The Census as a Source

Census records are important in family history research as they help to confirm where and with whom an ancestor was living at a specific point in time. They can also provide some clues to birth, marriage and death dates as well as information regarding members of the family.

It is important however, to keep in mind that the information recorded in a census is not always accurate. The household member providing the information to the enumerator may not have remembered the exact details and may have guessed at some of the information or provided nicknames rather than proper names. If the family was not home, the enumerator may have relied on a neighbour to provide the details regarding the family or a family member may have been missed if they were away at the time of the census. Errors were also made when the enumerator misheard the details or transposed dates, ages or used phonetic spellings or when the information was transcribed in a searchable database.

Over time, the data collected on the census changed. Early census records listed only the head of the family while after 1871 all family members were listed with their age, province or country of birth, origin, occupation or profession, religion and marital status. Later census records often provide additional information such as the exact date of birth, relationship to the head of the household, education, year of immigration and naturalization, nationality, country or place of birth of parents, race or tribal origin, mother tongue, infirmities and information related to employment.

Census records are available through the Library and Archives Canada website for the years listed below. Libraries and Archives Canada provides a link for the 1921 census to where the records are accessible for free (without subscription). Also provided on the Library and Archives website, is an explanation of how each census was collected, common abbreviations, the instructions provided to enumerators and any issues regarding that particular year’s census or database. Electoral maps are provided, if available. District and sub-district census information is also listed.

YearAreaDate of EnumerationInterpretation of Age
1770-1856Returns on Microfilm
1825Lower CanadaJune 20 - September 20None Provided
1831Lower CanadaJune 1 - October 1None Provided
1842Canada East (current day Quebec); Canada West (current day Ontario)February 1None Provided
1851/52Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia January 11, 1852At Next Birthday
1861Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (some of the New Brunswick records are only available on microfilm) January 14 (Canada East and Canada West); March 30 (Nova Scotia); August 15 (New Brunswick); Date unknown for Prince Edward IslandAt Next Birthday
1870ManitobaJuly 16At Next Birthday
1871CanadaApril 2As of Census Date
1871OntarioApril 2At Last Birthday
1881CanadaApril 4At Last Birthday
1891CanadaApril 6As of Census Date
1901CanadaMarch 31At Last Birthday
1906Northwest ProvincesJune 24At Last Birthday
1911CanadaJune 1At Last Birthday
1916Prairie ProvincesJune 1At Last Birthday
1921CanadaJune 1At Last Birthday

Censuses for Wellington County are available at the Guelph Public Library, Wellington County Museum and Archives and the University of Guelph for the following years:

  • 1851 (except for Erin Township and Guelph)
  • 1861
  • 1871
  • 1881
  • 1891 (except for Maryborough Township)
  • 1901

Note: Census districts or county boundaries may have changed over time.