Canadian Census Substitutes (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian Census Part 1 and Part 2  by Doris Bourrie, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

While census records provide so much detailed family information, there inevitably comes a time when there are no nominal census records available and the researcher must look for a census substitute that might provide information on his ancestor. In most cases, records compiled prior to the nominal census records will provide information of a limited nature, possibly providing statistical information regarding the individuals in a family, or possibly simply indicating limited information on a male member of the family.

The information collected depends on why the record was made, and what information the collecting agency wished to gather. Some census substitutes were collected by the local municipality, for local reasons, and may therefore be found listed under municipal records. Records vary from one area to another, and depend entirely on what has survived.

Examples of Census Substitutes

Some examples of census substitutes will include records of the following types:

  • Assessment and tax records compiled by local municipality/township: Usually they indicate occupant (owner/tenant) of a property, and sometimes will indicate number in family. The amount of the assessment also gives a relative value to the ancestor’s property or business in the neighbourhood.
  • Annual return of inhabitants, compiled by local municipality/township: May indicate the name of the head of family, plus number of other family members, or may simply be statistical in nature, with no names included.
  • 19th century county militia rolls, which may list men in a community within a certain age group, and thus eligible to form a local militia. One example is the published compilation:
- Elliott, Bruce S., Dan Walker and Fawne Stratford-Devai. Men of Upper Canada, Militia Nominal Rolls, 1828-1829. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1995.
  • Group petitions (which exist for Upper and Lower Canada, as well as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia): These petitions may be found in the land petitions series under the name of a town/township/county signed by members of the community requesting government assistance to build a road, provide land for a church, build a bridge or canal, etc. Some group petitions maybe requesting land grants for personal settlement. All signators may be indexed, or perhaps only the first, leading spokesman.
  • Educational records: May cover various places and time periods. These records may contain names of teachers, and sometimes names of students for a particular place and time. Often, such lists are found in a community or township history book.
  • Various special censuses taken for specialized purposes: These might include parish census records or diocesan census records taken by a religious denomination, or specific census records taken for some other purpose. Examples of this type of special census would include the 1877 Indian Reserve Commission census taken in British Columbia to determine the land requirements for Native people, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate census also taken in 1877 in that province to determine the extent of the Native population and their religion, and a few made by Catholic dioceses for the cities of Kingston and Toronto.
  • The Canadian National Registration of 1940: The National Resources Mobilization Act and War Measures Act resulted in a compulsory registration of all people 16 years of age or older, in the period from 1940 to 1946. A copy of this registration may be ordered from Statistics Canada, for a fee, providing the individual has been dead for more than 20 years. Details of information collected, and how to order copies may be found on the Library and Archives Canada Genealogy and Family History website.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian Census Part 1 and Part 2 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.