Nova Scotia Birth, Marriage, and Death Records

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For research strategies and additional information, see Canada Vital Records

Background[edit | edit source]

Historical Background:

Nova Scotia was settled by the French in 1605. The French did not keep vital records. Instead, they recorded similar information in Catholic Church records. Very few church records of baptism, marriage, and burial for the French settlers exist before 1702. Church of England records for British settlers began in Halifax in 1749.

1864 Vital Records Registration:

In 1864 an attempt was made to register vital statistics in Nova Scotia. From 1867 to 1874 these records are fairly complete. In 1877 birth and death registration was discontinued and in 1908 it began again.

Township Books:

Births, marriages, and deaths are recorded in township books beginning in about 1760, when settlers from New England came to Nova Scotia. The township books began in 1760 and were discontinued beginning about 1860.Townships were never established on Cape Breton Island, and the township books covered only part of the rest of the province.  Marriages recorded in the books may be as early as 1702 and as late as 1920.

Marriage Bonds and Licenses:

Marriage bonds began in parts of Nova Scotia from 1763–1864, with a few for later years to 1871. Marriage licenses began in most Nova Scotia counties in 1849. Gradually other records were added. Just because a bond or license exists does not mean the marriage took place. You should look for proof of marriage in church records and other records if possible.

Birth and Death[edit | edit source]

Online Records[edit | edit source]

Births[edit | edit source]

Deaths[edit | edit source]

Civil birth registrations were recorded in Nova Scotia between 1864 and 1876 and are held by the Nova Scotia Archives. Delayed registrations for births were filed from 1876 to 1908. However, not everyone registered. Province-wide recording of civil births began again on January 1, 1909. Birth records are retained by the Vital Statistics office for a period of 100 years.

Civil death registrations were recorded in Nova Scotia between 1864 and 1876. Civil death registration began again on October 1, 1908. The Nova Scotia Archives has death records of persons who died before 1965. The office of Vital Statistics has all death records for a period of 50 years.

Indexes 1864-1877

Birth and death records from 1864 to 1877 are indexed first by the family name, and then by county. Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management has put many vital records online.

The Family History Library has the following birth and death records:

Marriage[edit | edit source]

Online Records[edit | edit source]

Search Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management for online vital records. To find complete information about your ancestor, you should search for his name in all records that existed when he married. For example, if he got married in 1870, there may be marriage records for him in the following records. Each record may include different information:

1763-1871 Nova Scotia Marriage Bonds, typescripts.
1849-1918 Marriage Licenses. These records include marriage returns, in addition to marriage intentions like bonds and licenses. After 1864, these records may include detailed marriage "slips" with names of parents of the bride and groom.
1864-1875 Marriage Records.
1864-1918 [Marriages in] Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages. These records have good indexes. For the years after 1864, look at indexes to these records first before trying to find your ancestor's records in the other groups.

Township Books

If your ancestor lived in a part of the province that had a township book, you should search that to find marriage records. They were made for certain townships in the western part of Nova Scotia between 1760 and 1860 or later, and some include records of marriages as early as 1702 and as late as 1920.

Nova Scotia township books are very similar to the town records in the New England states. They include a variety of records, not just vital records of births, marriages and deaths. Most existing township books are at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. For a list of township books on file at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia and the dates they cover, see:

Tracing Your Ancestors in Nova Scotia, Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Halifax, 1981.

To find the township locations, see:

Index to the 1871 Dominion Directory of Canada, Volume 3: Nova Scotia, for a sketch map of townships and counties in Nova Scotia. It also lists townships included in each county. Lovell's Canadian Dominion Directory for 1871, vol. 8, pp. 1529-1792, lists Nova Scotia towns with their townships and counties.

While there are many Nova Scotia marriage records, the two basic types of government marriage records are:

  • Marriage intentions: records that show a couple intended to marry.
  • Marriage returns: records that show a couple actually married.

The terms intentions and returns are not always the terms used in the records. These terms describe the records. Marriage intentions and marriage returns for your ancestor may be found in several groups of Nova Scotia government vital records. 

Marriage Intentions[edit | edit source]

Marriage intentions may include bonds and licenses to marry, which show the government allows the marriage to take place. Marriage intentions may include some or all of the following information:


Name of man and woman who intended to marry. Ages of the man and woman who intended to marry Residences of the couple. Date and place of bond or license. Name, residence, and religion of clergyman to perform ceremony.

Occupation of man who intended to marry. Places of birth of the couple. Name, residence, and occupation of a bondsman (who may be a relative). Name of the woman's father, if she was underage. Father's permission to marry was required for underage brides.

If the couple proclaimed banns, that is, they announced in church that they intended to marry, there may be no record of it in government vital records. However, there may be a church record.

Not all couples who intended to marry actually married. You should look for proof that they married.

Proof that a marriage actually took place may be:

  • A note on the bond or license.
  • A separate marriage return certificate in the same file as the bond or license, or in another government file.
  • An entry in a township book.
  • A record in a church parish register.
  • A newspaper notice.
  • A note in a family Bible.

Only some of these types of proof are government vital records. Church records, newspaper notices, and notes from family Bibles are not usually included in government vital records.

Marriage Returns[edit | edit source]

Marriage returns are notices in government vital records that the marriage actually took place. A government marriage return may be:

  • A note on the bond or license.
  • A separate document signed and dated by the minister and sent to the government.
  • After 1864, a marriage "slip" that includes detailed information about the couple and their parents.
  • After 1864, marriage register books or loose pages that list the names of several couples.

There are only a few marriage returns for the years prior to 1849.

The Public Archives of Nova Scotia has marriage licenses from about 1849 or 1851 to the county cutoff date. These are available at the Family History Library on the following microfilms:

Nova Scotia. Board of Statistics of Marriages, Births, and Deaths. Marriages Licenses, 1849–1918. Salt Lake City: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1981–1982. (On 535 Family History Library films beginning with 1301853). The records are organized by county, then by year.

The cutoff or ending dates for the above records are:

  • Annapolis 1908
  • Antigonish 1910
  • Cape Breton 1912
  • Colchester 1914
  • Cumberland 1913
  • Digby 1909
  • Guysborough 1906
  • Halifax 1916
  • Hants 1916
  • Inverness 1908
  • Kings 1909
  • Lunenburg 1908
  • Pictou 1917
  • Queens 1910
  • Richmond 1918
  • Shelburne 1908
  • Victoria 1918
  • Yarmouth 1908

Marriage Bonds[edit | edit source]

Marriage bonds exist for 1763–1863 (specifically for the years 1763, 1765, 1770–1780, 1782, 1784–1799, 1801–1850, 1854–1856, and 1858–1863). They are arranged in chronological order, and no index is available. They are located in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia and are on the following microfilm at the Family History Library:

Transcripts of Marriage Bonds Issued at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1763–1871. Salt Lake City: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1983. (On Family History Library film 1376196 items 2–3 and film 1376197 items 1–3)

Marriage Records[edit | edit source]

Marriage records from 1864 to 1908 are indexed by county and (within the county) by the family name. The Family History Library has the following records:

Nova Scotia. Board of Statistics of Marriages, Births, and Deaths. Marriage records, 1864–1875. Salt Lake City; Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1982–1983. (On 17 films beginning with 1317402) The records are organized by county, then by year.

Arrangement of Marriage Records and Indexes:

The Marriage Bonds 1763-1871 are arranged by year and by date of the bond. Look for your ancestor's bond at the approximate date when he or she was married.

Other microfilmed marriage records for all years are usually arranged:

  1. First by year.
  2. Then by county in alphabetical order, Annapolis through Yarmouth.
  3. Within each county, records may be grouped by locality. For example, records for Hantsport, Hants County, are separate from records for Windsor, Hants County.

Searching for Marriage Records

Indexes for years before 1864 are not complete. If you know an approximate year and county where your ancestor married, search all available marriage records for that county, a few years before and after you believe your ancestor married.

After 1864, if you know the county where your ancestor married:

  1. Obtain the marriage index for that county. Each county has a separate index. They are listed with the Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1864-1916.
  2. Find your ancestor's name in the index. Write down the information for the year, volume, and page number.
  3. Return to the listings for Registers of Births, Deaths and Marriages, 1864-1916.
  4. Find the film number for the marriage register for the correct county and year.
  5. Obtain the film.
  6. Find your ancestor's record in the marriage register.

Then look at all records for that date in all the other groups of marriage records. Other records may have more complete information than the marriage register.

Make photocopies of all the records that you found.

If you know the county where your ancestor lived after 1864 and you don't find your ancestor's record in the indexes to the marriage registers, look at the other marriage records for that county and for surrounding counties.

If you don't know when or where your ancestor was married, see How to Locate Your Ancestor in Canada.

Vital Statistics Office[edit | edit source]

Later records of births, deaths, and marriages can be obtained from:

Vital Statistics Offices
Department of Business and Consumer Services
P.O. Box 157
Halifax, NS B3J 2M9
Phone: 902-424-4381
Vital Statistics Office's Website 

Wiki articles describing online collections are found at: