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Canada’s 1931 census has been released!

Posted by Sean Daly on Jun 23, 2023
Image of census results with Canadian maple leaf

Canada released its 1931 census on June 1. Looking for your people? Here’s a summary of where to find it and how to search it!

Censuses are vital in genealogy: they help you determine where a family was living, the relative ages of children, the occupations of adult household members, and other precious information. Often, a family member with a different name — an in-law, cousin, or grandparent or grandchild — offers an opportunity to break down a brick wall in your research. And brick walls there are; a recent study commissioned by Ancestry (Geneanet’s parent company) in Canada found that 1 in 4 Canadians cannot name all four grandparents (!).

Following the confederation of Canada in 1867, a national census of the population has been taken every ten years starting in 1871; the 1931 census is the seventh in the series (see this overview by Library and Archives Canada — LAC). Note however that there have been other censuses performed on provincial or regional levels in intervening years.

Vintage postcard of a train station in Québec
A train station in Québec. From the Geneanet Postcards collection.

A 92-year wait…

In Canada, the amended Statistics Act forbids the disclosure of personal data in the censuses until 92 years have passed, to protect the privacy of the living (with exceptions however for people who need access for pension or legal reasons). This is longer than in some other countries such as the USA (72 years) and France (75 years). The counter has just passed for the 1931 nationwide census, which was released on June 1!

That said, genealogists know that the release of a census does not mean a fully-indexed, name-searchable database is available at the same time. The images are available, but these forms filled out by hand (nearly a quarter of a million for the 1931 census!) need to be transcribed in order to be searchable.

Library and Archives Canada received 187 microfilm reels from Statistics Canada and these have been digitized and sorted by province, district, and sub-district. If you have a good idea where your people were, you can browse pages by these location criteria right now!

1931 census map of Canada showing population densities of counties
This map shows at a glance the population centers in the south of the eastern provinces. Library and Archives Canada.

Indexing the images

More than 10 million people were counted in 1931, an 18% increase over 1921. LAC has partnered with and FamilySearch to index the images. Note that there are no plans at this time to publish this collection at Geneanet.

Within 24 hours of the release, Ancestry’s AI handwriting recognition system — fresh from last year’s processing of the enormous 1950 US census — created a basic index. It’s imperfect for now, but it’s far better than no index at all. Since that first day less than a month ago, reviewers are correcting page by page; the completely updated index will be ready in the weeks to come this summer. Visit this LAC page to check the progress of the indexing.

1931 census aggregate data on one page
This summary table shows aggregate data of great interest to sociologists, historians, and genealogists. Library and Archives Canada.

Searching the 1931 census by name

So — it’s possible to browse the images by census district and sub-district, but of course it’s far faster to search indexed census returns by name. If you have an Ancestry account, just log in and click on this link: Or, search Ancestry’s Card Catalogue with “1931 census“.

No Ancestry account? It is possible to open a free limited account, or to sign up for a free trial, or to use Ancestry Library at a library or Ancestry Institution at an archive or FamilySearch Center. Access to this collection is free.

Vintage postcard of Le Bic in the Bas-St-Laurent, Québec
Le Bic in the Bas-St-Laurent, Québec. From the Geneanet Postcards collection.

English? Français ?

When searching, do keep in mind that although most place names and keywords will work in English, some may work better in French. Also, remember that the population was counted on a permanent-address (sometimes called de jure) basis, so don’t look for students or seasonal workers away from home! Not finding your folk? Use the neighbor trick — if you have your people in the 1921 census, but can’t locate them in the 1931 when you suspect they hadn’t moved, find some neighbors from the previous census (with an easy-to-spell name), then search for them in the newer one. Voilà, you may have a shortcut to your family, who were perhaps not transcribed as well!

Finally, as always use census searches in tandem with other documents that will have addresses such as birth, marriage, and death certificates. And for cities, try to locate a city directory or telephone book!

1 comment

I wish to know now that geneanet has been purchased by ancestry canada that , as a geneanet premuum member, I will have free access to the 1931 census sata which you say I can access on if I have a paid account?

Answer from Geneanet: What we are saying is that you do not need a paid account at Ancestry to view the 1931 census. It is possible to create a free account at Ancestry and ignore the following screens with the paid options (this is not simple however). Once you get past those, the link to the 1931 census in our article will take you to it. Note that the AI index online as of this date is quite imperfect. When the index is corrected and completed by the human reviewers at FamilySearch, it will be published free by LAC on their Census Search page; visit this page over the summer to check the progress.

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