Ancestry Canada
CanGenealogy Canadian Genealogy 1931 census research tips
Get ready to dig into the census! Here are a few tips and tricks that might help you have successes before the census is indexed by name.

The story of the census | What was asked | CanGenealogy main page

Updated June 11

The census was opened for research on June 1, 2023 and is available to browse on the Library and Archives Canada website and for searching by name at Ancestry Canada.

The index is preliminary. Plans call for it to be fully indexed by Ancestry and FamilySearch by the end of the summer.

More information on the indexing plans will be found on the Preparing the 1931 Census page on the Library and Archives Canada website.

General search tips for the LAC site are available.

Ancestry offers a variety of ways to improve your search success:

Default Last Name Settings in Ancestry

When you use default settings, we look through every last name we have recorded in our more than 29,000 data collections, and pull out any record where the last name is:
Exactly what you typed
A phonetic algorithm match of what you typed
A similar meaning or spelling to the one you typed
These records are also evaluated against the other criteria that you enter, and are ordered based on how well all the elements in that record match your search. Ancestry no longer include Soundex matches on your default searches.

Last Name Search Options on Ancestry

Exact Matches: Records that contain a last name that is exactly what you typed in will appear in your results.

Soundex Variations: Soundex is a common algorithm used to generate alternate spellings of a surname. If you choose this option, any record that contains one of the Soundex variations for a surname might appear in your results.

Phonetic Variations: There are other name matching algorithms that we can use to help identify records to consider for your results. If you choose phonetic, we will identify appropriate algorithms that apply to specific data collections and if a record has one of those names, we will use it as a possible record for your results set. For example, if you are prioritizing Jewish Collections first, we would choose the Daitch-Mokotoff phonetic algorithm.

Similar Variations: There are alternates and spelling variations that are commonly used such as Hashe for Hash. If you choose this option we will look for records with these alternates and consider them as possible results for you to look at.

Other Ancestry tips you might find useful

Wildcards: You can also use the wildcards * and ? in your name searches. * (or asterisk) will match any number of characters and ? will match only one character. You may use the * and ? anywhere in your search, but you must have at least 3 letters. So *own is a legal search, but *wn is not. You might try searching for Smith as Sm?th, which would match Smith or Smyth, or you might try Sm?th*, which would also match Smythe.

You can use wild cards with exact matches. If you choose the Soundex, phonetic or similar options and use wild cards, then we will only apply the wild cards to the exact matches.

If you are searching for the name Williams, and would like to use wildcards and some of the other search options, you could try: Wil*am*, Williams.

General information

The most important tool might be a map of your area of interest.

Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces have counties, which are fixed political divisions, so it should be easy to find locations. If you are looking for a very small community, it would pay to have a map to tell you which larger community is close by.

The four western provinces were divided for statistical purposes into "census divisions" and "census subdivisions." They were laid out so that as population increased in subsequent census enumerations, they could be subdivided without destroying the means of comparing the variations in population.

How do you find out where a person might have been? Check the 1921 census (or 1926 on the Prairies). Check digitized newspapers and vital statistics. Check city directories. In some cases, the naturalization index on the LAC website might give you a location.

If your person of interest was probably in the same location as in the 1921 census, check that census for the names or numbers of the division and subdivision where the people were. Some of these references were used again in 1931, but if not, there are other clues, such as ward numbers in cities, or the way the subdivisions are organized.

If they were in a village, town or city, check the table of municipalities, townships or other subdivisions from the second volume of the Census of Canada 1931 population summary. Wait for the PDF to load -- it's 970 pages, so it takes a minute. Go to page 182 in the digital file, which gives you page 164 of the report. That is the start of Table 21, which provides a list of placenames by district or division. Search for the one you want. With luck, that will give you the county or census division -- at least in Ontario and points east.

The numbered census divisons in printed reports for the the four western provinces do not match the named divisions in the census itself. Coverage areas are often note the same. Winnipeg, for example, is in one census division, according to the printed reports. In the census itself, it is split into four divisions, with St. Boniface in a fifth one.

The Districts and Sub-districts: Census of the Prairie Provinces, 1926 page on the LAC site will help you narrow down what you are looking for in the 1931 census. The numbers of subdivisions might be different in 1931, but they seem to follow the same general order, so if your area was the last subdivision in 1926, odds are it will be last in 1931, although the number might be different.

There are other ways to determine locations, but Table 21 appears to be one of best for finding locations in all nine provinces. The Government of Canada published several volumes of information drawn from the census. They do not have names of individuals, but can make for fascinating reading. And yes, they are available online.

But what if your ancestral community was so small that it was grouped in with several others?

A superb mapping project called Scholars GeoPortal will help with localities large and small. Click on the blue button, on the upper left, that says "ADD -- 0/2" to go to the Downloads page. Click "Add" for Census Divisions and Census Subdivisions, and they will appear on the map. In the upper left, pick "Place or Address," enter your location of interest in the box below, and hit the search button.

Choices for the location will appear; pick the one you want and hit zoom, and the map will show your place.

When you click on your specific location, the area will turn yellow and a window will pop up. Four lines in that window have information for you. CDNAME will give you the division name or number, and CSDNAME will give you the subdivision name. CD_NO is another division number, which you probably won't need, and CSD_NO is the subdivision number, which you might need. Use this information in searching the census.

NOTE: Odds are that Scholars GeoPortal will not help in Western Canada. Sorry.

In rural areas, it can be quite easy to find people once you narrow down the location. There aren't many people to go through. Just work through the census pages, one by one.

What about cities? All those people! Use whatever clues you can to make your search easier. If the census refers to a ward within a city, try to find a ward map from the 1930s. (Of course, you have a map with you -- right?)

With that map in hand, look at one of the first subdivisions listed for the part of city that you think you need. Are the addresses shown close to your address of interest? If not, jump ahead to see if you can get closer. It's trial and error, but trial and error works. Once you are close to your area, take smaller jumps until you think you are in the right spot. Then, check page by page.

Here is a trick to make that jumping easier. On the LAC 1931 census, get to the first page of a subdivision, and then click on the little "i" on the right side. That will give you more information. Copy the 10-digit Ecopy number. Then, to the census images (this example is from East York, but that doesn't matter) and use the Ecopy number you just grabbed to overwrite the one here. Hit enter, and with luck, you will get to the image for your place of interest.

Check to see if you are close to your street of interest. If you are, increase that Ecopy number by 10 -- just edit the line in your browser bar. If you are a long way from the street you want, increase it by 100. It's trial and error, but it can help you zero in on the neighbourhood that matters to you. Once you are within a few streets, note the subdivision that you are in, then use the Ancestry site to work through the pages one by one. (The raw image way is faster for large jumps, but Ancestry is better for more precise work.)

The story of the census | What was asked | CanGenealogy main page

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