Finding information is the basis of genealogical research. You will begin with yourself and your own family, talking to relatives and noting details they provide.
Today, most people turn to the Internet first. The Internet is a wonderful tool that just keeps getting better for genealogists. Used appropriately, it can be a great starting place … but it is only a start. NOT all information is on the Internet.
Libraries and archives are the traditional places of research for genealogists and most have websites with online tools and databases.
Joining a genealogy society is one of the best ways for the beginner to become familiar with genealogical research.
Specialized terms are used in family history and genealogy. Consult the Genealogy and Family History Glossary to find out what they mean.
Where to start
This website is the gateway to the genealogical collections and services of Library and Archives Canada. The information featured under Places and Topics contains descriptions and references to LAC's archival records including:
- immigration records;
- census records;
- military records;
- land records; and
- records created by the Government of Canada.
Stay informed, stay connected with us via social media.
Elsewhere on the Internet
The Internet has become one of the most valuable tools for genealogists and is the first information source used by most beginners.
You can use it to find information on a surname, a place, or a subject. Here are just a few examples:
- On your ancestor's attestation form from his First World War personnel record, it indicates that he previously served in the 1st Oxfordshire. Search the Internet for information about that regiment using "1st Oxfordshire" as your search term.
- On your ancestor's death record, the ink is so faint that the place of birth is difficult to read. You're not sure if it's Rasteco or Rustico. Search using the words Rasteco Canada and then Rustico Canada, and you will quickly discover that Rustico is a place in Prince Edward Island.
- Your ancestor was born in Ukraine. Search using the words Ukraine genealogy to find sites to start your research.
- You want to find out if other researchers are working on the same surname as you. Try searching using terms such as "Blasier family" or separate words such as Blasier genealogy.
In the years since the Internet began, search engines have come and gone. One of the most popular search engine is Google. However, consider other search engine as they may index resources in a different way.
Search engines find web pages across the Internet, but they do not search inside online databases. This means you must search within each database separately, using its local search engine. Some websites offer federated searching covering many databases. Do not assume that you are searching all databases available on a website with one search. Read the instructions or help files to determine exactly what you are searching and how to interpret the results obtained.
Most libraries, archives, government departments, genealogical and historical societies maintain websites. Many personal websites share indexes, family trees or other material related to a particular family or area of interest. Some websites serve as portals or gateways to information on particular topics.
Learn to recognize authoritative information provided by societies, libraries, archives or government agencies. Be more cautious with information provided on personal websites; sometimes you cannot determine how thorough the research was, or what sources were used.
Subscribe to message boards, mailing lists, newsletters and genealogy blogs.
Many resources such as government records, church records, newspapers, and city directories have been made available for purchase online. Some commercial firms index and scan these resources independently; others have collaborative arrangements with national libraries and archives for scanning and indexing. Prices and subscription packages vary from one site to another.
As is the case in Canada, you will discover national libraries and archives elsewhere that offer genealogy resources to the researcher, both on-site and online. Consult Links and Related Research to discover some of these websites.
Library and Archives Canada does not suggest the use or purchase of any specific commercial genealogy products or services. Information about such products and services is provided only to inform clients that these resources exist.
Research in libraries
Most libraries such as Library and Archives Canada have collections of published material rich in genealogical reference tools.
Newspaper obituaries often provide details about the deceased such as military service, information about the individual's career and usually the names and places of residence of surviving family members. Some obituaries have been indexed and can be searched on the following websites:
Browse our Newspaper Lists to find newspapers or consult the following sites:
City directories contain helpful information to trace individuals, families and businesses. They usually include an alphabetical listing of the adult residents, with their occupation and address, listings of businesses, churches, schools, social organizations, municipal services, etc. and an alphabetical listing of streets, with the occupant at each house number. The directories can assist in determining a ward for census years, for identifying adult members of the same family residing in the same house and for trying to narrow down the time period when an immigrant may have arrived in the country.
Directories were originally published by companies such as Might, Henderson and Lovell, as marketing and advertising tools for medium to large size cities all across Canada, on an annual, biennial or irregular basis. The directories for the 1800s and the early 1900s generally include names for most men over the age of 18, but not names for all women. Usually only women who were widows, employed or owned businesses were listed. In the first case, the abbreviation wid. appears after the name.
Provincial directories were also published irregularly from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s. Ontario, Manitoba and Northwest Territories have good runs of provincial directories. British Columbia is unusual in having a fairly complete set from the 1860s to the 1950s. Provincial directories are useful for finding residents of smaller towns and villages. Usually the major businessmen and farmers are listed; names and professions are usually provided but not the addresses.
County directories were also published irregularly mostly for Ontario from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s and a few for counties in other provinces. They are arranged by county and township and are useful for finding farmers and residents of rural areas. They include names, concession and lot numbers, tenant or freeholder and the location of the nearest post office.
Research tips for city directories
- It was not mandatory to be listed in the directories; many people did not want to be listed. Therefore, if you don't find someone listed in the directories, it doesn't mean that they weren't in the city, town, etc.
- Always check several years around the time period in which you are interested; sometimes people are listed in one year and then not the next and so on.
- Always check both the alphabetical and street sections of the directory; you will often find different information (sometimes contradictory!) in each section.
- Check various spellings of family names; the directories were compiled quickly through a door-to-door canvass and therefore frequently contain errors.
Library and Archives Canada has one of the richest Canadian Directory Collections. The collection includes national, provincial/territorial, county and city directories, primarily of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. You can also consult the printed finding aid Canadian Directories, 1790-1987: a Bibliography and Place-name Index (AMICUS 8581667).
You can also consult the following websites:
Provincial and federal official publications
Provincial and federal official publications also include information of great interest to genealogists. For example, the Canada Gazette contains military citations, lists of new citizens, notifications of name changes, etc. The Statutes of Canada, for certain years, include divorce acts. The Sessional Papers include a wealth of interesting material on many subjects including lists of civil servants, persons who made claims for losses in the rebellions, etc.
Community or local histories
Community or local histories often include information on the settlement and development of the community and material of interest to genealogists such as biographical sketches of community members, lists of local politicians, teachers, business persons, etc., and membership lists for community organizations.
Some local histories have been digitized and can be searched on the Our Roots and Our Future, Our Past, The Alberta Heritage Digitization Project Web sites.
Very often, genealogists and family historians will share the results of their research and publish the history of their family. Many libraries in Canada hold a growing number of published histories of Canadian families and families with Canadian connections. Many genealogical societies collect family histories compiled by their members. Some genealogists also donate copies to the provincial archives.
Library and Archives Canada also holds some private fonds relating to families. Use the Archives Search database and use keywords such as a name and "mg25" (MG 25 collection).
Consult our bibliography for references to published genealogical resources. You can also search for publications in AMICUS, using keywords for authors, titles or subjects. If you cannot get to a library in person, look on its website to see if it has an "Ask a Question" service. Many libraries offer virtual reference services and will answer questions from clients based in remote or rural areas.
Research in archives
Original records, being unique documents, you will generally have to consult them on premises. For the most part, you will consult archival records by using microfilmed and scanned or digitized copies. Many digitized records are available on the Internet, and more are added every day. Use the Internet to see if the records you might need are available online.
The following are the major records you will consult:
- birth records;
- marriage records;
- death records;
- census records; and
- land records.
Consult Topics for more information about these records.
Most archives in Canada provide research tools, guides and finding aids to help you use their collections. The Canadian Council of Archives provides information about many archives in Canada and includes a searchable directory.
Research in genealogical societies
Genealogical societies provide:
- access to society members who can have years of experience in genealogical research and are willing to assist the beginner;
- access to society research centres with collections containing both general guidebooks and manuals, and more in-depth texts of local history and other places and ethnicities;
- learning opportunities such as lectures, workshops and knowledge transfer.
Some societies undertake specific research projects, such as indexing local records or newspapers.
They also publish periodicals and newsletters detailing research done by members, new publications, upcoming conferences and meetings, queries from members, and up-to-date information about research methods and the documents available in the region.
If there is not a society in your area, consider starting one. Even if you are a beginner and still have a lot to learn, starting a society can attract the "experts," which in turn will benefit your own research and learning.
Search for a society in Links and related research.