Canadian Census Research Skills (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 ($).

  • A knowledge of the census records available to the researcher is important to ensure that a genealogical problem may be undertaken with some measure of success. This knowledge will include an understanding of how census records were compiled, how to determine the proper census to search, how much reliance to put on the information contained in the census, and how to formulate a research plan based on the information located.
  • It is important that the researcher knows how to locate the census information needed to complete a project. This includes an understanding and knowledge of what census indexes are available, and how to use those indexes to lead the researcher quickly to the original census information. The responsible researcher will not settle for information contained in a census index, but will use the index as a research tool to point the way to the primary census record.
  • The researcher must understand how to recognize and analyze a genealogical problem, and how to assess appropriate action needed to solve the problem.
  • Once a problem has been analyzed, the successful researcher will be able to form a plan to solve the problem, either through census records, or through the use of various other genealogical records. An understanding of the many types of genealogical records will assist the successful researcher to form a plan of potential sources and strategies to solve a genealogical problem in the most efficient manner possible.

Report Skills

  • A professional researcher will take care to ensure that all information collected will include proper documentation. All records searched should be properly listed and documented, whether or not any pertinent information was located. This attention to detail will ensure that an accurate research file may be compiled by the researcher, or client, to avoid any future misunderstanding as to exactly what records have been searched, and what the results of that search were. This practice is essential to a professional researcher, but is equally beneficial to all genealogists and family historians.
  • A research report should include a clear explanation of the research completed. Describing a research problem in writing, and the steps to resolve it, even if only for your own personal benefit, promotes the thinking process that may lead to additional source ideas. This report would include a documented list of the records searched, and an explanation of the information located in those records. If there are shortcomings in the source, these shortcomings should be explained in detail, and suggestions to overcome the problem could be included. Examples of shortcomings in census records might be: a page missing from the census records for the area being investigated; a page filmed out of order, perhaps splitting a family group; a torn or badly filmed page, making interpretation of the record difficult; a portion of the enumeration district missing from the record, etc.
  • A professional will collate and evaluate the results of any research period, summarizing for the client’s benefit if or how a genealogical problem was solved.
  • A complete research report will also include an indication of records not yet searched which might have a bearing on solving the genealogical problem. If time or research facilities available to the researcher have not permitted a search in specific records, this information should be included in the report, and possible suggestions for further research might be made.

Professional Skills

Those students wishing to become professional genealogical researchers will make a special effort to develop proper professional skills to offer to clients. These skills will include:

  • An accurate assessment of a client’s genealogical problem, and advice as to the best way to solve the problem. This skill will increase with experience and attention to detail on the part of the student.
  • A professional researcher will make the best economical use of research time to locate the information a client might require. Remember that a professional is hired because of the knowledge and experience that the professional offers to the client. It is important, therefore, that careful analysis of the research problem should be completed to ensure that the appropriate records are consulted, and no research time is expended on improbable sources, unless the client is aware that these are “last resort” efforts, and approves of this type of search.
  • A responsible researcher will develop or subscribe to an appropriate code of ethics. This course is not intended to develop such a code. A specific course on Ethics is offered at the Advanced Level for those students working on a Certificate in Genealogical Studies. However, even for those not intending to complete the Certificate Program, it is important to understand ethical considerations.
  • Suggestions for an appropriate Code of Ethics for the professional researcher may be found on the following websites:
- Board for Certification of Genealogists
- Association of Professional Genealogists
- International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists


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.