Documents & Records
Although excluded from some official records, people of Chinese origin have always been included in Canadian census enumerations.
The first census in Canada was taken in 1666 in New France (now Quebec). Following 1666, local and regional censuses were taken at irregular intervals until 1851, when the first national census was taken. The 1851 census covered the modern Canadian provinces of Canada, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
Although the census has been conducted at ten-year intervals since 1851, the 1881 census was the first to include the western provinces and territories. Since B.C. was the magnet for a vast majority of early Chinese immigrants, the likelihood of finding records relating to people of Chinese origin in pre-1881 census records is extremely remote.
Census records provide a snapshot of each enumerated household and offer clues about birthdates, countries of origin, etc. One of the most useful characteristics of census records is the ability to reconstruct family groups and identify individuals correctly, based on the other people they were living with at the time. This advantage rarely applies to census records relating to those of Chinese origin, however, as the early immigrants were usually unaccompanied by their families. For more information see History & Pioneers.
As always, Chinese-Canadian researchers using historical census records must be aware of commonly-seen inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the way that Chinese names were recorded in the New World. For example, in the census record shown at left, every individual in the household purportedly had the name Ah, which is not a Chinese name, but a prefix added to the personal name as a familiar or informal manner of address. For more information, see Chinese Names.
In Canada, census records are made available to the general public after 92 years. Currently, all national census records up to 1911 have been released. Records of censuses taken in 1906 and 1916, covering only prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), have also been released.
All historical Canadian census records have been microfilmed. In addition, genealogical societies and other groups have created many transcriptions and indexes of census records. These are sometimes published as print items, and may also be available electronically. In many cases, there is no charge for accessing online Canadian census records.
Some portions of census records have been indexed and released more than once, sometimes in a different format. It is always advisable to compare the different versions, in case standards have not been applied consistently. After locating a reference in a printed or electronic index, it is also essential to always check the microfilm copy of the original record.
In addition to census records, you may also want to look for records in the National Registration File of 1940. The 1940 registration was carried out at the beginning of the Second World War and was similar to a census.
Follow the links below for more information about the records and how to find them, :