Specialized Information in Canadian Censuses, 1851-1891 (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 ($).

The amount of information collected varied from census to census. Some years provide special information not available in all records. It is useful to know what specialized information may be found in the various records, and how to make use of this information.

1851 Census - taken 12 January 1852

This census, although often referred to as the “1851 Census” was not actually taken until January, 1852. Commissioners for each county and city had received their appointments by November and December, 1851. These commissioners would then appoint individual enumerators to cover a specific area. The actual enumeration was to begin in January, 1852.

The age reported for this census was to be the ‘age next birthday’, as of the enumeration date, 12 January 1852. Therefore, for the purpose of the 1851 census, the age reflected in this census enumeration would be the age of the individual in 1852, not their age in 1851.

Columns were provided in this census to indicate married or single; type of house; residents of house including members and non-members; number of family members absent; deaths during the year 1851, age and cause of death, male or female.

Full details regarding this census can be found on the Library and Archives Canada website

Census of 1851 (Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia)

1861 Census - taken 14 January

The information gathered for the 1861 census was very similar to that obtained in 1851. In some scattered areas the enumerators appear to have misunderstood the instructions regarding the column “Married during the Year.” This was meant to indicate any couple that married during 1861, but some enumerators filled the actual year of marriage in this column, giving an unintended bonus to the genealogist. Some of these entries were later corrected, but a few still remain.

The 1861 census records for Ontario and Québec have a separate Agricultural census section. The Agricultural section was appended to the microfilm at the end of the entire county, and is listed by township within the county. To access agricultural information on your family you may have to search two reels of microfilm, one containing the nominal listing for your township or locality, and one containing the Agricultural section for the county. Both of these reel numbers will be indicated in the Library and Archives Canada finding aid. It is recommended that you search the entire Agricultural section for your county, as there is a possibility of pages being out of order.

The questions asked on the 1861 census can be found at Hugh Armstrong's Genealogy Site.

1870 Census (Manitoba only)

This census has columns to indicate Name; Where Domiciled; Where Born; Age; Name of Father; Metis, White, Indian; Married or not married; Widowed; British Subject; American; Metis French or Metis English; Catholic or Protestant.

1871 Census - taken as of 2 April

This census is the only existing census which includes the information for all nine schedules for each enumeration district. The 1st Schedule is the Nominal return of the living, and the remaining 8 Schedules follow in order for each enumeration division. A list of these schedules is given in the Library and Archives Canada finding aid,Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1891/Catalogue de recensements sur microfilm 1666-1891, Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, 1987, page ix. The Index to the 1871 census, compiled by The Ontario Genealogical Society, is available online at Library and Archives Canada . The index covers heads of household and strays.

Schedule 2 is a nominal return of deaths within the last twelve months. Schedule 4 is a return of cultivated land, and agricultural products. It is possible to cross-reference your family located in Schedule 1 to any of these schedules for further family information. Refer to the example of Felix Keenan, Kingston Township for the 1871 rural census. By using the page and line number for Felix Keenan it is possible to cross-reference his family to any of the nine schedules contained in the 1871 census, although Schedule 2 and Schedule 4 will be the ones most often consulted. The 1871 census for Prince Edward Island does not appear to have survived.

A list of the 1871 census questions for all nine schedules can be found at Huge Armstrong's genealogy site.

1881 Census - taken as of 4 April

The 1881 census contained Schedules similar to the 1871 census, but only Schedule 1: Nominal return of the living, has survived. In Prince Edward Island the enumeration was taken by Lot only, and entries will be found under the appropriate Lot number.

Details about the Census of Canada, 1881 can be found at Library and Archives of Canada.

1891 Census - taken as of 6 April

In this census, Institutions were enumerated all in one separate group, appearing on reel T-6427. Again, the only section of this census which has survived is Schedule 1: Nominal return of the living. The enumeration for Prince Edward Island was taken by Lot number.

The advantage of this census is that Schedule 1 included birthplaces for each individual, as well as birthplaces for the father and mother of the individual. Therefore, even though the father and mother of the head of the house and his wife are not named in this census, you will have some indication of their place of birth. This is helpful, but should be looked at with some skepticism, as illustrated in the following example.

Census Record for Henry and Ann Cusack

The family of Henry P. Cusack and his wife Anne, is found in the 1891 Ontario census, District 93, West Middlesex, Sub-District G, Newbury, page 8, line 24, continuing on page 9, family number 46.

Henry P. Cusack household, 1891 Census of Canada, Ontario, Middlesex County (West) (district 93), Newbury (Village) (sub-district G), page 8, line 24; microfilm T-6354, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

1891 Canada Census for Henry P Cusack.jpg

Census Record for Joseph Cusack

On page 9 of the same census is the listing for Joseph Cusack, son of Henry and Anne Cusack, line 9, family number 49. [Relationship documented from other research.]

Listing for Joseph Cusack, son of Henry and Anne Cusack, line 9, family number 49. (Relationship documented from other research.) The census information for Joseph indicates that Joseph was born in Ontario, while his mother and father were both born in Ireland. The previous example indicated that his mother and father were born in Ontario.

Joseph Cusack household, 1891 Census of Canada, Ontario, Middlesex County (West) (district 93), Newbury (Village) (sub-district G), page 9, line 9; microfilm T-6354, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

1891 Canada Census for Joseph Cusack.jpg

Census Record for William J. Fisher

This record lists William J. Fisher as head of house, with his wife Catherine. It also lists Alice Pirie as a niece, with her children, who are listed as grandchildren of the Head of the House. Obviously further information is needed to establish if Alice is really a daughter of William J. Fisher, or his niece, as reported in the census.

William J. Fisher household, 1901 Census of Canada, Ontario, Ontario County (South) (district 98), Oshawa (Town) (sub-district 3), page 19, line 19; microfilm T-6486, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.

1891 Canada Census for William J. Fisher.jpg

The census indicates that Henry and Anne were both born in Ontario. Henry’s father is listed as born in Ireland, and his mother born in Ontario. Anne’s father and mother are both listed as born in Ireland.

The census information for Joseph indicates that Joseph was born in Ontario, while his mother and father were both born in Ireland. Again, this demonstrates the fact that the information provided regarding any individual may or may not be accurate. You must consider both entries as possibilities when continuing with your research.

The questions asked on the 1891 census can be found at Hugh Armstrong's Genealogy Site.


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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 wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.