BY LORETTA HOUBEN
The Canadian census is a wonderful tool for genealogists, and the recent 2013 release of the 1921 census is a marvellous resource for those of us tracing our Canadian ancestors from 92 years ago.
Canada has a 92-year privacy law, unlike England’s law of 100 years or the USA’s law of only 72 years. I’m not sure as to the how and why of these laws, but I was delighted to begin searching the 1921 census online the day it became available in August 2013.
Since that time, the census has been fully indexed on Ancestry.ca. This means that you don’t need to know where your ancestor lived, but you can simply enter the name and if they were living in Canada at that time, you will find them.
The 1920s were a decade of great change. The settling of the West took place, along with Prohibition and women’s rights. On June 1, 1921, enumerators were sent to every part of Canada, and the questions asked on the census form were dated from the first, meaning that anyone born after that date is not included in the census, and anyone passing away after the first is still on the census.
There are 8.8 million records in this database. A new technology is used for the first time at Ancestry.ca for this census. Once your ancestor’s name is entered, providing it’s in the database, it will show up highlighted. (Please see example shown.)
The first national Canadian census was taken in 1871. At first it was taken every 10 years, but after 1956 it was taken every five years. From 1911 to 1921 there was a 22 percent increase in the population of Canada. Thirty-five questions were asked on the 1921 census.
If you go to Ancestry.ca and click on “card catalogue” and then “search” you will find a list of options. Choose “1921 Census of Canada” and fill in the form. This is completely free but you need to create an account by using an email address.
I was thrilled when I entered my paternal grandfather’s name and discovered that, as of June 1, 1921, he was married to Ellen and had one son named Edward H. No one in my family knew her real name as she died in 1926; we only knew her by the nickname of Nellie. This was my first real clue and confirmation as to her name. Also, Edward was called Harry, probably his middle name, and he died in 1925, so this is the one and only time he and his mother appear on a census.
The 1921 census covers a lot of material. In the first section, the dwelling number, number of family members, names of each person, parish, section, township, range and meridian of farms for addresses in the country.
The next section asked a series of questions about the house itself; was the house rented or owned? How much per month if rented? What is the class of house? What are the materials of construction? Even the number of rooms is included.
A personal description including relationship to the head of the household, sex, marital status, age at last birthday, nativity (where born; give province or name of country) and citizenship, which included year of immigration, year of naturalization and nationality, were all asked. Racial or tribal origin, language; English or French, language other than English, religious body, denomination with abbreviations such as Meth: Methodist; RC: Roman Catholic; CH of E: Church of England; Pres: Presbyterian; Bapt: Baptist.
Other questions, which were all tallied in columns on a large page, included education; can he read, write, how many months has he been in school since September 1920. Profession, occupation or employment, with specific questions on status of employment. Even income and unemployment earnings for the past 12 months are listed and whether the person was employed on census day.
As you can see, that is a wealth of information! For 92 years it was kept secret, and now we can all access it, thanks to Library and Archives Canada, which has released it to Ancestry.ca for free. If you are really interested, you can go to YouTube and view a discussion on the above by Ancestry.ca—this is what I used to understand the 1921 census more fully.
It’s all there at your fingertips, and I encourage you to try it to trace your family roots. You will be pleasantly surprised at what you discover!
The next installment in family tree tips will focus on Vancouver City Directories and Cross Directories for hunting down clues to where your family lived.
Loretta Houben has enjoyed writing these family tree articles and would love to know if any of you have had success with your own family tree these past few months. This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of the Renfrew-Collingwood Community News.
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