Canadian Census Substitute Records (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 ($).

Not all census records have survived or are readable due to the poor quality of microfilming. When this has occurred and we are unable to locate our ancestor, we must turn to census substitute records to place them in a place at a specific time.

Census substitute records that can identify an individual’s location during a particular time would include: 

  • tax assessment rolls
  • voter’s lists
  • directories
  • regional or localized census records

You will have to research your area of interest to find out what may be available for substitute records. These records may be held at local or regional archives, libraries or genealogical societies.

Many of the 1851 census enumeration records did not survive; for example, there is no census records for Toronto. The census returns simply no longer exist. The Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch has helped to resolved this issue by transcribing and compiling a list from the 1853 Tax Assessment Rolls for Toronto. The tax assessment rolls make a good substitute since they list occupants of every house, similar to that of Head of Household census records. The 1853 assessment rolls were used because more questions were asked of the occupants than in the 1851 or 1852 assessments and provides more information.

  • The City of Toronto 1853 Tax Assessment Transcription Project can be searched online . It is also available in book format:
  • McGrath, Paul J., editor. Toronto in the 1850s: A Transcription of the 1853 Tax Assessment Rolls and Guide to Family History Research. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, Toronto Branch and, 2005.

As with all indexes, the original records should be consulted if your ancestor has been located. In this instance, the 1853 Tax Assessment Rolls are available on microfilm at the City of Toronto Archives.


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.