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 Ancestry.com 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.
|Year||Area||Date of Enumeration||Interpretation of Age|
|1770-1856||Returns on Microfilm|
|1825||Lower Canada||June 20 - September 20||None Provided|
|1831||Lower Canada||June 1 - October 1||None Provided|
|1842||Canada East (current day Quebec); Canada West (current day Ontario)||February 1||None Provided|
|1851/52||Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia||January 11, 1852||At Next Birthday|
|1861||Canada 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 Island||At Next Birthday|
|1870||Manitoba||July 16||At Next Birthday|
|1871||Canada||April 2||As of Census Date|
|1871||Ontario||April 2||At Last Birthday|
|1881||Canada||April 4||At Last Birthday|
|1891||Canada||April 6||As of Census Date|
|1901||Canada||March 31||At Last Birthday|
|1906||Northwest Provinces||June 24||At Last Birthday|
|1911||Canada||June 1||At Last Birthday|
|1916||Prairie Provinces||June 1||At Last Birthday|
|1921||Canada||June 1||At 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)
- 1891 (except for Maryborough Township)
Note: Census districts or county boundaries may have changed over time.