Have you used Ancestry.com to help get Canadian census records

+10 votes
There is a free-access data base for Canadian census at www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx but you must be precise while accessing it. If you put Herbert when the db erroneously has Herben, or if you enter Fairchild when the data base has Fairchilds, you will not find a match. However, if you have Ancestry.ca available (remember family history centers and some libraries will have it for your free use), you can look up the person in question in Ancestry and transpose the surname, first name and age to the search criterea in the govenrment data base. It works; it is fast; you can take the web address of the canadian census page and everyone can read it on your WikiTree page because there is unrestricted (and free) access to the government site. Good hunting.
in WikiTree Help by Fairch Fairchild G2G3 (3.0k points)
I quite often do the same thing - it's apparent that LAC uses the indexing done by Ancestry- so considering how awful transcription errors can be, sometimes it's a great way to approach (plus, cause I'm lazy, I can get a list of all members in the household since LAC doesn't give you that). But it sure is nice to provide a direct link to an image that is free for anyone to use.
What I do to get records for a whole family is take the information from one members' profile, and then do another search, using the last name (as LAC has transcribed it), province, region, district, sub-district (if one is listed) and page number. That usually gives me just that family (unless someone else with the same last name is also on that page).
BAC-LAC doesn't use the indexing done by Ancestry, and does provide the family listing in full, you can consult them in PDF format when you are searching.

Sometimes the names get mangled by census takers, which puts an additional hurdle on finding them.  Not everyone has Ancestry subscription.  I believe FamilySearch has links also.
Also note that wildcards work on BAC-LAC, it makes up, (a bit)  for the transcription errors.

4 Answers

+8 votes

Okay, granted, I'm ¼ Scottish (give or take), so I'm not fond of spending money for anything I can get for free, but I especially dislike sites which get the holders of public information (like census results) to sign exclusivity agreements, so that they can put that public information behind a paywall. As I put it to a friend of mine a while ago, "Why should these guys have the right to hold my family for ransom? Okay, okay, not my actual family, but their information." But I have a particular grudge against Ancestry in particular.

Maybe it's because I've been using the LAC site for so long, but I've learned all kinds of tricks (not just wildcard searches, but narrowing down, sometimes right to the census tract, search by age, and so on) to get LAC to cough up the results, even when there are typos. (And the LAC staff probably dread hearing from me about those typos.)

And, again, probably because I've been frustrated by Ancestry's search engine so many times that I don't even try using it anymore, but I can never get it to work. When Ancestry had an exclusive on the 1921 census results, I could not find my grandfather and his family, even though I knew, not only the city where they were living at the time, but right down to the street address. Once the 1921 census results were finally made available on the LAC site, I found them on the first try.

Plus, it annoys me when people think that putting "Ancestry.com" counts as a source. (I want to write back, "That's not a source. That's an advertisement. At least put in the link to the document you're looking at, for the benefit of other people who use Ancestry." but I don't. Even if I can't actually be a nice guy, I feel that it's important to maintain the illusion.) 

So, if Ancestry works for you, then fine. But I will never be a fan.

by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (713k points)
+7 votes

I love the Archives site for Censuses too... I have been culling records  there non-stop!

But I agree it is frustrating at times to try to find the people you JUST KNOW ARE THERE!!

Ancestry *used* to have a good search function and now... well not so much. I don't know what they did but it's terrible.

So, use wildcards (like sam* if you want samuel) at Family Search or for the Archives.

Or try Automated Genealogy, they have a couple Censuses on their site.

by Christine Daniels G2G6 Pilot (175k points)
Oh, yeah. Wildcards are essential. Even when they spelled the last name right, those enumerators just loved to use "Jas" or "Robt" or "Wm" instead of spelling out the name.
+8 votes
You can use wildcards on the LAC site so putting in Fair* or Fairch* will bring back everything that starts with those letters.  You can put the * at the front also *child. A star stands for multiple characters.
by Gaelynn Wall G2G1 (1.2k points)
Wildcards work quite well. I also sometimes use FamilySearch to search Library and Archives Canada records since the search works differently. I've also found some records missing at BAC but available on Ancestry and the other way around. You sometimes need to search on multiple search engines to get them all.
+5 votes
You should go directly to Library and Archives Canada's website for detail information on all census records.
by George Churchill G2G6 Pilot (101k points)
Having entered several profiles since I originally asked the question,  I cannot fully support your suggestion. Look to BAC-LAC first, by all means but when you have problems, I believe that other ways should be considered. Since most of us have access to a library or historical society where we can access Ancestry at no cost, it can be a very useful tool to FIND our family members. I recently had trouble finding a Garneau family member because in BAC-LAC the name was transcribed as Gaman but Ancestry found it. It also amazed me how ofter people change their 'first' names. However, once the census records are found elsewhere, I believe one should note the details such as name, district, sub-district and you should be able to access them in BAC-LAC. Then enter the source in WikiTree by citing the BAC-LAC records.
As others have noted, another helpful tip for searching LAC census records is to use the wildcard option. That's an asterisk ie. Ma* gets you Mary, Marie, Mary Ann, etc.

The keyword and advanced search options are also helpful.

Nothing wrong with starting at Ancestry.com or FamilySearch and then going to LAC once you have a better idea of what you are looking for.

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