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Researching Your Aboriginal Ancestry at Library and Archives Canada

Part I: Researching Your Aboriginal Genealogy at Library and Archives Canada

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Census Returns

Only a few census returns for a limited number of bands can be found in RG 10 fonds. Early "Indian censuses" were not nominal censuses in the way we know them today. Most were statistical in nature only and did not identify each and every individual in the Indian population. Some were just lists of Indian heads of families that were created for various purposes.

Census returns, 1889, One Arrows Band, No. 95, Treaty No. 6 (Indian Affairs, RG 10, vol. 9994)


Census returns, 1889,
One Arrows Band, No. 95,
Treaty No. 6.
Library and Archives Canada,
RG 10, vol. 9994.

Starting in 1871, Indian agents began to produce aggregate censuses for each band in their jurisdiction to enable the Department of Indian Affairs to include statistics on the band population in its published annual reports. Digitized versions of the Indian Affairs Annual Reports 1864-1990 can be consulted on the Library and Archives Canada Web site. In 1917, the aggregate census began to be compiled every five years. During this time the agencies were not required to submit nominal returns to headquarters.

Note: The federal census returns are particularly useful because they list the ethnic origin of every individual enumerated in the census. However, according to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), entry of the term "Indian" in the federal census returns does not in itself constitute legal proof of an individual's origin. It is therefore incumbent upon the researcher to furnish the proof of origin for the person concerned. To do this, it is necessary to conduct additional research using the files in the RG 10 records held at Library and Archives Canada. Once the research is completed, all documentation must be submitted to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the department responsible for evaluating it and determining the status of the person in question.

In 1939, the Department of Indian Affairs began instructing departmental agents to systematically record not just the names but also the sex, age, civil status and band number of every Indian and to keep that information on site. After 1951, the Indian register became the means of recording this information.

Unfortunately, not all Indian censuses created by the Department of Indian Affairs and its agents found their way into RG 10 fonds. Some did not survive; others have yet to be transferred to Library and Archives Canada.

Inventory descriptions of censuses in RG 10 fonds can be obtained from the ARCHIVED - General Inventory database, and file information can be obtained from the ARCHIVED - Government of Canada Files database using keywords such as the names of bands or agencies as explained in Part II of this guide. Many of these documents have access restrictions.

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