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Doing Genealogy in Alberta Part 3 - Census Records and other stuff

by Christine H - 0 Comment(s)

Census

Page from the Canadian Census


So, are you still with me? Undaunted by Alberta’s rather challenging resources? Great! This week I want to outline some other important resources for finding your Alberta ancestors. And in this category, we are luckier that other parts of Canada. Because the population of the Prairie Provinces was growing so fast, the federal government, in an attempt to gauge and record that growth, instituted an extra census for the three Prairie Provinces starting in 1906 and continuing every ten years until 1956. At that time the prairie census was incorporated into the regular Canada-wide census. But what this means for people researching in Alberta, is that we have two extra censuses to consult: one for 1906 and one for 1916.

Census records are available in a variety of formats. Calgary Public Library has the complete collection of Canadian census records on microfilm at the Central Library in the genealogy collection. This includes the 1906 and 1916 censuses for the Prairie Provinces. You may ask yourself, why on earth would I use microfilm when there are computers? The answer is that sometimes digital images are hard to read and even harder to print. Scanning a reel of microfilm can be much easier (really!) than scanning a set of digital images. We also have some print indexes to census records for Alberta in the genealogy collection at Central Library. We also have finding aids available that list the census records that are available.

Digitized images of some censuses are available through Library and Archives Canada. There is a list of census databases in this very good article. The 1906 and 1916 censuses are not searchable by name, but you can search by location and browse the images. Some censuses, such as the 1891 are searchable by name.

This brings up the question of indexing. When we search an index, we are looking at information that has been transcribed by a human from documents handwritten by a human with information provided by another human. This suggests to me that there are at least three places where errors can sneak in. And the likeliest spot for the biggest errors is with the last person handling the document, the transcriber. Just because a name doesn’t appear in an index, doesn’t mean they aren’t in the census. That is when browsing images, either digital or microfilm, becomes important.

Having said that, it always pays to check the index first. And there are a number of ways to do that. To see if there is an index, you can check with the Canadian Genealogy Centre at Library and Archives Canada. They have a list of online indexes including those at Family Search, Automated Genealogy and Ancestry as well as hints on how to find print indexes.

(Just a reminder, Calgary Public Library subscribes to Ancestry LE which means that all Calgary Public Library members can log in from a computer in a library and search this database.)

So, we have the advantage of extra censuses, but what about the years in between the census? There are a number of sources we use as census substitutes. Primary among these are the Henderson’s Directories. Henderson’s directories are business directories, usually of major centres, that were compiled with an eye to providing information about markets to business people. They often include information such as a person’s place of employment and a spouse’s name. Researchers often use these directories to fill in information about their ancestors for the years between the censuses, and to locate ancestors that don’t appear in census indexes. Again, people researching on the Prairies have an advantage. A librarian called Bruce Peel set about to collect all the sources he could find on life on the Prairies. It is an impressive collection. Originally issued in microfiche, it included the Henderson’s Directories for Prairie towns such as Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, etc. It is now in its third edition and is available online.

The Local History room at the Calgary Public Library has the Peel collection in microfiche and the Calgary Henderson’s directories (a complete run to 1991) in paper. To find what directories were published and, more importantly, which are available you can check these two sources:

Canadian Directories 1790-1987 by Mary Bond

Western Canadian Directories on Microfilm and Microfiche by Dave Obee

For rural landowners, there is a Cummin’s Map for 1923 on microfilm in the Local History room.

Voters’ lists are another source for information about people. At the Central Library we have a collection of municipal voters’ lists for Calgary (1912-1971) as well as the 1974 Federal Voters’ List for Calgary. These federal lists are available on microfilm from Library and Archives Canada. You can find the listings in a publication called Federal Voters’ Lists in Western Canada by Dave Obee and we can request the lists on interlibrary loan for you. You do need to know the location of your people, because, as far as I know there is no index to these lists.

So, enough for now. Keep on searching. Next week we’ll look at land records and some other bits and pieces.

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