MSS-038-Canadian Provincial Censuses, 1763-1861

Episode 038-September 29, 2015

In this episode, we turn to the provincial censuses held post-conquest until Confederation. Some of these censuses were conducted province-wide; others in smaller regions and even city- or town-wide.

MSS-038-Intro art

In Language Tip #38, we’ll look at French words for religious denominations that appear in documents such as census records.

French-Canadian News

American-French Genealogical Society

October 24, 9 AM: Tom Allaire, Part 2 of his ‘Genealogy and DNA” series.

All classes are held at the AFGS library, 78 Earle St., in Woonsocket, RI.

Franco-American Centre in Manchester, New Hampshire

October 3, 12:00-3:00 PM: French Adventures at the Audubon Center, 26 Audubon Way, Auburn, NH. This is a great family-fun activity for those who would like to learn a little French in an authentic setting. Each adventure is based on a theme. Everyone gathers together at the beginning to learn some key French words and expressions related to the theme. Then, adventurers set off to enjoy an activity that puts those new words and expressions to use! No prior French knowledge is required. In this adventure you will learn terms related to the great outdoors, then enjoy a nature walk on Audubon Center trails during the peak of autumn beauty. IMPORTANT: registration ended a few days ago. Call immediately if you are interested to see if there is space available.

French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan

October 2, 1:00-2:30 PM: As part of the French-Canadian Heritage Week Celebration at the Detroit Historical Museum, members of the French-Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan will present “Land and Census Records in Detroit During the French Regime.” The talk will present information about the original land grants up through the coming of British rule.

Quebec Family History Society

October 17, 10:30 AM, at the Briarwood Presbyterian Church Hall in Beaconsfield: Johanne Gervais will present “The French Canadian Disease,” information about an inherited disease known as OPMD, or Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy, found in some French-Canadian families.

Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society

October 3: Joanne Polanchek, “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?

October 10: Jacques Gagne, “Loyalist in the Eastern Townships

All classes are at 10:30 AM at the Vermont Genealogy Library.

October 17, Annual Fall Conference. There will be talks on the St. Alban’s Raid, Quebec Cadastral Records, Grosse Ile, and the Illinois-born Moisant family. You can purchase tickets at the door or save a bit by purchasing ahead of time.



Language Tip #38-Words for Religious Denominations

In census records and other French-Canadian documents, you’ll find mention of the various religious denominations. Today we learn the French words for those religions.

In the 1831 in 1842 censuses, there are individual columns for the different religious denominations. A number in each column denotes the number of people in the household belonging to that religion. In the 1851 in 1861 censuses, there is one column for religion, and the enumerator had to write in the denomination of each person.

Luckily for Anglophones, the French words for the denominations very much resemble the English words.

In some census records, instead of writing out the religion, an abbreviation was used. In the chart below is each religion mentioned in the 1831 and 1842 censuses in both French and English, as well as its abbreviation. Abbreviations come from the Ontario GenWeb Census Project website.

Religious denominations

Canadian Provincial Censuses, 1763-1861

Although the Battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought in 1759, and Montreal surrendered in 1760, I used 1763 as the cutoff date for the provincial censuses because that’s when the Treaty of Paris was signed, and the British officially gained control of Canada.


Between 1763 and 1861, the various regions of Canada underwent a couple of name changes.

Geographic Name Changes

Three Types

  • Nominal: includes the names of everyone in the household. Women are listed with their maiden names.
  • Head of household: other members of household listed as total numbers or divided into age groups by gender.
  • Statistical: useful for filling in social history of family; no names.

1861 Census

Official census date for

  • Canada East (Québec) and Canada West (Ontario): January 14, 1861
  • Nova Scotia: March 30, 1861
  • New Brunswick: August 15, 1861
  • Prince Edward Island: unknown

To look up census districts and sub-districts, or to see whether the returns for your area of interest have survived, go to the Districts and Sub-districts pages at the LAC website for Canada East and Canada West.

You can also use this information to locate ancestors if you’re using the microfilmed copies of the census.

Personal schedules name everyone in the household. The agricultural schedules, which are located after the personal schedules on microfilm and as digitized images on Ancestry, are head of household only.

The 1861 census for Canada East has column headings written in French. For a list of questions asked or for translations of these column headings, go to the About page on the LAC website.

Besides the usual questions we find on census returns, the 1861 census indicates whether or not a person died in the previous year, and, if so, it lists the cause of death, a fact very hard to come by any other way. There are many details that can be gleaned from this census that would make any ancestral story more interesting.

Where to Find the 1861 Census

Library and Archives Canada (LAC): You can search Canada East, Canada West, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia from the same search screen. You can find lists of questions, which were different for each area, on the LAC About page. To see the second page of the census for your ancestor, questions 37-60, you need to manually move forward in the database. To do this, go up to the URL in the address box. You will see the overall website address of ‘’ and then a long string of numbers. Look at the last number or two right before the ‘.jpg.’ If the last digits are 2-6-9, change it to 2-7-0, then 2-7-1 and so on, to scroll through the pages., with indexes only, has separate search screens for Canada East (Québec), Canada West (Ontario), New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Ancestry has both an index and the images. Also check out its interactive census map for the 1861 census.

Microfilmed copies are at LAC and can be ordered from the Family History Library.

An excerpt of the enumerators’ Instructions to the 1861 census can be found on the PRDH website with a reference to the complete instructions which include the census of 1852 also.

1851/1852 Census

For Canada East and Canada West, the 1851 census was actually taken in 1852, officially on January 12th. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia censuses were taken in 1851 with an offical date of January 11th. Check the Districts and Sub-Districts page of the LAC website for information on missing schedules. The originals were also destroyed in 1955 after they were microfilmed.

Agricultural returns are head of household only and, on microfilm, are found after the personal returns for each sub-district.

Census questions vary depending on location and type of schedule. Canada East and Canada West produced both urban and rural personal censuses with a few variations in questions. Those who died in the previous year are listed here as well. New Brunswick’s schedule included only ten questions, but schedule two gave statistical information about each parish. Nova Scotia’s schedule was head of household only and then tallied other household members in age groups. Column headings for Canada East (Quebec) are in English for English-speaking areas and in French for French-speaking areas. Translations for French-language column-headings are on the LAC website.

Where to Find the 1851 Census

On the LAC website you can search by keywords, surname, given name, age, or province, and with the advanced search by district name, district number, sub-district name, sub-district number, or page number.

Indexes and images for all four regions are available with a subscription at And this census year denotes the last of Ancestry’s interactive census maps for 1851.

If you have no luck finding an ancestor in any of these indexes, try the one at or at Stephen Morse’s site (be sure to change the drop-down list to 1851).

LAC and FamilySearch have the 1851 census on microfilm.

Automated Genealogy has indexes, transcriptions, and images for the Canada East, Canada West, and New Brunswick 1851 census on its website.

Many genealogical and historical societies created indexes and transcriptions of these censuses at a local level, so be sure to Google your location and time period to see if there is one available for your area.

1842 Census

The 1842 census was the first to be completed after the Act of Union of 1841. This divided the Province of Canada into Canada West (today’s Ontario province) and Canada East (today’s Québec province). This census of September 1841 was to be completed by February 1, 1842, but for various reasons was redone in May, June, and July 1844. This is an incomplete census because only the 1842 returns survived.

This is a head of household only census which includes, among other items, the number of people in the household and the head-of-household’s profession.

Where to Find the 1842 Census

The 1842 censuses for Canada East and Canada West are free on the LAC website. Be sure to check out the About page for Canada West, and scroll down to the bottom of the About page for Canada East if you need the English translations of the French column headings.

1842 census from FamilySearch

1842 census from FamilySearch also carries indexes as well as images for free for Canada East (called Lower Canada) and Canada West (called Upper Canada). Be sure to forward through all the pages, because there are 8 pages of questions for each person in Lower Canada. Those 8 pages are condensed onto 2 images for upper Canada. Always be sure to go back a page and forward a page to make sure you’ve seen the entire record. Don’t forget to check out the web page listing Known Issues for both Upper and Lower Canada.

Ancestry carries the 1842 census for Canada East.

1831 Census

The 1831 census took place between June 1st and October 1st, 1831, for Lower Canada, or generally in what is today Québec province. It listed head of household only and tallied other household members by age group. The 61 questions are spread over two pages. Questions include religious affiliation, occupations, and land and house information. Translations of the French column headings are on the About page at the LAC website. While there, check out the District and Sub-district page to see if your area survived. Originals were destroyed after microfilming took place in 1955.

Where to Find the 1831 Census

Library and Archives Canada has the 1831 census for Lower Canada.

Index and images are also available at FamilySearch. In order to see both pages for an ancestor, either use the Browse feature, or do a search for your ancecstor. After you bring up his page, click on ‘Open in a new window’ to be able to move back and forth through the pages. If that’s not available, use the page number and sub-district to find that same page back in browse mode.

Check out the Known Issues page.

1825 Census

The 1825 census for Lower Canada has a census date of between June 20th and September 20th, 1825. It was head of household only with tallies for other household members in age categories. The originals were destroyed after microfilming in 1955. English translations of French column headings can be found on the About page on the LAC website. There were 10 questions on one page.

Translation of column heading-1825 census-from LAC

Translation of column heading-1825 census-from LAC

Where to Find the 1825 Census

You can search for ancestors in Lower Canada on the LAC website.

Indexes and images are also at You can either browse by location or search by name. Definitely check out the ‘Known Issues’ page, because there are quite a few..

Ancestry also has indexes and images, and you can search by name, location, keyword, or Family History Library film number.

Nova Scotia

The Nova Scotia Archives has indexes and images to various censuses between 1767 and 1827.

Finding Aids

Besides these major censuses, other censuses were conducted for smaller areas. Below are some places to look for some of these returns. If I’ve missed any that you found helpful, please add them in the Show Notes.

Library and Archives Canada

Other than the digitized images for these five major censuses, what else does LAC carry that might be interesting? Go to their website and click on the ‘Online Research’ tab at the top. Then click on ‘Archives Search.’ Fill in ‘Census’ for ‘Any Keywords,’ change ‘Online’ to ‘No,’ and set your results however you’d like. Click ‘Submit,’ and you’ll see more than 3000 results relating to Canadian censuses. Then explore more resources by changing Online to ‘No.’

If the census you need has not been digitized yet, you can also see what’s available on microfilm by checking out these two books compiled by Thomas A. Hillman:

Catalog of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1891, published in 1987 in Ottawa by the Public Archives of Canada

Catalog of Census Returns on Microfilm, 1901, published in 1993 in Ottawa by the Archives of Canada

Both of these books combined are online at collectionscanada.

If you’re conducting census research in urban areas, consult city directories first to determine your family’s location. A resource that will help with this is Canadian Directories, 1790-1987, or Canadian city and area directories, 1819-1906 on Ancestry.

Also on Ancestry you’ll find a collection called Nova Scotia, Canada, Census, Assessment and Poll Tax Records which includes census returns from 1770-1795 and 1827. Clicking on an index entry will take you to the image located on the Nova Scotia Archives website.

On, there is an as-yet unindexed card index to the census of the Red River Settlement and the Province of Manitoba from 1832-1870. The census records taken by the Hudson Bay Company from 1831-1856 are head of household only. The originals are microfilmed and available through interlibrary loan from the Provincial Archives of Manitoba.

Very often when a genealogy society or other group transcribed baptism, marriage, and burial records for a particular parish and then published it in repertoires, they also included one or more censuses for that parish as well. So check out repertoires at your nearest French-Canadian genealogy library.

The website Nos Racines, or Our Roots, available in both English and French, has transcribed abstracted information from census records for Contrecoeur.

The Bibliotèque et Archives National du Québec, or the National Library and Archives of Quebec, has the parish censuses for Notre-Dame-de-Québec for 1792, 1795, 1798, 1805, 1806, and 1818. After going to the web page, click on a year in the box which says “Consultation de l’instrument de recherche.’ Type in the information that you have about your person in the search boxes and click ‘Rechercher.’ It will take you to an index. Click on the Image icon to go to the image, and if you’re having trouble reading it, you can see a typed version by clicking on Details.

Quebec Abenaki census records are transcribed and online.

If your French-Canadians traveled west, check out French-Canadians in the 1842 Oregon Census.

Lucie LeBlanc Consentino has posted several Acadian censuses on her website.

The Acadian-Cajun Genealogy & History website lists censuses that were transcribed and printed in journals. Most are from the Louisiana area, but some are from Quebec and Acadia.

The 1765 census of Montreal and Trois-Rivière and the 1762 census of Quebec are found in vol 6 of the Recensements du Quebec available on microfiche at the Family History Library.

There is a large collection of Ontario census abstracts on the Ontario Genweb’s Census Project page.

French-Canadian Sources: A Guide for Genealogists, published by Ancestry, has in its Appendix D a 10-page chart listing year-by-year censuses for Acadia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec, followed by Appendix E which describes each census and Appendix F which gives the sources for locating the census records as of the printing of this book in 2002.

Many printed censuses are found in the 54-volume set of the Rapport de l’Archiviste de la Province de Québec. To see what’s available, check out the list compiled by Joy Reisinger on Quebec Roots. It not only includes censuses printed in the Rapport, but other sources as well.

Census Forms

Where do you put all this information you gather? I like to transcribe every bit of information for every member of my ancestral family onto a blank census form so that #1) I don’t have to struggle to read the handwriting again, and #2) because copying this information forces me to pay attention to every detail.

Here is where you can find these blank forms online:

Family has a combined 1861 census form for Canada East and Canada West as well as one for the 1851 census.

Ancestry has blank census forms for the 1851 census for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and a combined one for Canada East and Canada West with column headings in both English and French.

Ontario GenWeb has a form for the 1842, 1848, 1851, and 1861 censuses, as well as a family census form where you can track a family through all censuses from 1842 through 1911.

Census Tools has the 1851 and 1861 census forms as part of its CensusTools 40-Spreadsheet package. There is a cost for that, but you are able to digitally enter the information onto the form and save it on your computer.

GenealogyGenius has a 1851 digital census form you can download.

Free PDF Cheat-Sheet

Download your copy of the free 4-page PDF, Canadian Provincial Censuses, 1763-1861. It summarizes some of the information in this episode. Keep it with you on your smart phone or tablet; save it on your computer, or print it out. Whatever works best for you. All the links are live, so you can easily get to the important websites for your census research.

This quick reference guide contains:PDF-Handout-thumbnail

  • Geographic Name Changes
  • Official Census Date
  • About Page for Each Census
  • Census District and Sub-district Pages
  • Enumerator Instructions
  • Search Online Censuses
  • Online Census Forms
  • Finding Aids
  • …and more

To get your freebie, just go to, type in your email address, and I’ll send you the link to the PDF.



Send in your notary records or journal articles written in French to Dr. Elizabeth Blood at Salem State University so her students can translate them for you. If you’re relatively new to this podcast and don’t know what I’m talking about, go to and listen to or read up on how to submit your documents for translation.

Acadian Ancestral Tour 2016Acadian Ancestral Tour 2016

We have only nine seats left on the Acadian Ancestral Tour 2016, a remarkable tour designed specifically for genealogists. Here are three important links:

Researching in France?

If you’d like to participate in Judith Chetrit’s radio documentary called Détours which focuses on genealogy tourism, especially people with Québécois roots traveling to France to research their ancestors, AND you are going on a research trip to France in the upcoming weeks or months, contact her through her website. She is looking for individuals or families whom she can follow and record experiences as you research.

Judith Chetrit is a French radio journalist based in Paris who also writes some feature articles. You can check out her website, another English-language radio show she participated in, and the show that you would be a part of. If you’d like to contact her, you can do so through her website.

International Podcast Day

If you are listening to this episode the day it comes out, then tomorrow, September 30th, is International Podcast Day. Share the love! If you enjoy listening to podcasts, spread the word! Share with some of the less tech-savvy people in your genealogy society. Help them learn how to use a podcast app and download genealogy shows like this one, or Genealogy Gems, or the Genealogy Guys, or Extreme Genes.


Speaking of technologically-challenged friends, if you know a fellow genealogist who uses his or her Smart Phone as nothing more than just a (*GASP*) phone, help them out by recommending In no time at all they can be using all the bells and whistles that came packaged in their smart phone, and all by trying out a 10-day free trial.
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