Recording Canadian Census data

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This guide explains how to use GRAMPS to record information contained in the various Canadian censi. It demonstrates how to enter Repositories, Sources, People and Families. How to link them together to ensure that every piece of information is attributed back to its source.

For genealogists with Canadian ancestors, the Canadian Census returns are a very important source of information. Censi have been conducted every 10 years in Canada since 1851, with additional censi of the western provinces in 1906 and 1916. Most Canadian censi are available free of charge in online databases maintained by Library and Archives Canada. The most recent census of the Northwest Provinces, taken in 1916, is available via Other online resources include Automated Genealogy and Family Search.

Census returns are typically organized by location and each return shows a list of households living in a particular street or rural area. This means that once you find a return showing one of your ancestors it will also show the rest their family members living in the same house.

Information contained in a Census return

An example of a 1901 Canadian census page can be seen here (You will need to be able to view PDF files from your browser to see it):

1901 Census of Canada, Province of Ontario, District 129, Sub-district a-2

As it turns out, this page contains a return from the street where one Patrick Murray was living in 1901. As we walk through the information on this page, we'll see how to extract useful information and record it in gramps.

Title line

Starting from the top, we can see that the proper title for this census is "FOURTH CENSUS OF CANADA, 1901" though I prefer to change it to mixed case for easier reading, "Fourth Census of Canada, 1901." Centered on the page we see "Schedule No. 1 Population." This census has two schedules. Schedule 2 contains additional information, including street addresses, that is valuable and worth preserving. On the top right-hand side of the page, we have the title translated into French.

Sub-title line

Below the title line, the sub-title identifies where the census was recorded for this page. You can see that it says, "Province: Ont., District No. 129 E York, S. District a, Polling subdivision No. 2 in East Toronto Village.

Sub-sub-title line

Below the sub-title we can see the name of the pollster, H.C. Moore and the dates he visited the households on this page April 1 & 2.

All of this information is valuable and will be stored in the source record and source reference.

Column Headings

Below the title lines, we find column headings, in both English and French. The headings on this page are:

number of the dwelling (e.g. house, apartment building) in visitation order
number of the family or household, in visitation order
Name of each person in the family or household on March 31, 1901
M (Male) or F (Female)
W (White), B (Black), etc.
Relationship to Head of Family or Household
Single, Married, Widowed or Divorced
Month and Date of Birth
Year of Birth
Age on last birthday
Country or Place of Birth
Year of Immigration to Canada
year when individual entered Canada as an immigrant
Year of Naturalization
year when individual became a Canadian citizen
Racial or Tribal Origin
Principle Profession or Trade
livelihood of individual
Wage Earner
specifics on individual's livelihood, including earnings
Education and Language of each person five years old and over
school attendance, literacy, languages
Deaf, dumb, blind, unsound mind

Recording it all

Whew! That's a lot of information and that's just Schedule 1! Clearly the Canadian government wanted to be thorough on this census! So, how do we record it all? We will need to walk through the following steps:

  1. Add a census event
  2. Add the source record for the census event
  3. Add the source reference information
  4. Add the repository for the source
  5. (optional) Add source notes
  6. (optional) Add event attributes

Add a census event

To do this, we begin by opening up a person in gramps for editing. Next, we'll use the '+' button to add an event. An event dialog will pop up. We'll then choose the event type "Census" from the drop-down menu and add the date, which we found on the third line of the census form. In the case of Mr. Murray, the census took place over two days, so I should enter "from 1 April 1901 to 2 April 1901" to be accurate. Next, we will want to record the place, which is East Toronto Village, but we can do better than that. Schedule 2 for this census tells me the actual street address, so that's what we should use. Next, we will click on the "Sources" tab to add our source.

Add a census source

Under the event sources, we again click the '+' button to add a new source. First, we'll fill in the section "Shared source information." The title will be "Fourth Census of Canada, 1901". Under author we should enter "Government of Canada" since this is a source record for the whole census, not just the street where my grandfather lived in 1901. We can let gramps assign the ID and move on to the Abbreviation, where "1901 Canadian Census" is entered. Finally, under Publication Information, we can enter "Library and Archives Canada".

Add source reference

Next, we want to fill in the Reference information. We know the date, so we can again enter "from 1 April 1901 to 2 April 1901". The next line is more complicated and the heading "Volume/Page" doesn't really do justice to what is truly required. Keep in mind that the idea is to put sufficient information so that someone reading your source information (even you, years later!) can use it to find the source material for his- or herself. We will need to capture the information from the title lines, so we should enter "Ontario, Schedule 1, District 129, Sub-district a, Division 2, East Toronto Village, Page 2", but that is a little verbose. It is acceptable to use abbreviations for common terms, so "Ont., sched. 1, dist. 129, s.dist. a-2, East Toronto Village, p. 2" is sufficient. Before we leave this section, however, we need to record the entry for my grandfather. His name was Robert Bruce Spafford and you can see his entry on line 21. We'll record the whole entry for the family (number 16) giving us:

     Ont., sched. 1, dist. 129, s.dist. a-2, East Toronto Village, p. 2, dwel. 16, fam. 16, lines 17-22

Add source repository

What is a repository? Well, suppose you had the information in the shared source information and the source reference. If you were familiar with Canadian archival material, you could probably find the source readily enough. However, what if you were from another country and wanted to find this source? You'd need to know where to go to find it! That's what a repository is: a place to go to see the source material.

In our case, we have at least two repositories for this source:

  1. The actual, bricks-and-mortar Canadian Archive
  2. The website where we found the census information online

It is not a bad idea to record both, but at the very least you will want to record the second. For the sake of this exercise, let's add both! While we are editing the source, we click on the Repositories tab, then click on the '+' button to add a new repository. As with the source information, we start with the Shared Information section. Under Name, we enter "Library and Archives Canada". Under Type, we choose "Archive" from the drop-down list. As with the source, we'll let gramps choose a unique ID.

Next, we'll click on the Addresses tab, where we can enter the default address of the archive, which is 395 Wellington Street Ottawa, ON K1A 0N4, CANADA and the phone number (1-866-578-7777). It's a good idea to put the dates on which the address is valid, so fill in today's date. Next, click on the Internet tab, where we can fill in the website information (

Now, we'll fill in the Repository Reference section. The media type is "Film" and the Call number is obtained from the web site: "RG31, Microfilm reel T-6506".