Canada Vital Records
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Contents of Vital Records
- 3 Research Strategies
- 3.1 Steps for Using Vital Records (Civil Registration)
- 3.2 Why can't I find a vital record?
- 3.3 Tips
- 4 Locating Vital Records
See also Canadian Vital Records (KP) for additional information about online sources.
Civil governments have created records of births, marriages, and deaths, commonly called "vital records" because they refer to critical events in a person’s life. In Quebec, vital records created by the government are called "civil registration" (état civil), the term generally used outside North America. Vital records are an excellent source of accurate names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. But the births, marriages, and deaths of many people were never recorded by civil authorities. Other vital records are described in "Church Records" and other sections.
Vital records are the responsibility of the provinces except for the registration of First Nations individuals (Native Canadians), which is a federal responsibility. In some provinces, authorities began registering births, marriages, and deaths since the 1860s. Complete registration in all the provinces and territories was achieved in the 1920s. After this date, almost all individuals who lived in Canada are recorded.
To find a civil vital record, you will need at least the approximate year and place in which the birth, marriage, or death occurred. You may need to search other records first to find clues about these events, such as family Bibles, genealogies, local histories, biographies, cemetery records, censuses, pension files, newspaper notices, and probate files. In the 18th and 19th centuries these other records must often substitute for civil vital records, though they may not be as accurate as those kept by church authorities and local or provincial governments.
Links to Wiki pages for each Province
Click on a province below for information about civil registration and vital records for each province, including Internet sites and where to find the records:
- Alberta Civil Registration- Vital Records
- British Columbia Civil Registration- Vital Records
- Manitoba Civil Registration-Vital Records
- New Brunswick Civil Registration- Vital Records
- Newfoundland and Labrador Vital Records
- Northwest Territories Vital Records
- Nova Scotia Civil Registration- Vital Records
- Ontario Civil Registration- Vital Records
- Prince Edward Island
- Quebec Civil Registration
- Saskatchewan Civil Registration- Vital Records
- Yukon and Nunavut
Historical Background of Vital Records
The recording of civil vital statistics developed slowly in Canada:
1620s: Roman Catholic priests in New France (Quebec) began keeping vital records. In keeping with French law, second copies of these church records were filed with Quebec civil authorities, even after the British conquest.
Late 1770s–early 1800s: In colonial Nova Scotia, town clerks recorded vital information, but these records are incomplete. Elsewhere prior to provincial registration, many local or district governments kept vital records, especially of marriages.
1860s: Some provincial governments of eastern Canada recognized the need for accurate vital records.
1890s: Civil registration began in most of the remaining provinces, but not all births, marriages, and deaths were registered until the late 1920s.
1926: Civil registration of vital statistics separate from church record keeping began in the province of Quebec. Vital records registration became a completely civil matter in Quebec in 1994.
Contents of Vital Records
The information recorded in civil records of vital registration varied over time. Later records generally give more complete information. Vital records are usually written in English or French, but content varies by time period and province. For example, before 1907 in Ontario, parents’ names were not usually on death certificates, but they are after that date.
Birth records generally give the child’s:
Later records may also give:
Marriages were usually recorded where the bride resided. If you believe a marriage took place but cannot find a record of the marriage, search records of intent to marry.
Records of Intent to Marry. In addition to marriage records, you may find records of a couple’s intent to marry:
Marriage bonds are written guarantees or promises of payment made by the groom or another person (often a parent or other relative) to ensure that a forthcoming marriage would be legal. The person who posted the bond was known as the surety or bondsman. The bond was recorded by a district or county clerk. These documents were frequently used in some eastern Canadian provinces up to the mid-1800s, and in New Brunswick to the early 1900s.
Contracts or settlements (contrats de mariage) are documents created in regions colonized by France, especially Quebec and Acadia (early Nova Scotia), for the protection of legal rights and property. They are usually included with notarial records, not with church or civil registration of vital statistics. See the "Notarial Records" section of this outline.
Records of marriages. You may find the following records that document the actual marriage:
Marriage Registers (registres de mariages). Civil officials recorded the marriages they performed in registers, usually preprinted forms bound in a book and kept in the civil office. If the marriage was performed by someone else, such as a minister or justice of the peace, that person was required to report the marriage information to the local official.
Marriage registers give:
- Date of marriage.
- Names of bride and groom.
- Notes if bride or groom was single or widowed.
- Names of witnesses.
- They may also give:
- Ages of bride and groom.
- Birthplaces of bride and groom.
- Residences of bride and groom.
- Name of person giving consent.
- Names of parents.
- Names of previous marriage partners and their death dates.
- A note whether a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage.
Divorces were uncommon before the mid-20th century, but some did occur. Fewer than 900 divorces were granted in all of Canada between 1867 and 1913. Only Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and British Columbia had their own divorce courts during this time. Parliamentary divorces were required for residents of Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territories until about 1919. Until 1930 in Ontario and until 1968 in Quebec and Newfoundland, obtaining a divorce required an act of the Parliament of Canada. The act(s) for a divorce often include detailed genealogical information. To get a copy, send the names of the spouses and the estimated year of divorce to:
- Clerk of the Senate
- Parliament Buildings
- Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4
- Telephone: 613-992-2416
Government offices and courts dealing in divorce proceedings and statistics are listed in:
- Canadian Almanac and Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (Family History Library book 971 E4ca; computer number 160632.)
Divorce information may also be available from the provincial vital records offices (listed below).
Death records may provide important information on a person’s birth, spouse, and parents. There are often civil death records for people who have no birth or marriage records. Deaths were usually registered within a few days of the death in the town or city where the person died.
Early death records generally give:
- Date and place of death.
- Twentieth-century certificates usually also include:
- Age or date of birth (and sometimes the place).
- Residence or street address.
- Cause of death.
- Burial Information.
- Name of person giving information (often a relative).
- (Often) name of spouse or parent.
Information about parents and the birth date and birthplace may be inaccurate since the person giving the information may not have had complete information. Some information may not have been required by authorities at the time.
Steps for Using Vital Records (Civil Registration)
Step 1. Decide what years to search and where
Learn the approximate year and place in which the birth, marriage, or death occurred. Many types of records may give this information. Locate your ancestor or the family in censuses, for example, to learn where to search and to estimate approximate years to search. See Tip 1, below.
For reasons why you may want to look for the death record of your ancestor first, see Tip 2, below.
Step 2. Use an index
Indexes certainly make it easier to locate vital records for our ancestors. Indexes for most provinces are increasing on the Internet, many with links to images.
| Expert tip: If you don't find the person in the index, keep trying. |
See the Introduction in this article for links to the Wiki page for Vital Records or Civil Registration for each province, where links to indexes on the Internet should be updated often.
Step 3. Obtain and search the record
You may be able to access the record on the Internet or may have to contact the Provincial offices to obtain it. Again, go to the Introduction for this article for links to each province and how to obtain the records.
If you cannot find your ancestor's registration, see Tip 4 and Tip 5.
Step 4. Analyze the record
Ask yourself these questions to use the record effectively:
- What dates does this record provide?
- What ages are given?
- What places are mentioned in this record?
- Are parents or a spouse named?
- Are witnesses to the event related to the family?
- Who provided the information? Was that person someone who knew the family well?
- Does the death record give the name of the cemetery or funeral home? You may be able to search those records for more information.
- Does the information from the record fit with what you know about the family from other records? If it does not agree, it may have been miscopied by a clerk. Check your sources.
Why can't I find a vital record?
Some possible reasons are:
- Your ancestor might have lived in a different place from where you were looking for the birth, marriage, or death.
- Your ancestor may have used a nickname or a different surname, or the registrar spelled the name wrong. See Name Variations in Canadian Indexes and Records .
- Your ancestor might have lived at a slightly different time from the years you were looking.
- Not every birth, marriage, or death was registered.
You can check:
- The information you have for possible errors.
- If your ancestor might have lived in a different place.
- If your ancestor might have lived at a slightly different time.
- If your ancestor's name might be recorded under:
- A different spelling.
- A nickname.
- An Americanization of a foreign surname.
Sometimes vital records were not recorded for various reasons, even when required.
For other ideas see:
- How to Recognize your Canadian Ancestor
- Name Variations in Canadian Indexes and Records
- How to Locate Your Ancestor in Canada
Tip 1. How do I find the year and place of a marriage?
To find a marriage record, you will need the approximate year and place the event happened. You may need to search other records to find clues about this.
Expand your search of marriage records to include family members, such as when and where children were born, records of brothers and sisters and possible relatives found in the area where your ancestor lived. This can help narrow down the place to search in other records.
See what records exist in the family, such as Bibles, letters, obituary clippings, or records from previous research by yourself or a family member.
Then check records that exist for the area where your ancestor lived. For a list of types of records that may be available for your ancestor, see Tip 5.
For other ideas on locating your ancestor, see How to Locate Your Ancestor in Canada.
If you are not sure a person you found is your ancestor, see How to Recognize Your Ancestor in Canada.
Why might it be better to look for the death record of an ancestor first?
- Your ancestor's death is more recent than his birth or marriage. It is usually best to work from recent events backward, from the known to the unknown.
- The death record usually tells you where your ancestor last lived. Then you can look for other records for that place.
- The death record may lead you to other documents created in connection with the death, such as the burial and probate of your ancestor. Those records may give new family information.
- Death records may contain birth, marriage, and burial information as well as death information.
- Death records exist for many persons born before birth and marriage records began. Death records may contain birth and marriage information not available anywhere else.
Tip 3. How do I find my ancestor's record if they were not in an index?
Not all early records were indexed. You may need to search registers that are available page by page.
If you didn't find your ancestor, search for brothers and sisters, children, and even remarriages of parents, aunts, and uncles. Finding them may not only give additional information you need, it will also verify that you are looking in the right time and place.
Then look in the registers for neighboring or "parent" districts or counties. The place your ancestor lived may have belonged to a different district or county earlier.
Travelling clergymen may have registered marriages with civil authorities in any district or county along their way. Look at all records of churches and clergymen in the area, especially Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, which were not always required to register marriages with district or county authorities.
If you find a marriage in the district or county registers, see if you can find it in the church records as well. There may be new information.
At certain periods of the history of a Province, only certain denominations were allowed to perform marriages. In many cases individuals were married by a priest or minister of a religion other than their own.
Tip 4. Why can't I find a vital record?
Some possible reasons are:
- You need to check all sets of marriage and other records for the time your ancestor lived in the area.
- Your ancestor might have lived in a different place at the time.
- The clergyman may have recorded the birth, marriage, or death in a different district. In early years, clergymen traveled over a wide territory, often more than one district or county. Look for your ancestor's records in registers for nearby districts or counties.
- Your ancestor may have used a nickname, or used a different surname, or the registrar spelled the name wrong. See Name Variations.
- Your ancestor's birth, marriage, or death might have been at a slightly different time. Expand your search a few years.
- Not every birth, marriage, or death was registered. But don't let this statement be a "cop out" for you. Expand your search to other people in your ancestor's family to verify the time and place you are searching is accurate.
Try searching for known and possible family members, such as brothers and sisters, in the marriage records. The more family members you search for, the more likely you are to find one of them in the records.
For other possibilities, see How To Recognize Your Ancestor and How to Locate Your Ancestor.
Tip 5. What should I search next?
First look for marriage records of other family members, such as a spouse, brothers or sisters, parents and children.
Then search for family information in records such as:
- Church records.
- Cemetery records.
- Birth, marriage, and death notices in newspapers.
- Local histories.
- Probate records.
- Land and property records.
- Immigration records, especially border crossings.
- Family letters and Bibles.
- Military records.
- Lineage society records, such as United Empire Loyalists.
Locating Vital Records
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of some civil vital records registration or indexes of many provinces and counties in eastern Canada. However, some records were destroyed, were not available for microfilming, or were restricted from public access by the laws of the country or province. You may research records at the library, but the library does not issue or certify certificates for living or deceased individuals.
Most of these records date from the late 19th century. For civil registration records, see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under all of these headings:
- CANADA - VITAL RECORDS
- [PROVINCE] - VITAL RECORDS
- [PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - VITAL RECORDS
- [PROVINCE], [COUNTY], [CITY] - VITAL RECORDS
- For the province of Quebec only, see:
- QUEBEC - CIVIL REGISTRATION
- QUEBEC, [COUNTY], [CITY] - CHURCH RECORDS
The library now has these and other sources (some of which are described in the research outlines for each province):
The provincial government began registering births, marriages, and deaths in 1872. The early records are very incomplete. The library has:
- Death registrations 1872 to 1977 and index 1872 to 1976.
- Marriage registrations 1872 to 1922 and index 1872 to 1921.
The provincial government began recording births, marriages, and deaths in 1888. The library has:
- Birth registrations (arranged alphabetically within each year) 1888 to 1899.
- Marriage returns (alphabetically within each year) 1888 to 1919.
- Provincial death returns (arranged alphabetically by year) 1888 to 1895
- Some county death register books 1888 to 1919.
In 1864 the provincial government began registering vital statistics, but the records were not complete. The government quit registering births and deaths in 1877 and began again in 1908. The Family History Library has:
- Birth and death records from 1864 to 1877 and indexes.
- Marriage records 1864 to 1910 or later and indexes.
- Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario. The library has some early county and district marriage records and marriage bonds. Indexes are available for some of these.
Registration of vital statistics began officially in Ontario on 1 July 1869. A substantially complete registration was achieved by 1930. The library has:
- Birth registrations 1869 to 1901 and indexes.
- Marriage registrations 1869 to 1916 and indexes.
- Death registrations 1869 to 1926 and indexes
The library’s collection continues to grow, and the Family History Library Catalog is updated annually. Check it again every year for the records you need.
Records Not at the Family History Library
Vital records dating from the 20th century are at the vital records office for each province. Earlier records may be at vital records offices or at provincial archives. To protect the rights of privacy of living persons, access to and use of most modern records is restricted.
A general discussion of record-keeping practices and the vital records available in each province is in the genealogical handbooks listed in "For Further Reading." See also:
Kemp, Thomas J. International Vital Records Handbook. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994. (Family History Library book 929.1 K32i 1994; computer number 735457.) Some Canadian sample forms and fee schedules are outdated.
The Family History Library also has a guide to Vital Records in the United States and Canada, which is frequently updated. (This guide is not available at Family History Centers.) For current specific details, contact the provincial archives or the vital statistics offices named in the research outline for the province.
Vital Records Offices. Each province has its own schedule of fees for vital records searches. Many offices want requests made on their own special forms. Some offices will search a three- or five-year time period on either side of the date you suggest, but some will search only a specific day, month, and year. Some provinces provide information only to the person whose records are sought, or to family members when the person’s proof of death is furnished. If the original certificate is found, a genealogical abstract is provided for no additional fee. Photocopies of the original certificates are not usually provided.
Two useful addresses not mentioned in the research outlines for the provinces are:
- Registrar of Vital Statistics
- P.O. Box 1320
- Yellowknife, NWT X1A 2L9
- Yukon Territory
- Vital Statistics
- Department of Health and Human Resources
- P.O. Box 2703
- Whitehorse, YT Y1A 2C6
Quebec: Some pre-1900 records are in regional branches of the Archives Nationales du Québec. Many of these have been microfilmed and are available at the Family History Library.
British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Ontario: Microfilm copies of unrestricted records from archives are at the Family History Library.
To request records from other archives and records not yet microfilmed, write to the provincial archives mentioned in the research outline for the province.
City Archives. City archives in Canada may have copies of vital records, but they cannot furnish copies. By law, requests for vital records must be addressed to the appropriate provincial archives or vital records offices.
Archive inventories (see "Archives and Libraries") describe the record-keeping systems and available civil registration records in Canada. These and other guides are in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
CANADA - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES
[PROVINCE] - ARCHIVES AND LIBRARIES
After deciding who has jurisdiction over the records for the time period you need, write a brief request to the proper office. Send:
- Money order for the search fee, usually between $25.00 and $50.00.
- Full name and the sex of the person whose record is sought.
- Names of the parents, if known.
- Approximate date and place of the event.
- Your relationship to the person.
- Reason for the request (family history, medical, and so forth).
Request for a photocopy of the original document. If this is not available, request a "genealogical certificate" if you want the most detail possible.
If your request is unsuccessful, search for duplicate records that may have been filed in other archives or church registers or for newspaper obituaries and cemetery records. Information about deaths and some family information may be included in wills and other probate records. Birth dates can be estimated from censuses. See "Archives and Libraries," "Cemetery Records," "Census," "Church Records," "Newspapers," and "Probate Records."
inGeneas database - May contain birth, death and marriage records.