The 1921 Census: Help, there’s no index!

 1921 Census of CanadaI was very excited when the 1921 census was released but I am not one to wait for the indexing so I have been digging around and managed to find my grandmother in an orphanage in Saskatoon with her siblings.  I found this entirely by accident.  While working on a question for another researcher, I found listings under the name “Sister” in a Saskatoon directory.  Thinking this might be the nuns who raised my grandma (I knew she’d been in a Catholic orphanage) I found the address of the orphanage in the directory and then used that to narrow my search of the Saskatoon pages of the census.  This was pure luck, I realize, but there are some tools we can all use to help us find our ancestors without the indexing – and I know you are all just dying to get at it so I thought I’d pass along a few tools that I have discovered as well as some information that was forwarded to my from my friends at the Ontario SIG.

(Just as an aside, Alberta Family Histories Society has a number of SIGs, or Special Interest Groups.  You can see a complete listing on our website.   Contact information is also included so if you are interested in joining a group or just dropping in on one of their meetings, I cannot recommend these groups highly enough.)

Anyhow, back to the census.  I’ve already mentioned directories.  They are an invaluable resource for finding your ancestors between censuses, but they are also great in narrowing down your search field for the 1921 census.  Directories were usually only done for cities, but there are some rural directories as well.  You can find a listing of digitized directories at this site.

Directories can also be found at the Internet Archive  by typing in the name of the place and the word ‘directory’.

You can also use Vital Events records to find locations for your people.  Search for an event such as a birth, marriage or death to pinpoint a location.  AncestryLE (available at the AFHS Library, the Family History Centre and the Calgary Public Library) has indexes to many vital events registers as does FamilySearch.  You can also check with the genealogical society or archives in the area you are researching to see what indexes are available through their sites.

Ancestry also has passenger lists and border crossing records that may indicate the destination to which your ancestor was travelling.  Naturalization records can be searched at Library and Archives Canada.  These often include a place of residence.

If you had ancestors who were First Nations and living on a reserve, or ancestors who were confined to an institution such as a hospital or prison you may have an edge as  these institutions were often enumerated separately.  Again, you need to have a general idea of where they were, but as you go through the list of sub-divisions under each division you will see the reservations, penitentiaries and other institutions listed in the descriptions.

Once you’ve narrowed down your search you can use maps of the census divisions to help you pinpoint the exact part of the census you need to scan.  You can find maps of the census divisions at the Canada Century Research Infrastructure site.

It is also possible that your relatives didn’t move between 1911 and 1921 so it can pay off to search the 1911 (or in the case of the Prairie Provinces, the 1916) census.  You can search the censuses at the Library and Archives Canada site.  This might help you find a land description or an electoral district or an address.

You can access the images from the 1921 census through the Ancestry site without having an account. Just click on this link.  You can use the Browse function on the right hand side of the page to navigate to your province and district.

When the indexing is completed you will need to sign in to Ancestry, either through your personal account or at one of the above mentioned libraries.

I hope this helps you get revved up to dig into the newest census.  I want to thank Colleen Casey of the Ontario SIG for all of her wonderful tips.  If you have any resources that you would like to share, please post them in the comments and I’ll pass them along.


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