Census Records as a Genealogical Tool

Submitted by Wayne VanVolkenburg

            Census records are a valuable and often overlooked source for tracing your family roots. In the past,  it was necessary to travel to larger public libraries, government depositories, or a Latter Day Saints meeting house in order to access this information. It was a labour intensive and time consuming process, viewing images that were faded and sometimes unreadable.

            Today, much of this information is available online. Although some of it is “pay per view” there are several free sources. Ancestry.com, one of the largest online genealogical databases in the world, is available free of charge at most local libraries.

The 1921 census ( http://www.ancestry.ca/1921census) is available at this site and can also be accessed free of charge from your home computer. The Latter Day Saints site at FamilySearch.org is another valuable free online resource.    https://familysearch.org/search/collection/list

            Library and Archives Canada  (http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx) has early census records starting in 1825. This site is one of the harder ones to search, especially if you haven’t narrowed your search to a specific area. Here, in areas that you are not sure of, it is best to use wildcard *** entries. After a list of documents appears, you can open and view the ones that might apply. Spelling mistakes and nick-names are common so everything should be carefully scrutinized.  This site also has military, land grant and immigration records.

            Automated Genealogy(http://automatedgenealogy.com/) has free access to Canadian census records for 1851, 1901 and 1911.  They also have 1906 records for Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Census records are not made available to the public until 92 years after the date that the census was taken. All of the information listed on the Automated Genealogy  website was transcribed by volunteers. Once the Canadian Archives releases the original images, volunteers transcribe the information to easily readable forms. These images can be difficult to read due to fading, illegibility, and sometimes lack of the census taker’s knowledge.

            Once the census information is recorded, the whole process is repeated by a proof reader. At this point there is also an opportunity for an individual to submit corrections. It is necessary to register in order to participate in these different steps. Many errors in transcription occur throughout these different stages and family descendants are a valuable source for corrections.      

            Using this source, our ancestor’s migration can sometimes be traced. Records are also available, for a small fee, for the British Isles and United States records. ( http://www.freebmd.org.uk/)

            Most libraries have a genealogy section. Local genealogical branches may have their own room. These sources quite often house local information that isn’t found elsewhere. Unfortunately, there are gaps, and questions left unanswered.

And, of course,  you should check our search engine