Why census?

Censuses are an amazing source of information including age, birth date, marital status, religious denomination, country of origin and sometimes year arrived and occupation. 

If you are not sure in which county or district your ancestor lived, try a general search to start then narrow it down as you gather more information from other sources.  

It might be useful to search for burial first to narrow your search.  People were typically buried close to home in earlier times. The burial record will give you a cemetery name which is easily traced to the county name.

Sometimes the census will show only the age (no birth date). Keep in mind that for some census years, age shown is for the next birthday, not the age of the person when the census was taken. The column label at the top of the census form will define this.  

Census dates are also useful to help narrow down birth dates. Some censuses show the full birthday but most show only year.   The 1901 Canada Census shows the full birthday and the year of arrival in Canada. Enumeration dates can be useful for determining age so it's important to know the exact date the enumeration was taken.

1901 Ontario census image



Many immigrants were illiterate and had no idea how to spell their name. Census takers too had their own ideas on how a name should be spelled which varied depending on where they came from.  Heavy accents of householders would also impact the way names were 'heard' by the census takers. Transcribers also had a rough time reading many of the documents given illegible hand writing of the census taker and quirks of written english of the time ( double 's' was written as 'fs").

And the handwriting of the quill days could be quite fancy-dancy!   All this leads to many possible spellings so be sure to allow for this possibility if your search turns up empty.   Tilly could be Silly! Tesson could be Tefson! So be sure to make good use of the wild card search option if your name is not popping up in your search.

Enumeration Dates Are Important

The actual enumeration process took weeks or even months.The official enumeration dates following are the 'as of' dates for recording census information such as birthdate. Note that some census years asked for the age on the NEXT birthday so watch for this in your search.

  • 1825 Lower Canada (Quebec) taken from June 20 to September 20, 1825.
  • 1831 Lower Canada (Quebec) taken from June 1 to October 1, 1831.
  • 1842 Canada West (Ontario) returns were supposed to be completed by February 1, 1842.
  • 1851 January 12, 1852 (delays led to the late enumeration of the 1851 Census). 
  • 1861 January 14, 1861

  • 1871 April 2, 1871.
  • 1881 April 4, 1881.
  • 1891 April 6,1891.
  • 1901 March 31, 1901.
  • 1906 June 24, 1906.
  • 1911 June 1, 1911.
  • 1916 June 1, 1916.


How and where to find a census image

There are many options available to access free online census images.

What follows are options and sources for census information.


Government of Canada Library and Archives Canada (LAC)

Over 16 million records are available in the LAC searchable database including Census, Immigration, Land Petition and Military.

Search results are categorized by type (eg Immigration) and decade (eg 1820) which helps to narrow down a large volume of hits. 

It's a good idea to browse the site and familiarize yourself with general family information available.

The Military records are a useful tool for next of kin and address information and personal details like eye and hair colour!  

For most records, the original images are available. 

List of searchable sensus databases at Library and Archives Canada from 1825-1926       GO

Search Census at LAC

Search year  1842  1861  1871 (Ontario only)   1871 (Canada)   1881  1891 

Family Search offers free online census data but no images of the original document are available for most census years.  The 1842 census does include some images but many pages and areas are missing. Have a look and see if your area is there.

1842 Upper Canada census at Family Search 

1861 Ontario census at Family Search  

Free access to microfilmed census images is available by visiting the Archives of Ontario and some public libraries. Also check out the Inter-loan program if the microfilm reel you need is not available locally. 

Search Census at Automated Genealogy

Automated Genealogy is a user-friendly searchable database that allows you to enter just a last name if you're not sure where your ancestor lived.   The hits you get will allow you to narrow down the names using other information you discover in your search.  You can also link the 1901 census to 1911 census.

The original census images are also available.

The site is free but only the following census years are available.   Many records from 1852 were lost or destroyed.. Russell and Simcoe counties and Toronto have no surviving census information at all for this period. (Note: Ontario = Canada West)  

At the top of the page, the option to 'view split image' will bring up the original census document for print or download.

1921 Census 

Library and Archives Canada will no longer offer online access to raw data census forms beginning with 1921 but we can access the data and images at Ancestry.ca at no cost.  (So far...let's hope it stays free since it's our information) 

Free access is still possible in person at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and through hundreds of subscribing libraries across Canada. (meaning you can't access from home).

Note: Canadians can still access censuses taken prior to 1921 on Library and Archives Canada‚Äôs Census web page.

Note: The Archives of Ontario has no online search capability. 


If you are not having any luck online it may be due to a missed page when originals were micro-filmed (it happens!) or if the scanned image is of poor quality, you might have better luck visiting the Archives of Ontario (locatedon York University main campus)in person or utilizing the inter-branch loan option. The Archives will transfer most microfilm to your local library for viewing at no charge to you.

This Guide on Researching Archive Records will help you with finding and using census records stored on microfilm at the archives.