for California for the California gold rush and now you see a lot of them in the Yukon Territory Gold Rush. They would go and stay for a while and then come back. So it’s a very significant year.

In 1905 Alberta and Saskatchewan became part of the Dominion and in 1931 the British Parliament passes the Statute of Westminster which pretty much grants legislative independence to Canada. So its 1831 that the Government is pretty much separate from the UK. It’s not until 1949 that the Provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador joins the Dominion. So until 1949 it’s still a British Colony.

In 1982 the Canada Act is the final severing of the formal legislative connections. It’s still a Commonwealth Nation but it’s pretty much autonomous at this point so all the records are going to be in Canada. There’s not very much here. After 1931 there’s not much over here, it’s all over there. And in 1999 the Territory of Nunavut became part of the North West Territory. That’s something like population 2,000 and it’s all made of indigenous peoples.

So in Canada you have an influence on the records. You have three different influences on record keeping in Canada. You have the French influence because they were there first and they started some of the record keeping. Then you have the British influence which comes along when they take control of Canada and they set up the Governments and it follows, for the most part, British rule. But then in the 19th Century you start having American influence. A lot of the systems and ways of doing things tend to follow the American influence and the reason for that is the huge number of Americans that settled in Canada.

We talked about the War of 1812. Now during the War of 1812 – the Americans started it, I can say that because my people weren’t there – totally impartial. The War starts between the States and the first thing America does is try invade Canada. And one of the first things they did was march up to Toronto and burn Toronto which was then the capital of Canada. So your ancestors came to America and burned Washington DC in retaliation. And what happened after the War of 1812 is that Britain realised, okay, the reason the Americans were able to march all the way up into Canada and burn Toronto was because there was nothing there to stop them. It was trees and woods and beaver.

So what they did was they carved all that section along the American Border and the Provinces of Quebec and Ontario at first and progressively all the way along, but started in Quebec and Ontario. The Crown carved up all that territory and said we’ll give it to you for free if you come over here and settle. And that’s where you have huge numbers of people from the UK heading over to Canada because land was cheap and the reason it was cheap was because Britain needed ‘cannon fodder’. They basically needed people to stand in the way of the American Army who were going to invade again and so when you are looking for British, if you are looking for anybody in Canada who goes over there in the early 19th Century period this where you are going to find them in the southern strip for the most part; that southern strip.

But you also, in addition to finding British people who are coming over you find a lot of Americans who also like cheap rent. But the British Government didn’t care who it was they just wanted people there. And so you have a large number of Americans who are dirt poor with no prospects down in the States; they headed up and they got some of these land grants. Those land grants are Crown Land Grants, even though they are Crown Land Grants, are all housed in the archives in Canada. You won’t find them here and they are well indexed.

There’s a dual level of record keeping in Canada. Here in the UK you have The General Record Office and anybody who was born in England you can go to GRO and get the record and they are in there. That’s not the case in Canada. In Canada there are basically four major types of records: four major types of records that they deal with that are on the Federal level and those are Census Records, Immigration, Naturalisation and Military Records.

Now even the Military Records, it depends because in the early years remember the Military Records were in the British Army, so those records are here actually at TNA. There’s nothing in Canada not until much later when Canada starts its own Army.

Start with Immigration Records: the bad news is before 1865 there are no passenger lists at all. A couple of spotty things, but not much. Between 1865 and 1935 some passenger lists do survive therefore the ports in Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and British Columbia. Now the port in Quebec was closed for six months of the year for winter as the ships couldn’t get down in the ice. Nova Scotia, British Columbia and New Brunswick those ports pretty much stayed open. You may find people coming into Canada through either Newfoundland, which in its early days was still part of the UK, they go into Newfoundland. And if they went to Newfoundland before coming into Canada you would probably find them coming into Nova Scotia because there were ferries going back and fore between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and that’s where you would want to look for them if they go to Newfoundland first. If they went to the US first there are no records of border crossings between the US and Canada before 1895. And even after 1895 they do not cover everyone. They only cover people who crossed the border by train or by ship.

It’s very funny that a few years back we had a National Genealogical Conference in New England and they wanted to come up with a theme and they wanted to put a ship because everybody who immigrated to New England came by ship. I said ‘No they didn’t’ and the guy said ‘what do you mean they didn’t, how did your ancestors get here? ‘They took the train’. He said ‘from France’. I said ‘No my ancestors came from Canada, they just took the train’. Not everybody came by boat but not everybody came by boat into Canada either. Remember they could have come to the US first and taken the train up.

Now after 1895 if they take the train or they take the ship there’s a good chance, still not 100 per cent, there is a good chance, they’ll be found in the Border Crossing Records. Those however are American records, not Canadian Records. The Americans were keeping track of the border crossings. But anybody who goes by private transport does not get captured in those records. So if you have anybody who came into the US and drove in a family car or horse and buggy, or whatever, there’s no record of them crossing the border in either direction.

My own family went back and forth three times a year to go visit relatives and family. I have only two border crossing records and this was going on until ten years ago and there are just no records before 1950. They just didn’t track them.

Canada and the US have had a very, very close relationship and for so long they had the longest uncontrolled border in the world. It is only recently since 9/11 that they have had to clamp down on that to keep the bad guys out. But because of that there are wonderful things about that and there are not so wonderful things about that. And as far as genealogical research is concerned one of the not so wonderful things about that is that they didn’t keep any records. And it’s very common for people to go into one country or the other and then go to the other one. In fact the reason the border crossing started in the 1890s was because it was much cheaper and easier for people to go from the British Isles into Canada.

And so they would go to Canada and then when they were crossing into the US they would say where are you coming from and they would say Canada and they would say ‘Oh Canada, come right in’; but if you were coming the from UK there were quotas. There were only so many people who were allowed to emigrate from specific countries into the United States in this time period so if you were coming from England, say, or Scotland, they would say where are you coming from? Oh Scotland ‘Oh I’m sorry we’ve just given the last spot to the guy in front of you. You’ll have to come back next year’. There was never a quota between people moving from Canada into the US. So they’d go to Canada first so that way they wouldn’t be lying when they said where you come from.

So you may find your ancestors who went to Canada spent some time in the US. It’s not uncommon for them to go down spend a few years and then go back up. They were backing and forthing across that border quite a bit so keep that in mind when you’re looking for people – that they might have slipped over the border a little bit.

They didn’t go to Florida – but they do now. If you come to Florida in the winter time it’s full of licence plates from Quebec and Nova Scotia. But back then they were going to New England, New York or that tier of the northern states. They’d come down looking for work. They might spend a few months or a year and then go back up so you might want to keep that in mind as well.

Census Records: before 1851 there were really only fragments and really only for the Province of Quebec. There’s not much of anything for any other Province, with the exception of a few early ones in Ontario but again just fragments. 1851 was the first decennial census. Remember at this time Canada is just Canada East and West of Quebec and Ontario. And Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also took censuses. The British Government wanted some information on the population but it was a different census with a different form and in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick they only asked for the head of household (and Quebec and Ontario it asked for everybody). That was in 1851 and 1861. 1871: this is the first census after Confederation so there is a census but it is for, again, Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Everything else is still part of the UK British Colony. The records for later Censuses – 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 – are the most recent census that have been released.

In 1960 a census was taken of the Prairie Provinces which are Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Canadian Government wanted some information on those folks, specifically so there was a separate census done just for those Provinces.

The 1921 census of Newfoundland has been released. That is because it was a British Colony; it wasn’t part of Canada yet so they have already released that census. So if you did have somebody in Newfoundland at that time you can look at them.

Then we get to non-federal records in Canada and these are vital records, probate records, land records, church records – all that stuff. That’s all kept on the provincial level. So that means when you know you have an ancestor or a family member that went to Canada it’s important to know where in Canada they went. You need to know which Province they are in. Then you are going to have to look. At this point some of these records are kept on a provincial level, some of them are kept on a county level and some of them on a local level. So you need to know as specifically as possible where people were living.

Now one way you can find this is that there are in some of the Provinces, Directories – City Directories or Province Directories – that can help you figure out where somebody was living. That would be very important. For example the start of civil registration for vital records is different in every single Province and in Nova Scotia, for example, it starts in 1864 and goes until 1876 I think it is, but then they stop and don’t start again until 1908. But in New Brunswick they don’t start until 1881 and they keep going. So depending on which Province you are in the records are going to be different. You will want to check with the Provincial Government in which ever Province you are looking at to figure out when vital records survived, when they were kept and what’s available to the public.

Now I’m going to jump back a little bit because all of the Provinces except for Quebec follow an Anglo-American tradition in terms of vital records, civil registration, probate records, land records. The thing that you are used to.

Quebec, however, is very, very different. In 1774 Parliament, here in Westminster, passed the Quebec Act which became effective a year later in 1775. Under the Quebec Act in the Province of Quebec only (Lower Canada) civil law was going to maintain the custom of Paris but criminal law would be under Britain’s custom, English rule law. Catholicism was guaranteed. Remember in this time period Catholics weren’t looked upon too kindly over here but they were huge in Canada, in Quebec especially. So they were guaranteed that they would be able to practise their Catholic faith: they were allowed to pay their tithes to the Catholic Church instead of the Church of England. And it continued this seignorial system of land ownership. The reason this was passed – these years might seem a little familiar, 1774-5 – this was the time period where British North America is in turmoil. Now in 1759, only 15 years earlier, Britain has conquered all of the French Territories except for the little bit out West. So they have a lot of French and the French and British have been locked in combat for centuries and they have just taken over this whole area, okay.

Then you’ve got the people down in the Southern Colonies – Massachusetts, New England, New York, Virginia, etc – and they are getting all cranky, you know, we’ve had our little tea-party in Boston Harbour…And it is interesting to note that they never teach in American history that the man who led the meeting that ended in the tea-party where they were protesting the taxes was the brother of the Boston tax collector. They never talk about that but it was his brother. Anyway, so all of this is happening, so Parliament is looking saying we have all of these cranky Englishmen in the Southern part of North America; and then we have all these French up here who are probably not too happy with us. And they knew war was coming at this point. They didn’t know when it was going to happen but everybody was pretty sure something was going to happen. Britain knew they couldn’t fight a war on both fronts. If they tried to fight a war all through North America they were going to lose everything. They would lose the whole continent. So Parliament passes this Act to pacify the French Canadians. To keep them from taking up arms against them.

Now in some ways the Quebec Act worked and in some other ways it didn’t work. It did keep the French pacified. And when the War for American Independence starts the Americans invaded Quebec saying ‘Come on French, let’s go against them’ and the French say, ‘Yeah, whatever, I still get to go to church, I still get to pray. I don’t care. So in that respect that worked. In the respect that it didn’t work the Quebec Act was referred to in America as ‘one of the Intolerable Acts’. This one Act directly leads to the American Revolution a year and a half later. Everybody down there was really annoyed that the French who had just been conquered were given all these special rights that they themselves didn’t have. And this one Act starts the whole thing.

In terms of researching your ancestors who go to Canada…the impact is that in the Province of Quebec record keeping is nothing like it is over here. It’s completely different. The first thing is that Vital Records are maintained by the churches. Civil registration is actually done by the churches until the 20th Century in Quebec so the church would record all births, marriages and deaths. And they would send a copy up to the Provincial Government. But the great news about that is that because there are two copies in every church…they didn’t, of course, keep one for the Government with just birth dates and one for them with just liturgical dates, they would say so and so was born this day and baptised this day and then they would keep two identical copies and send one up to the Province. What this means is for anybody in Quebec, there were always two copies of the Registers and there are only very, very few complete and total losses of church records. So you have a fairly complete record of the vital records in this time period.

Now the bad news is that the Catholic Church was the first group that was allowed to register and then it was the C of E. And they didn’t let any other denomination do this for quite some time. It was well into the 1820s and 30s before they let the other Protestant denominations in to register. You often have to look, it doesn’t matter what religion your ancestor was, you are going to have to look at all the Protestant churches for records because…they may have been C of E but there may not have been an Anglican Church where they were living, there may have been a Methodist Church or Presbyterian Church. They didn’t care as much and they easily moved back and forth. If you look in the census records [in Canada] one of the questions…is what your religion is. If you look at the Census record that should tell you which church to start in but you will need to be kind of flexible. And look around if they are living in a less populous area as they may have gone to the Presbyterian Church or what have you.

The biggest area where it impacts however is in probate and land records. There are no registries like we are used to here in the UK…It wasn’t run by the church and it wasn’t run by the Civil Government. They had a system called the notarial system and Notaries in Quebec are lawyers. They practise Contract Law. Only Contract Law, Criminal Law is done by a different set of lawyers – but they are lawyers and they handle any aspect of contracts and that means an agreement between people, individuals, it can mean employment contracts. All probate matters are handled by Notaries, okay.

Notaries had no physical jurisdictions. They practised where they lived. Wherever they lived there might be 12 Notaries there might be one Notary; it didn’t matter. So it’s not like somebody came in saying I have this town, you guys can’t come in here now. Sometimes you have these little teeny towns and they might have two or three Notaries. You get to a large city and there could be dozens and dozens of them. You have Notaries who are French and Notaries who are English. If you are an English-speaking person do you go to the French Notary or the English Notary. What do you think? [murmur in audience] It depends: it depends on who you are dealing with. Are you dealing with a French man or an Englishman? If you have two English men they might go to an English Notary but if there’s no English speaking Notary in town they go to the French speaking Notary. You may be an English speaking person who goes to a French Notary: the French speaking Notary might write the record in English because you are an English person. However, he might just as easily write it in French if he’s annoyed with you [laughter].

So the records may be in French or they may be in English and there’s no rhyme or reason. You know if I am in Montreal and you are in Quebec City and we are going to enter into a contract which Notary do we use? Do we use in the one in Montreal or the one in Quebec City or do we use the one in Three Rivers which is half way in between, we meet in the middle. It could be any of them. That’s the bad news.

The really bad news is there’s no centralised index for these records and this system is still in effect today. This isn’t like an old style system. Each Notary was supposed to keep two indexes. An onomastic index and a chronological index. Some Notaries did, some Notaries didn’t. Sometimes they kept it and it didn’t survive. You’ve got to look.

The kind of records you will find in there – these are the French names because they were most often written in French and ‘achat’ is a purchase of land.

So remember I said… the seigniorial system of land ownership was maintained in Canada up to the 1850s and that’s where a Seignior, a Lord, was granted a huge swathe of land and he sub-granted it to individuals who paid either a rent, you know six chickens or half a bushel of wheat and stuff like that. That was in place until the 1850s.

After that individuals are allowed to buy and sell and trade land of their own accord. They own their own pieces of land. It could be organised as a sale, an accord, an obligation or a contract. Basically this is the general term for any kind of contract between two people. I am going to sell you a cow and I want you to build a house for me. One really neat thing is you can find contracts where somebody is paying somebody to build their house and there is a very specific description of that house. It will be this many feet wide by this many feet wide. You will walk into a central door and the first room on the left will be this many feet by this many feet. It will have two doors, it will have three windows made of glass. The house will be made of wood. Huge, huge detailed work which could go on for pages but you will get a great description of the house your ancestor lived in.

Marriage contracts [Contrats de marriage] are very common in Quebec. You have two people who are going to marry. They take out a contract beforehand that states what is the husband going to bring to the marriage, what is the wife going to bring to the marriage. More common for French because it is the tradition of the Province but still you will find a lot of English people who take this up. It’s basically a Prenuptial Agreement. You can always tell when the prospective father of the bride didn’t trust the groom so much because there’s, like, pages and pages of what’s going to happen if the groom doesn’t follow through on the marriage.

Tutelle [et curatelle] – this a guardianship record. A guardianship/adoption. The French didn’t have the stigma of adoption that a lot of the English speaking world did and they would say so and so adopts the son and daughter of so and so. It’s right there in all the records.

Donations entre vifs – gifts of the living. Some people gave away their property while they were still alive in exchange for being taken care of for the rest of their life. So instead of a will you might find a gift of the living which is really great. You know, I’ll give you the family farm and you are going to take care of me, give me this many clothes and etc, etc.

Un engagement – is an employment contract.

Inventaire après décè – is an inventory after death.

Partage d’une succession is the division of real estate after somebody’s death. They divide up the property: you get this piece, you get this piece and you get this piece.

Process…is just a testimonial of some sort; an affidavit that you are giving but they are very common in finding where people lived and how old they were and their ages, their place of birth and place of their origin.

A testament is just a will. You will find a lot of English-speaking folks had wills, not so much the French.

Tutelle and curatelle – just another kind of adoption or guardianship

Un vend is a sale of property, real or personal so whether you find it as a vend or an achat depends on who registers it.

If you are the person buying it and you drag the other guy down to the Notary it’s filed as an achat. If you are the person selling it and you drag the other guy down then it’s filed as a sale. So you have to look under both. It’s not filed twice. It’s only filed once. It’s just depends on who did it.

Notarial Records were considered the property of the Notary originally. Sons of Notaries often became Notaries and they would pass on the set of records to them. The reason was, of course, they’re lawyers. So you need a copy of a contract you have filed with somebody, and you need another copy, you would go to the lawyer and he would say certainly we would be happy to send it to you, and that will be £20 please. The same thing was going on back then.

Around the turn of the last century the Provincial Government said okay, we need you to turn all these records in because they were being stored in barns and attics and leaky places. So they asked that all records of deceased Notaries be turned in to the Provincial Government. And now they are all housed at various locations throughout Quebec – the regional archive branches. So what you need to do is – and there are finding aids available online and in book form that can help you to find a notarial record of anybody who was living in Quebec. You need to figure out what town they were living in and then look at one of these guys and figure out what Notaries were practising during that time period. And then go to the regional branch of the archives to see if the records have been microfilmed or not. Some of them have been filmed and some haven’t. Many of the ones that have been filmed are now available on FamilySearch [] so you can find them online there. They are not indexed yet but they are browse-able by location.

I want to go through some websites that you will find helpful. This is the Bibliotheque et archives nationales du Quebec, the Provincial Archives for Quebec [].

Now officially Canada is a bilingual country and officially Quebec is a bilingual Province. Officially [laughter]. You see how easy it is to find the English button on this page. I’m just saying…It’s actually only on the home page and if you click English about one tenth of the content of the website will show up in English. But you can find some of the records and it’s the library and archives. If you want to find records of the Notaries etc…there’s a link that says pistard archives that is for the link to the archives catalogue. If you just search the regular catalogue you will just be searching the library catalogue so that will give you the published stuff. The pistard gives you manuscript stuff. So pistard will help you find records. You can actually search under this in different kinds of records. You can limit your search to specific kinds of records. They are actually working to provide some images of some records online. So you can look, for example, if you know in which area your ancestor lived. There may be a particular Notary whose records are available online on the Archives website.

NSR is Nova Scotia Records and Management []. They do not have any databases online on their website. They have some historical material. One that is very interesting is Historical Maps of Nova Scotia. They tease you, they say ‘Township records at the Nova Scotia Archives’ and you say ‘Oh my gosh, this is great, they have township records online’. And you go and you press that little button and it is a description of their holdings of township records in the archives. There is nothing online. They have records of the township. So it’s a little bit of a tease.

But they do have Nova Scotia and this is where you can find anyone that you had in Nova Scotia. You can get vital records, they are indexed and it’s images of the original records – only through 1910 for births, 1935 for marriages and 1960 for deaths, okay. Outside of that you have to contact the Provincial Government Agency and it is very, very difficult to get a copy of a birth or marriage record outside of this time period from Nova Scotia. Even the death records can be difficult – unless you can prove how you are related to the person (which very often you need the death certificate to do in the first place!).

The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick [] – unlike Nova Scotia they have many vital records available online, or databases rather, including vital records, cemetery transcriptions, directories from the Province and land records. They have indexes for the Crown Grants available online. So you can search all that. So if you have anybody in New Brunswick they have some immigration records but these are the local records; these are not the Federal Records that are at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa.

Speaking of which, the National Archives of Canada is called Library and Archives Canada. You can go to their website [] but they have a special section called the Canadian Genealogy Centre. And you can find a great amount of information here on all different kinds of records. This will explain to you where you can find specifically all these records, for example, we talked about – birth, marriage and death records in Canada are not kept in the Federal level, there’s no Central Registration Office – you have to go into the different Provinces that explain all that – different military records, immigration records etc, a lot of finding aids. They also have recently started putting material online so they do have a large number of databases now (this is just so you can get a sense of the different kinds of databases, you can’t read any of these). They have made some of the census records online, some of the early passenger lists online and they are just starting with the later ones now working in partnership with Ancestry. So some census records you can get on and some of the passenger lists information you can get there. They’ve started with some of the Federal Land Records.

In addition to the Crown Land Grants there were land petitions for Quebec and Ontario for people who served in the military who were saying give me some land for my military service. So they’d be serving in the British Army but would petition the Canadian Government for the land so you may find the information there. – free census indexes and images of the originals. That’s for 1901, 1911, a special 1906 census and 1851. (how many of you use Family Search? Oh excellent, I’m so glad to hear that. They are doing such great work and making life so much easier). They have a lot of material: early vital records for some of the Provinces where they exist; census records; some Church Records (not a ton) but from all over the Provinces. So go to familysearch. Best way to do this is go to familysearch, click on the home page, on the bottom there’s a little list of areas and click on Canada. And it’ll bring you to this page where you can see the whole list of everything they have for Canada, and they have a lot. I hadn’t been there in a while; I was very excited.

And, of course, I have to mention Mocavo [] which is where I’m working now. I have to put in a little plug for them. Have any of you used Mocavo yet? A few of you. Mocavo is a free search engine. It takes all the stuff that’s been put on the internet for free from all over the place but only genealogy websites. So unlike Google where you’re doing a Google search (how many of you have done a Google search and you are looking for someone who died in 1880 and the first thing you get are like three Facebook pages and some YouTube videos and some LinkedIn? Probably not your guy, right. We only crawl over genealogy websites, so you’re not going to get Facebook pages or LinkedIn or YouTube videos etc, you are only going to find genealogy, so you are much more likely to find who you are looking for.

Now in addition to the free service there is also…a subscription for an advanced search that gives you a much more targeted search. You can put in exact places of birth, deaths, exact dates, you can slide it within one to five years. You can add, in addition to the names, places so you can do more targeted searching and also as a subscriber…if you upload a gedcom file of your family which you can either share with the world or keep private to yourself and nobody else ever sees it. But if you load it up to the system it will search in the background and once we can get an email saying ‘Hey you might want to check these links this might be your person’. You don’t have to do anything it just kind of randomly picks people out of the files. For me, I’m kind of cynical about that stuff. I’ve been using Mocavo for a year but only joined them a few weeks ago. I’ve been using it for a year and they have been doing really good stuff and when I first had this and signed up I was very cynical – yeah, this is never going to work – and my very first one gave me new information I’d never seen before. And so did the second one. Well I know it’s not going to happen every single time because that just doesn’t work that way. But obviously its working well enough that I got at least I got a couple of hits.

[Question asked from audience] Yes there is a site. Unfortunately TNA would not allow me to access it this morning. There were security restrictions. They would let me go on to the American site but not the British Site. [Laughter]. At the moment the UK site is only searching UK content. That’s going to be changed shortly. We are going to add a toggle switch and stuff. So if you want to search Canadian stuff you go to If you want UK stuff will work just fine. And sometime within the next month or so we’re going to be fixing that and adding some switches on the search so you can chose just to search UK, US etc, etc.

That’s all I have for this morning. Thank you all, you have been a great audience. I hope you have a great day.

Transcribed as part of a volunteer project, February 2015


  1. Annemarie Nelson says:

    Hi trying to find my dads uncle his name is Victor Nelson he married Catherine Pollock Warwick Glasgow before moving to Canada haven`t found any of his childrens names so far to help so any information would be helpful

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      Thank you for contacting us. Over here on the Archive Media Player we are unable to offer you research help – please see our research guidance at You can also contact the records experts using the form at , or send a question to one of our Live Chat sessions (

  2. Ron Kidd says:

    I am searching for lost relatives :- Peter, Susan and Christopher Morrice, who until early sixties (I think) stayed at Point St. Claire, Montreal. They moved to Calgary after their G.Mother died. Their father was Ed Morrice who had died earlier and their mother was Marjory Morrice. I guess Peter would be around 70 now.

    1. Marion Downie (admin) says:

      Hello all,
      When posting comments, please observe our site participation guidelines and avoid posting personal information. This includes sensitive information, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or other online contact details – relating either to you or other individuals.

      For further help with family history enquiries, please use our online contact form or use our extensive research guidance.

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  3. Carol Bostock says:

    I am looking for information on my great grandfather John Campbell Noble who came from “Upper Ontario” His father was a farmer, Robert, and his mother was Margaret McMunn. John was employed by a newspaper and emigrated to Victoria, Australia sometime in the 1850s His DoB was 1827 or 25

  4. Meredith Timpson says:

    My grt grt Grandfather retired from his work in Belfast as a Tidewaiter for the govt and received a pension which he had forwarded to Montreal in 1833 (June to be exact, according to the pension records in England.

    His name is John Timpson and we find no trace of him in Canada at all but his daughter shows up in Maitland, Ontario in 1855 married to a John Milks.

    We have a letter stating that there was a farm and a falling out with family but we would like to know if there is any record of where the pension money went, then can find the farm and possibly a grave for him.

    Can anyone help us?

    Meredith Timpson

  5. lenceria fina says:

    I’ll right away grab your rss as I can’t to find your e-mail subscription link or newsletter service. Do you have any? Please allow me know so that I may just subscribe. Thanks.

    1. Marion Downie (admin) says:

      Please see our Help guide for more information on subscribing to our podcasts.

  6. Lori Oschefski says:

    Elise, I have started tracking him through the census:

    1861 Scotland Census about John Anderson
    Name: John Anderson
    Age: 3
    Estimated Birth Year: abt 1858
    Relationship: Nephew
    Gender: Male
    Where born: Wick, Caithness
    Registration number: 43/2
    Registration district: Wick
    Civil parish: Wick
    County: Caithness
    Address: Pilot Row
    ED: 1
    Household schedule number: 99
    Line: 21
    Roll: CSSCT1861_6
    Household Members:
    Name Age
    Margaret Macdonald 30
    Janetta Macdonald 24
    John Anderson 3

    I have a wife’s name for him of Isabella Murray, which many not be correct. There is another John Anderson whose wife’s name surfaces as Isabella McDonald.

    This is the John Anderson who married Isabella McDonald:
    1901 Scotland Census about John Anderson
    Name: John Anderson
    Age: 44
    Estimated Birth Year: abt 1857
    Relationship: Head
    Spouse’s name : Isabella Anderson
    Gender: Male
    Where born: Alves, Morayshire
    Registration number: 120
    Registration district: Ardclach
    Civil parish: Ardclach
    County: Nairnshire
    Address: Refouble Farm Ho
    Occupation: Farmer
    ED: 1
    Household schedule number: 22
    Line: 10
    Roll: CSSCT1901_37
    Household Members:
    Name Age
    John Anderson 44
    Isabella Anderson 41
    James Anderson 15
    Elsie Macdonald 36
    Colen Macintosh 19

    Elise, you can contact me at my above mentioned web site, we should probably continue through e-mail.

  7. john anderson says:

    Dear Lori
    Thank you for your reply. I didn’t ever know his wife’s name but I took it she was quite a bit younger than him.
    He was born 06.02.1858. I feel he would have died around 1930’s but once his youngest sister, Margaret (who was only 3 years older than my grandfather – his son) died there was no longer anyone to ask about him since he had left Scotland all those years ago. He was brought up by his grandparents, Mr and Mrs Wm Macdonald, in Staxigoe, Wick and I suppose once they died he had no fixed abode, hence the reason for emigrating.
    My mother told me he went to Canada, but there is a chance he may have gone to America or Australia.
    Thank you

  8. Lori Oschefski says:

    Elise, we have some researchers who can look into this for you. May we have the name of his widow, as there are many Andersons.

  9. Lori Oschefski says:

    Joyce, I have a Norman and a Henry Higgins who came in 1920 with the Dr. Barnardo Homes.

  10. john anderson says:

    My gt grandfather emigrated to Canada around 1890 from Scotland;
    he was a cooper by trade;
    his middle name may have been Macdonald as he was born illegitimately on 6 February 1858 at Papigoe, Wick, Scotland and his mother’s name was Willamena Macdonald. She died young in 1861 and from then on he took on the Anderson name (his father) also named John.
    I’ve been trying to trace him for years to no avail, Anderson being a fairly common name.
    I would be grateful for any news about him. I do know his widow visited Caithness, Scotland between 1959/1960. I would be grateful if anyone can assist with information about him.

    Elise Linney

  11. Lori Oschefski says:

    Cedric, sorry I forgot to put the link in for the Alberta Genealogical Society

  12. Lori Oschefski says:

    Cedric, there is an Albert E Hall listed on the Library and Archives Canada British Home Child date base. He fits the stats for your Uncle. I checked his passenger list for this voyage and it states that his father was a Mr. A. Hall. He was 16 years of age, traveling without his family. His father is listed as his nearest relative in – and I can’t quite make out what this says, Ponty Mon.
    He is headed to Winnipeg and his intention is to become a farmer. Next I checked the data base for the Western Land Grants and there are listings there for an Albert E Hall – likely him. What I would suggest, if you think this is him, that you follow up with the Edmonton branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society – they have volunteer researchers who can pull the Homestead files and check the information. As well they can check the Henderson Directories for that area as well (city directories like the England’s Kelly’s). Another clue is that each adult over the age of 16 in 1940 had to fill out a National Registration card because of the war. You have to know generally where they were, which you do know. There is a fee but there is quite a bit of information which can be collected from this document.

    I have saved a copy of the passenger list if you need a copy you can contact me at my above mentioned web site.

    Albert E. Hall
    Age: 16
    Sex: M
    Ship: AUSONIA
    Year of Arrival: 1928
    Departure Port: Southampton
    Departure Date: 1928-05-04
    Arrival Port: Quebec
    Arrival Date: 1928-05-13
    Party: Miscellaneous
    Destination: Various locations
    Comments: 4 boys
    Notes: Vol. 4, p. 224
    Source: Library and Archives Canada
    Reference: RG 76 C1a
    Microfilm: T-14741

  13. Jane Finlay says:

    My father (John) and his two brothers were sent to the Railway Orphanage in Derby, England (from Scotland) when they were young boys. My father’s oldest brother, Andrew Finlay, born on 22nd November 1921 in Leith, Edinburgh, eventually emigrated to Canada and he and my father lost touch. I have no idea what part of Canada he lived in. Any idea how I could trace him? I’m trying to trace our family history for my daughter.
    My thanks to anyone who can point me in the right directio.

  14. Joyce Graham says:

    Looking for any info. on Norman and David Higgins who served in WW11 regular army. Norman died February 25 1992 in Medicine Hat, Alberta.
    They may have been born in Scotland.

  15. Dale Wishart says:

    Alexander and William came to the Miramichi around 1760 to fish/farm – due to Americam privateers they left on the “HMS Viper” to fight with the British on the Great Lakes under General Halidimand – were promoted to Lieut. returrned to the Miramich in 1783 – William married Charlotte Taylor “The mother of Tabusintac” Written by Sally Armstrong. Alexander continued to live in the Miramichi area.I have been trying to find the following details concerning their early history prior to their arrival in Canada. (1) where did they came from Scotland/Ireland? (2) what ship did they come on? (2) any other information that may be available to help.

    thank you

  16. Sandra says:

    My grandmother was born in Glascow around 1910. She was born Grace Billingtom or Dillingham. She was a twin and also had another sister name Mary and a brother named Alan. She came to Montreal, Canada around 1930-ish. I am looking for Scottish relatives. Sandra Clarke

  17. Penny Holt says:

    Sorry, but this is the only TNA podcast that I have listened to that was a disappointment. Usually they are excellent. Leclerc’s knowledge of Quebec is very good, but there is a western portion of Canada (like half of it) that was completely neglected. He didn’t even give websites for the prairie provinces or British Columbia. This part of Canada had more English speaking settlers than French. I thought that speaking to a UK audience he wouldn’t have taken that into account. Although much less biased than most, he still had a very American perspective on Canadian history. Couldn’t you find an appropriate Canadian?

  18. Cedric Hall says:

    An Uncle of mine Albert E H Hall (known as Harry) born in Newport Monmouthshire in 1911 emigrated to Canada eventually returning to Europe in 1944 with the Canadian Militery. He was killed in action in August 1944 and this is his memorial
    In Memory of
    Private ALBERT E. H. HALL

    M/104761, Calgary Highlanders, R.C.I.C.
    who died age 33
    on 01 August 1944
    Son of Arthur and Kate Hall; husband of Helen Hall, of Edmonton, Alberta.
    Remembered with honour

    How do I find details about his time in Canada and his wife Helen and the operation that his detachment was on when he was killed?

  19. Maureen Somers says:

    I have been looking for my mother who was born in Greenook, Scotland in 1926 and I think she came to Canada after the Second world war. It is very difficult to obtain information on people coming to Canada. Where would I find this information. I would think that she came by ship.

  20. Lori Oschefski says:

    Jim, we have a facebook group which included many Canadian researchers, including myself (I am the creator of the web site Andrea noted). The researchers in the facebook group are experienced and will be more then willing to help. Please contact us, I’m off to work right now or I would start now for you.

    either that or please contact me with your information at and I will help.

    A good place to start looking for lost children is the Library and Archives Canada data base for the Home Children. Even if you don’t know if they were home children or not. It contains a data base of the shipping records for the vast majority of children (but not all!)

    Also there is an excellent data base of children being built on It is well worth checking out this site!

  21. Elizabeth T says:

    Tip for anyone with military forebears. I found the marriage of my 3xgt grandparents in the online Nova Scotia records on Ancestry. They married when he was still in the Army. As she was from Ireland I assume that her father was also in the Army. However there was no mention of anyone else, even witnesses, beyond the couples names in the registers. Would there have been a civil registration of their marriage as well in order to validate it? Where would they be kept?

  22. Lynda Frame says:

    My mother’s Aunt Mary Robb Forbes and her husband Charles White, emigrated to Canada 1930 from Greenock to St John, New Brunswick on Duchess of Atholl along with their 5 children, John, Elizabeth, Mary, Charles & Jean, last contact with them was 5 Jun 1941 a letter she sent to her brother William and his wife Mary (parents of my mum. They used to live in Inellan, Argyll, Scotland, if any one knows of any living relatives would love to hear from them.

  23. Harry Gray says:

    Trying to find out what happened to my mothers Uncle Andrew Tobit born in 1890 in Crail, Scotland. Father was John and mother Helen Taylor. Andrew lived in Stanley Perthshire in the 1911 census and went to Canada in 1912. Calgary has an A Tobit listed in 1913 and is a porter on the CPR. No further trace has been found

  24. Helen Gillespie says:

    Check the New Brunswick Archives website for BMD and newspaper extractions.

    It’s useful to provide names as well as places and dates.
    Documentation for the orphanage might be in the Archives.
    Your uncle would have been of age to serve in the War. Might be worth checking in KIA records at Library and Archives Canada

    or other military links

    Good luck with your research.

  25. Irene Polkinghorne says:

    Looking for Descendants of John Caldwell married to Eliza .
    John was in WW1 have found his attestation papers but need a little more info on him. He was a butcher to trade had most of his children in Paisley Scotland and came to Thorold Ontario about 1913 or 14 as he was attested Mar 1916.

  26. Rob Gilmore says:

    This is a note for ‘Jim Marshall’, who commented above. I work in a Government archives in New Brunswick and may be able to assist him in his search for information relating to his uncle, or his Mum’s family. My contact info there is, in case he wishes to provide me with any additional information. Also our Archives website has a number of indexed and digitized records that may prove useful to others doing research on their New Brunswick, Canada families. The website address is Thank you.

  27. jim marshall says:

    my mother &her twin brother where sent to a orphanage in st john new brunswick in the early 1930 appox my mother was adopted by a scottish couple and they left he

    r brother at the orphanage and that was the last time she ever had contact with him my mother came back to st john and went to find out about him but the orphanage had burnt down and i would like to find out what happend to my uncle the name was osborn my mum told us that her mums first name was JEAN OSBORN my mum and brotherwhere born in 1917 can any one help me find out about my uncle and his family

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