Introduction to Canadian Genealogy (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in December 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Canadian Ancestors  by Doris Bourrie, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Conducting successful genealogical research depends on a number of factors:

  • Proper organization and careful documentation of sources.
  • Accurate analysis and understanding of records located.
  • Understanding of the value and accuracy of the records.
  • Ability to analyze known data, and formulate a research plan to expand knowledge.
  • A complete understanding of the records available and how to access them.
Canada Map.png

Canada is a very large country, and records are compiled by geographic area, so it is imperative that you narrow your research area to the appropriate Province, and if possible, to a specific area within that Province. Unfortunately, your first indication that your research must now focus on Canadian records may be a very brief indication to the effect that “Great uncle John moved to Canada,” or that “Grandfather’s death certificate indicated he was born in Canada.” It may be necessary to do further detective work to narrow your possible area of research. An understanding of the country and its records will be of assistance in formulating your research plan.

Condensed Chronology of Canada’s Settlement[edit | edit source]

The settlement of Canada took place over a number of years, chiefly under the jurisdiction of the governments of France and Great Britain. Some of the earliest records available, therefore, were created under the direction of these two countries. A brief look at the major milestones of Canada’s history will provide an elementary understanding of the country’s development.

1600-1650[edit | edit source]

  • 1608: First permanent settlement in Canada, Québec City (France).
  • 1610: John Guy given permission to begin a plantation in Newfoundland (British).
  • 1623: James I grants permission to Sir William Alexander for first settlement in “New Scotland”, a large area of land covering what is now the Maritime Provinces, eastern Maine, and part of Québec.
  • 1629-1632: Canada and Acadia controlled briefly by Britain, then returned to France. v 1633: 100 families arrive at Québec from France.
  • 1642: Montréal (Ville Marie) founded.

1650-1700[edit | edit source]

  • Acadia held briefly by British, returned to French control in 1667.
  • French colony settled at Placentia, Newfoundland.
  • First census of New France (1666).
  • Hudson’s Bay Company received charter from Britain.
  • British Crown prohibits further permanent settlement to Newfoundland.

1700-1750[edit | edit source]

  • 1713: Louisbourg (Nova Scotia) founded by the French.
  • 1751-1753: Lunenberg (Nova Scotia) settled by immigrants from Hannover, France, Germany and Switzerland.
  • 1749: Edward Cornwallis established Halifax for Britain.

1750-1800[edit | edit source]

  • Expulsion of 5000 Acadians from Nova Scotia.
  • Québec City falls to the British.
  • First British settlement in New Brunswick.
  • 1756-1763: End of the Seven Years’ War; Canada ceded to Britain by France.
  • 1769: Prince Edward Island becomes separate British colony.
  • 1774: Québec Act, which made English and French both official languages; restored French civil law to Québec, and established a new governor and council for the province.
  • 1775-1783: American Revolution, which resulted in major immigration of British Loyalists to Canada, settling in Ontario, Québec and the Maritimes.
  • Nova Scotia divided into 3 separate colonies: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island.
  • Québec divided into Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Québec).

1800-1850[edit | edit source]

  • Lord Selkirk sends colony of settlers to Prince Edward Island.
  • Lord Selkirk sends colony of settlers to Red River Settlement (Manitoba).
  • 1812-1814: War of 1812 against United States.
  • Northwest Company and Hudson’s Bay Company merge.
  • 1837: Rebellion in Upper and Lower Canada.
  • 1841: Union Act unites Upper and Lower Canada as Province of Canada.
  • 1843: Founding of Victoria, Vancouver Island.

1850-1900[edit | edit source]

  • 1851: Prince Edward Island granted self-government.
  • Seigneurial tenure of land in Lower Canada abolished.
  • Gold discovered in Fraser River Valley, British Columbia
  • Colony of British Columbia established, Vancouver Island unites with British Columbia.
  • 1867: Confederation Conferences: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Québec, and Ontario join Confederation of Canada.
  • 1869: Riel Rebellion (Red River Valley, Manitoba).
  • 1870: Manitoba created a Province.
  • 1871: British Columbia joins Confederation.
  • 1873: Prince Edward Island joins Confederation. v First major settlement of North West Territories, Alberta, Assiniboia/Assiniboine, Saskatchewan (later, Prairie Provinces).
  • 1889: Northwest Rebellion.

1900-1950[edit | edit source]

  • 1905: Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan created.
  • Boundaries of Ontario and Manitoba provinces extended.
  • 1914-1918: World War I.
  • 1939-1945: World War II.
  • 1949: Newfoundland joins Confederation.

Canadian Archives—General Information[edit | edit source]

Library and Archives Canada.jpg

The Library and Archives Canada is located in the nation’s capital, which is Ottawa, Ontario. In addition to the Library and Archives Canada, each Province or Territory has its own Archives, specializing in collections associated with that area. Other specialized archives exist across the country which includes church or religious archives; city archives; local municipality archives; and other archives for special interests. These specialized archives may hold records not available at either the Library and Archives Canada, or at the Provincial archives. You may find links on some of the Provincial archives websites to specialized local archives or societies that will be helpful.

Canadian Genealogical Societies—General Information[edit | edit source]

Each province or territory (with the exception of the Yukon and Nunavut territories) has a major genealogical society, which in turn may have local branches throughout the province. Many of these societies have produced publications which may be of assistance to people researching within their specific area. There are also associations of people interested in a specific family name, or a specific ethnic group or geographic area. The Library and Archives Canada website includes addresses and links to many of the provincial societies, as well as to the Canadian Genweb Project, which will lead the researcher to Internet links of a more localized nature. The book A Canadian Directory for Genealogists, by Louise St Denis will also provide over 1300 listings to genealogical and historical societies, Archives, researchers, and other specialized collections, including those that are not available on the Internet.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Canadian Ancestors 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.