November 20th, 2013

Library and Archives Canada Places 1861 Canadian Census Online

Recently Library and Archives Canada has made the 1861 Canadian Census available online. I must say that it is a welcomed and valuable addition to their collection, and to anyone researching their Canadian ancestry, like me! The census is searchable through an on-site search engine, and the criteria are very simple – surname, given or first name, age, and province.

As with most genealogical search screens, you can search a record by name or place, but be aware that some records from sub-districts have not survived, though they are minimal. The Library and Archives Canada website provides a link on their Search Help Page, where you can find out exactly what records are missing and for where.

The 1861 census was the third such collection of population data in the Province of Canada’s history. The Province of Canada at that time included Canada East (modern day Quebec), and Canada West (now Ontario). Data was also collected at that time for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, and consists of information on 3,112,269 individuals.

Agricultural returns are also included in the 1861 census report, and information such as acreage, number of livestock, what products were produced, and the concession or lot number are provided. They are listed by the name of the head of household, and you can find them after the county personal returns. You may find that the name of the head of household is listed for both personal and agricultural returns, so there may be more than one entry for some individuals. Check and double check so that you neither miss any information, nor overlook any. Don’t assume that just because two people have the same name that it is a double listing.

Before being digitized, the 1861 census existed only on microfilm in the archives. This was due to a decree by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics in 1955, which authorized the Public Records Committee to place the original records on microfilm, and then to destroy the original. Unfortunately the microfilming was not always of the highest quality, and some records are very hard to make out. Additionally, the pages were not scanned in any particular order, so pagination is not always accurate, and some times they are even written in by hand.

As always, the transfer of one record format to another is susceptible to human error. We as genealogists however, are aware of that, and equipped with the tools to deal with it. The bottom line is that we have yet another database of valuable genealogical records at our disposal, and we can access them from the comfort of our homes. Never forget that tireless and dedicated volunteers give their time and energy freely so that we can search our ancestors at our convenience. We can forgive them for making a mistake or two!