Monday, 28 November 2016

Laying the Groundwork: Census Records Part 1

Experienced researchers know that the Canadian census collection is the first place to look for your ancestors. Census records pinpoint your ancestors in a time and place, but they can tell you so much more if you know how to read them.

The first official Canadian census was taken in 1851/1852, and covered what is now Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, As per the British North America Act, it was taken every ten years until 1901. Then in 1905, the Census and Statistics Act was implemented. It stated that a national census was to be conducted in 1911, and ever ten years afterward. As well, an additional agricultural and population census was to be taken in the prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) in 1906, and taken every subsequent ten years. So this means that the Prairies were enumerated every five years, and the rest of the country every ten years. This continued until 1956, when all of Canada started being enumerated every five years. The type of questions asked vary from census to census. Later years have more detail on individuals than earlier ones.

The only exception to this is of course, Newfoundland. They did not become a province until 1949, There are census returns for 1921, 1935 and 1945 at the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, and at Library and Archives Canada. Labrador can be found in 1871 census under "Quebec, Labrador District", and in 1911 under "Northwest Territories, Labrador Sub-district".

Privacy laws dictate that census records are to be held by Statistics Canada, and not publicly available, for 92 years. Yes, that is an odd number, and to be honest, I have no idea how they came up with it. So, as of right now, you can access up to the 1921 Canadian census. According to Library and Archives Canada's website, the only way you can access post 1921 census returns is for information on yourself. Even then, it can only be accessed for pension and legal concerns. We will not see the public release of the 1931 census until at least 2023.

In genealogy we work backwards through the years, so your goal is to get your family back to 1921. has this census. You can sign up for a free account with your email to search. Let's take a look at the family of Arnold WOOD. From the census I found out the following information:

  • He lived at 477 1/2 Bolliver Street in Peterborough, Ontario.
  • He is 29 years old. Also in the house was his wife Christina Wood (28), his daughters Doris J Wood (7) and Evelyn M Wood (1), and his "wife's daughter" Christine Black (11).
  • The house had 6 rooms, and he paid 18 dollars a month.
  • Arnold was born in England, as was his parents.
  • His wife Christine was born in Scotland, as were both her parents
  • Daughters Doris and Evelyn were born in Ontario.
  • Christine the younger was born in Scotland, as was her father.
  • Arnold came to Canada in 1907, and both Christines came in 1912.
  • Everyone could speak English, but not French.
  • They all belonged to the Church of England.
  • Doris and Evelyn could not read or write, but everyone else could.
  • Arnold was employed as a painter. However, he was unemployed for 8 months in the past year. It was not due to illness.
  • He earned 850 dollars in the last year.
  • Next door to Arnold at 477 Boliver Street is Hamlet and Julia WOOD.

Wow, that's a lot of information. Some of it, like the house information, is more to give you a feel for the time period. The rent of 18 dollars a month seems unreal when you look at housing costs today, but when you factor in he earned 850 dollars a year, it puts it into perspective.

Let's look at the immigration years of Arnold and Christine the elder. The obvious information we can get from this is what time frame to search passenger lists. But did you notice that there's a five year gap? That, coupled with Christine has an 11 year old daughter from a previous relationship, says that chances are they married here in Canada. So there's a possibility we could find a marriage registration for them in Ontario. We can surmise that they were married between 1912 (Christine's immigration year) and 1920.

Also looking at the immigration years, we now can look for Arnold in the 1911 census, but we might not find Christine. Don't discount it though. Sometimes, people forget what year they actually came over, and give their best guess instead.

Take a look at next door to Arnold and Christine. Their neighbours are Hamlet and Julia WOOD. Among their information is the fact that they are in their 50's, born in England and came to Canada in 1907. There is a very strong possibility that they are relatives of Arnold's. 

So now, let's look at Arnold in the 1911 census. I also looked at this on, of which I am a subscriber.

  • He lives at 573 Bollivar Street.
  • He is 19 years old and single. Also in the house are his father Hamlet Wood (41), his mother Julianne Wood (40), brother Wildred (15), and sister Doris (12).
  • Though there is a space for birth month and year, the enumerator has only listed the months. Arthur was born in August, Hamlet in March, Julianne in July, Wilfred in August, and Doris in October.
  • Everyone was born in England.
  • There is a space for immigration year, but it was not filled out. Only one family on the page had it filled out, even though most of the people were born outside of Canada.
  • They all state their religion is Anglican. 
  • Arthur is a moulder. Hamlet is a painter. Julianne has no occupation listed. Wilfred is a collar maker in a factory, and Doris is at school.
  • The men all work 60 hours per week. Arthur made 140 dollars the previous year. Hamlet made 400, and Wilfred made 200.
  • All of them can read and write, and their mother tongue is English.

Again a lot of information. One thing we have confirmed is that Hamlet and Julia Wood from the 1921 census are indeed relatives of Arthur's. They are his parents. From the 1921 census we know that they all came over in 1907. They probably came together. It'll be much easier to find them on a ships list as a group.
Another interesting fact is that in 1911 Arthur has a sister named Doris. In 1921 he has a daughter named Doris. This family is part of my mother-in-law's genealogy, and confirms the family story that Doris the younger was named for her Aunt Doris the elder.

It's a shame we don't have birth years on the census. But we do have birth months and with the ages given, we can determine a birth year. With this information, we could look at English civil registration for birth certificates.

So there you have it. In only two census records, we have found out the following things about Arthur:

  1. He was born in England in August @1892
  2. He was a moulder, then a painter.
  3. His parents are Hamlet Wood and Julianne Wood.
  4. He has a brother Wilfred and sister Doris.
  5. He came to Canada in 1907.
  6. He married Christina between 1912 and 1921.
  7. Arthur and Christine end up living next door to Hamlet and Julianne.
  8. They had two daughters, Doris and Evelyn, and we know their approximate birth years.
  9. He has a step daughter named Christine Black.
Using all this information, we now know where to look for Arthur's birth, his marriage to Christine, and the births of their children. We can look for Arthur's immigration records. If we choose to, we can follow his siblings' life in Canada as well.

This is why we should always look at census records first for a person. In part 2 we will look at where to look at census records online, and where to look for people pre 1851.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

This Week in History: The Alaska Highway Officially Opens

This week marks the official opening of the Alaska Highway in 1942. originally called the Alcan (Alaska-Canadian) Highway, this feat of engineering runs from Dawson Creek, British Columbia (Mile 0), through the Yukon, to Fairbanks, Alaska (Mile 1523).

Built from March to October 1942, the Highway was the idea of President Herbert Hoover. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the highway was built as a supply route for the defense of North America from the Japanese.

The formal agreement between Canada and the U.S. stipulated that the Americans would pay for and build the highway. In exchange, Canada would waive all duties and taxes, and immigration regulations. As well, Canada would provide constuction materials along the route. It was also agreed that at the end of World War II, the Canadian portion of the highway would be turned over to the Canadian government.

In total, more than 11,000 American troops, and 16,000 civilian labourers (both Canadian and American) worked on the highway. As this area was sparsely populated, they basically had to carve the route out of the sheer wilderness of muskeg and mountains. The fact that it only took seven months to complete is a wonder.

The highway did not open to the public until 1948. The original highway took sharp dives and turns, and not paved. Once the Canadian Department of Public Works took over the highway in 1964, that all changed. They made it safer, building new sections around the more dangerous areas, and paved it. You can still visit some stretches of the original highway on foot. There are route markers along the highway with interesting tidbits of the history. I went from Fort St.John (Mile 47) to Bucking Horse River (Mile 175). It's a beautiful scenic drive.

If you would like to know more about the Alaska Highway, check out these websites:

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Don't Dismiss that Family Story!

Genealogists are taught that we must be able to back up our conclusions with proof. Ideally, we should have three different sources to prove our assertion. The best sources are of course civil registration and church records. But what about family stories?

On the surface, family lore is not a wholly reliable source. Over generations, the story changes bit by bit. Did you ever play the game "Broken Telephone" as a kid? It was when everyone sat in a circle. The first person would whisper a sentence in the ear of the person to the right of them. Then that person would whisper what they heard into the ear of the person to their right. Around the circle you'd go, back to the first person. When you compare what the last person heard to what the first person said, the sentence had changed. Family lore is like that. Each successive telling of the story changes the story a little bit.  Most often, it is the military years of an ancestor that grows into heroic deeds. Sometimes it has to do with the activities of a "black sheep" ancestor.

In my own case, the story centers around the parentage of my grandfather, Henri GOVEREAU. This story takes some twists and turns, so bear with me. I had been told that he was orphaned very young, and brought up by the GOVEREAU family. As a tribute to them, he took their last name as his own. The story was that his real last name was MCKENZIE. So I set about to prove this. My first step was to locate him in census records, which I did. In 1911 he is living with his mother Mary, sister Annie, and cousin Jeremy. He is living with them and several other family members in 1901. Next I find a record of his marriage to my grandmother. I found this at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB) for free download.

Now, if you'll notice, he has Mary GOVEREAU listed as his mother, but he states that his father is unknown. I thought this rather strange. Since he is Catholic, I then hopped onto Ancestry, and checked the Drouin Collection for him. Up popped his baptism, which states:

"On the 4th of July,
1892, the undersigned baptized
Henry, one month and twelve
days old, illegitimate child of
of Mary Govereau, the sponsor
being Olivea Gotereau, nee Savoy"

In addition, listed in the margin of the record, is the dates of both my grandfather's marriages, so I knew I had the right person. Well, I thought, that's that. He wasn't adopted. Catholic records are pretty thorough, and if he was adopted, it would say that. Illegitimacy is not a big deal these days, but back then it probably was, I thought. The story was conceived to hide it. Whether by my grandfather or by his mother, I didn't know. I also wondered briefly where they pulled the last name MCKENZIE from, but dismissed it and went on from there. I get back to Henri's grandfather, also named Henri GOVEREAU. He suddenly appears in my ancestors area of Tracadie, New Brunswick in the 1840's, marrying twice. He is not connected to the Govereau family already established there. Census records indicate he was born in Quebec, but I could not find a connection to the various spellings of Govereau there. One tantalizing hint in his first marriage record states that his parents are the deceased Joseph Govereau and the deceased ---- Michaux. In the Quebec Drouin on Ancestry, I found a marriage between Joseph DENEAU and Rose MICHAUD. I could not find any connection to them and Henri. I come to the realization that Henri is not on the up and up of what he appears to be. I'm fairly new to genealogy back then, and become frustrated. I set Henri aside and pursue easier branches.

Flash forward ten years to just a few weeks ago. I'm much more experienced at researching and learned some new tricks. So I decide to take another look at Henri Senior. I go onto the PANB and take a look at the Monseigneur Donat Robichaud database. The Monseigneur was an avid and well known historian and genealogist of the northern New Brunswick area. The PANB has his database online and available for free to look at and download. I look up Henri Senior in the database, and found out the Monseigneur has compiled a lot of information on him. It turns out that yes, Henri was not who he appeared to be. Long story short, Henri was a bigamist born in Quebec as Germain DEVOE. He married and abandoned his wife and young daughter in Boston, making his way to the Mirimichi. In supporting documentation, Monseigneur Robichaud lists a baptism from a record group I have not seen before, the register of Burnt Church (1844-1890):

- 1887, 19 mai. Baptême de Mary Gauvreau, born 1st April, illegitimate child of William McKenzie and Mary Gauvereau. Parrains: Luc Gotreau, Velna LeBlanc. Rev Wm Morrissey.

This baptism coincides with the birth of Annie GOVEREAU, my grandfather's sister. Annie is also listed as illegitimate, but did you notice the name of the father? William MCKENZIE! If you remember, the family story is that my grandfather's real surname was McKENZIE. After this many years, I think the only way I could prove that Henri is a McKenzie is a through a DNA testing. But there are only 5 years difference between Annie and Henri's baptisms, so it is a possibility that William MCKENZIE fathered both of them.

So don't dismiss your family lore! They say (whoever "They" are) that every rumour has a kernel of truth. The same holds true with your family story. Write those stories down, and then go about proving them. It may take awhile to unravel the truth. It took a decade and some serendipity for me. But don't get discouraged. The "high five" moment will eventually come.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Do You Have a Military Ancestor?

Do You Have a Military Ancestor?

Canada has a long history of military service and accomplishment. Just the mention of the words "Vimy"or "Juno" can make a Canadian stand a little straighter and feel a sense of pride. In more recent years, we are known the world over for our peace keeping missions. And then, of course, are the Loyalist ancestors.

The best place to start researching your military ancestors is the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website's section on the military:

From this page you can navigate very easily the huge amount of information they have. The best thing for the frugal genealogist is that it is free. A great deal is available online, but not everything. You may need to schedule yourself a research trip. LAC does offer inter-library loan, but the rules are stringent. By scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking on Services and Programs, you can find the conditions that have to be met for inter-library loan. 

A huge ongoing project of the LAC is their digitization of the WWI service files. There are 640,000 personnel files relating to soldiers, nurses and chaplains. They expect to have it finished in late 2018. The files are being digitized in more or less alphabetical order, and in their last progress report, they have digitized up to Mahony. Once digitized, the personnel file is free to download. These files are an incredible source of information. A service file I downloaded for George Henry BOORMAN is 116 pages long! Not only did it have a record of his military service, but there were detailed reports of his injuries at Vimy Ridge and the subsequent medical care from them. His attestation paper gave a physical description, as well as next of kin. I found out his home address, his pre-war occupation, and his employer's name and address, Not all files have as much detail as George Boorman's. But you never know what you might find. Another file I downloaded was for my great uncle Jules MALLEY. He ended up dying from Spanish flu in 1918. In an account of his medical history, he stated that his mother (my great grandmother) had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis! Now that's a nugget of information I might otherwise never have known. Her own death was many years later, and had nothing to do with TB.

The usual suspects in online research can also help you research Canadian military records:

  2. Familysearch has limited amounts of information
  3. Cyndi's List

So what do you do if your ancestor fought more recently than WWI? Due to privacy laws, WWII and Korean service files are only able to be accessed under strict guidelines. You may have to "think outside the box."

One way to go about finding information on your military ancestor is war diaries and unit histories. If you know what unit they fought in, you can search to see if they are available for that unit. LAC has some. Try googling your ancestor's unit to see if another archive has them. For instance, I googled "1st Battalion Canadian Guards", of which my great uncle served in Korea. In the results was The Canadian Guards Association. The website has several links, one of which is the unit's history.

If you're lucky enough to live in the same area as your ancestor, try contacting your local historical or genealogy society.  They are very dedicated to preserving local heritage, and may have a collection of your area's contributions to Canada's war effort. Don't overlook your local public library as well. For instance, here in Lindsay, Ontario where I live, they have 3 databases online. The first two have been contributed by the Royal Canadian Legion's Memory Project on local soldiers. The third database has newspaper clippings of local WWII vets.

And of course don't forget to check out local and provincial archives. The Archives of Ontario has an online exhibit right now called "Eaton's Goes to War".  The T. Eaton Company Ltd. were a major supporter of the war effort in WWI. To help with enlistment, John Eaton offered all married men their full salary for the duration of their military service, on top of what they would receive from the military. Single men would receive half wages. As a result, over 3,000 Eaton's employees enlisted. The online database has a list of Eaton Employees, and most have photographs. You can read all about the incredible contribution of both John Eaton and his employees here:

Newfoundland is the exception to the usual routes of Canadian military research. They did not become a Canadian Province until 1949. To research Newfoundland military ancestors, you may have to look to British sources.

Military research can be a little frustrating, and you may have to go at it in an unconventional manner. But the rewards are worth it. And this week, what better way to remember them?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


Welcome to my blog. It's combining my two great loves: history and genealogy. To be honest, you really can't have an interest in one without the other. This blog will focus for the most part on Canadian history and genealogy. 

First the genealogy aspect. Canadian genealogy can pose some challenges. Regardless of what you see on television, it isn't all easy, and its not all instantly accessible. With my blog, I hope to help you navigate the waters.

We are a nation of immigrants. That's a fact. Unless your personal genealogy is 100% First Nations, you have an immigrant ancestor. They could be a recent immigrant. Or in the case of many of my own lines, it could be someone in the 1600's and 1700's, before our nation became officially known as Canada. Depending on how far back you want to go, you may have to look at records from another country.

Where your ancestor lived in Canada means a lot. Each province and territory has their own unique history. They also have their own rules as to availability of records and access to them.

Religion is another big factor. Especially to accessibility of records both on line and in repositories. My French Canadian ancestry has been so much easier to research online than my Protestant ancestors. 

Now to the history part. Some people are only interested in the Birth Marriages and Deaths (BMD's) of our ancestors. There is nothing wrong with that. The more recent trend in genealogy though is not to only ask "when" but to ask "why". For instance:

  • Why did several members of one family die within a few months of each other?
  • Why did my ancestor become a blacksmith when his father and grandfather were farmers?
  • Why did my ancestor suddenly pick up and move his family from one province to another?
That's where the history angle comes into play. To understand the why, sometimes you have to look at the history of where your ancestor lived. With this blog I hope to help you understand the complex history of our country a little better.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy!