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, Schedule 1
1901 Census of Canada, Province of Ontario, District 129, Sub-district a-2, Schedule 2

As it turns out, Schedule 1 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. Schedule 2 contains additional information, including the street where the dwelling was located and the actual date of the enumerator's visit.

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 enumerator, H.C. Moore and the dates he visited the households on this page April 1 & 2 as well as the page number 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 images to the source record (optional)
  4. Add the source reference information
  5. Add the repository for the source
  6. (optional) Add source notes
  7. (optional) Add event attributes

Add a census event

To do this, we begin by opening up Patrick Murray for editing (or adding him if he is nor already in the database). 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 could enter "from 1 April 1901 to 2 April 1901". However, Schedule 2 records the actual date the enumerator visited the house, which is April 2, so we'll use that. 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. We'll then fill in the description line. A good description would be "Census of Patrick Murray Household". Writing our description this way means we can share this event for other members of the household, saving us redundant data entry. 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 Patrick Murray 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 images to the source record (optional)

If desired, you can save the actual images of the census records to your computer. If you haven't already, set up a "media" subdirectory under your main ".gramps" directory (or whatever you have named it on your system.) Under "media", create a subdirectory for the census called "FourthCensusOfCanada1901". Then you can save the images from the census in this directory. Once you have saved an image in this way, you can add it to the "Gallery" tab. Click the '+' button in the gallery tab which brings up the "Select Media" dialog. Navigate to the file you just saved. In the Title field, put "Ontario, Schedule 1, District 129, Sub-district a, Division 2, East Toronto Village, Page 2", since that fully qualifies this page in the census.

Add source reference

Next, we want to fill in the Reference information. We know the date, so we can again enter "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, District 129, Sub-district a, Division 2, East Toronto Village, Schedule 1, 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 Patrick Murray. His name was Robert Bruce Spafford and you can see his entry on line 23. We'll record the whole entry for the family (number 17) giving us:

     ON, dist. 129, s.dist. a-2, East Toronto Village, sched. 1, p. 2, hh. 17, fam. 17, lines 17-22

where "hh." is an abbreviation of household and "fam." is an abbreviation of family.

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".

Add source notes (optional)

You may want to record notes about the source or the source reference. Keep in mind that notes entered in the notes tab for the shared source information will apply to the whole census. You could use this to record background information about the census as a whole. For example, Introduction - Census of Canada, 1901 contains some background information as does (If you intend to cite information from those sources, be sure to follow their guidelines for using their copyrighted material.)

You may also wish to record notes pertaining to the particular source reference. Perhaps you have some some interesting facts about the enumerator, or the weather that day was remarkable in some way, or you want to record something about the street as it was in that era. You could use the source reference notes for that.

Add event attributes (optional)

As noted above, the census contains all sorts of information that you may want to record. For example, Mr. Murray earned $900 in the year preceding the census. He is listed as working for G.B.R. as a conductor. He gives his religion as (R.C.) Roman Catholic and his nationality as Irish. We also see his year of immigration (1878). You can record these items as event attributes, although it is probably preferable to use separate events (Occupation, Immigration, Religion) for them instead. Schedule 2 has additional information, including details about the house, which you may wish to record as well.

Add information from Schedule 2

We now need to add the information from Schedule 2. We'll follow the same process used for Schedule 1, however we just added the source record (for the census as a whole) and repository, so we do not need to so that again. From the event sources tab, we click the "Add existing source" button. From the dialog that pops up, we select the Fourth Census of Canada. Now we only need to fill in the source reference information. We know the date, so we enter "2 April 1901" in the date field. In the Volume/Page field, we enter information similar to that for schedule 1:

     ON, dist. 129, s.dist. a-2, East Toronto Village, sched 2, p. 1, hh. 17, line 18

If you saved the image for Schedule 1, you'll want to also save the image for schedule 2 as described above.

See also