The Return Of The Long-Form Census In Canada For 2016: My Quick Take Editorial

There is much happiness in the land of academia, urban planning, social development among many sectors who have expressed strong opposition to the rather silly, voluntary National Household Survey that posed as the Census of Canada in 2011.

Today, the Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Development alongside the Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development announced that the new Canadian government, sworn in just yesterday, was returning the mandatory long-form census for 2016.

There is a strong case to be made for quickly fulfilling this election campaign promise. The change reuired no legislation to be passed and the mandatory census simply produces better data. As my children can attest, I believe that better information produces better decisions. The voluntary census of 2011 resulted in a 77.2% response rate, meaning that more than 20% of all Canadians in that year were not included. This is particularly troublesome for smaller communities and the vulnerable in our society. How can you know where needs exist if more than one-fifth of the population is not surveyed. How can businesses complete reliable forecasts.

“Statistics Canada has always stated that a mandatory survey will inevitably produce data of better overall quality than a voluntary survey of the same size, all other things being equal.” (Wayne R. Smith, Chief Statistician of Canada: 4 June 2015) By comparison to the poor 2011 response rate, the mandatory census survey of 2006 produced a response rate of 93.8%. There is still work to be done to get that number to 100% but ‘better information produces better decisions.’

Genealogists may also be happy with the return of the long-form census but I’m not so quick to jump on that bandwagon. While there will be plenty of statistical data churned and disseminated by StatsCan following completion of the 2016 returns, genealogists will not be able to access the census information until 2108!

In Canada, there is a belief that withholding the rather generic information gathered in a census form for a period of 92 years protects the privacy of the individuals who provided the information. Following the current rules, sometime in 2053, the Canadian government will release the first census in which I will appear, the census of 1961. That census will likely make public that I was 6-years old and attending school. Not quite earth shattering news and certainly not anything that anyone could have guessed. All that information from a form that was not even completed by a family member for in those long ago days, enumerators were hired to go door-to-door, ask the required questions, and complete the forms with the answers received, or at least the answers they thought they heard.

I’m not suggesting or advocating for immediate census access. The risk of identity theft, however real or perceived, does exist. There is a good case to be made for a reasonable amount of privacy. But why 92 years? In the United States, the census is released after a period of 72 years. Why the difference? I know from an historic perspective, reasons can be given about the context in which different governments in certain times decided that these were the best and safest timeframes. The reality is that identity theft and fraud are not new, 21st century crimes.

So, I simply question the current lengthy delay in releasing these public records. Why look at this question now? Well, as newly-minted Prime Minster Justin Trudeau replied yesterday to a question on gender equality in Cabinet, “Because it’s 2015.”

On the other hand, if someone in 2053 wants to pretend to be 98-year old me, have fun with it.

Finding A Family Hero – An Obscure Canadian Database You Might Not Have Used But Should

Canada, like many countries, presents honours and awards to its citizens as a way of paying tribute to acts of bravery and achievements that benefit the country and humanity.

In Canada, national honours and awards are presented by the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General. The Governor-General’s website ( states “Each year, hundreds of Canadians earn our applause and gratitude: from community volunteers to astronauts, from actors to members of the military, from scholars to everyday citizens. Our Canadian Honours System gives them the opportunity to join an order or to be granted a decoration or a medal in recognition for their tremendous contributions to our society.”

Most importantly for genealogists, the Governor General’s website offers a searchable database and you might just be surprised to find a relative or ancestor who received a national honour or award.

For example, one of my maternal uncles, my mother’s younger brother, recounted for me a trip he made to Ottawa, Ontario to receive a medal many years ago. He was told that a car and a driver would be taking him to the medal ceremony. However, being stubbornly independent, perhaps a family trait that I share, he decided to drive himself in his car to the ceremony. He, of course, got lost, not having any real familiarity with the city of Ottawa. Eventually he made it, just in time, to the event venue, Rideau Hall, the official residence of the Governor General of Canada.

When I searched the Governor General database, here is what I found:

O'NEILL William 'Bill' medal of bravery 1977

Uncle Bill was honoured in 1977 as a hero for stopping on a highway, north-west of Toronto, and saving a man from a burning truck. I was a newlywed at the time of the incident and so was possibly a bit distracted when my mother, as I vaguely recall, told me about the actions of her brother. My mother had a great fondness for her little brother and was extremely proud of his act of heroism. But I never heard about the national honour and recognition. Now, with the aid of the Governor General’s website, I know the story!

British Columbia, Canada Showing The Way With Free Online Records

Searching for many of my Canadian ancestors has been facilitated by them having lived for many generations in the province of Ontario. Records in Ontario for births, marriages, and deaths have been available through the Ancestry site. The Ontario records are indexed and there are digital images available of the records that can be saved on a personal computer. But, it is not free. Access to these records requires a subscription to the Ancestry site.

There are some means that can be used to obtain the same records for free but none of those opportunities mean staying at home. You could visit the Archives of Ontario or a Family History Centre to search through microfilm reels and print copies of the records you want, or perhaps your local public library has an institutional subscription to Ancestry, allowing you to find the records and save them to a USB key. Those research trips can be fun but still are not free with the cost of transportation and most importantly, time.

The province of British Columbia (B.C.) however, is leading the way by becoming the first Canadian jurisdiction I am aware of to post their vital records online and for FREE! As was reported by Dick Eastman on December 2nd, B.C. has posted more than 700,000 digital images attached to their fully indexed vital records.

My research has been halted, or at least slowed at times by what seems to be the inevitable migration of families to the west. So for example, a family living in Ontario during the latter half of the 19th century is attracted to and leaves Ontario for the chance at greater prosperity, often with free land awaiting, in the Canadian prairies. Eventually, family members venture a little further west into Alberta and B.C. That is certainly the migration pattern that I have seen with my wife Ellen’s family.

I’ll use Ellen’s paternal grandfather, Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner (pictured to the right) to illustrate this point. Louis was born in Ontario in 1886 but by the early part of the 20th century, Louis had moved to Saskatchewan where he married Ellen’s grandmother, Charlotte (‘Lottie’) Faulkner in 1912. By the end of his life, Louis was in B.C., living near his son Gordon in Comox on Vancouver Island, where he died in 1968.

BC has made available their records for births (1854 – 1903), marriages (1872 – 1936), deaths (1872 – 1991), colonial marriages (1859 – 1872), and baptisms (1836 – 1888). The records, as stated, are indexed and can be searched using a basic search or advanced search screen.

Here is what the search result looked like when I searched for Louis Wagner’s death record.

In addition to basic data being provided in the listing such as gender, age, date and location of event, the listing includes a link to the digital image of Louis’ death certificate. Louis’ death certificate is typed so it is easy to read with the exception of the attending doctor’s certification as to cause of death which is hand written and may be difficult to decipher.

With this record (and several others for other family members in both my family and Ellen’s), I was able to enter additional facts with source citations included in my RootsMagic database and attach the record digital images to the events that each supported.

I’m hoping more Canadian provinces follow the lead of BC in making these records available and easy to access. As a Canadian researcher, life would be so much better.

Memories Enjoyed With Canada Voters Lists, 1935 – 1980

An email from Ancestry caught my attention this morning. announced the release of a new ‘Canada, Voters Lists, 1935 – 1980’ database. The database is fully indexed with images from the fifteen Canadian federal elections that are occurred between 1935 – 1980.

As Ancestry’s email announcement points out, the voters lists provide a valuable substitute to census records (that, frankly under Canadian laws, I may not live long enough to see many released). The voters lists contain the names, addresses and occupations of all those who were enumerated prior to each election.

I couldn’t resist searching for myself in the latter years of the available voters lists. There I was listed on the 1974 voters list, the first federal election in which I was eligible to vote with the election being held on July 8, 1974, living at my parental home, with the occupation of ‘student’ beside my name. As the voters lists are based on address, it is a real trip down memory lane as I recalled the families who lived in the neighbourhood around my parent’s home. Some I had gone to school with, others were hockey teammates; all brought back memories of a time that seems so long ago.

While searching for the ‘Hadden’ surname in the database, I was able to track the residences of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a few cousins. 

Of special interest was the 1945 voters list showing my mother’s parents living at 189 Pickering Street in Toronto. This house became my parent’s home and it is where I was raised until the age of nine. What made this special though was seeing who the neighbours were. Right next door to my mother’s family was the Doody family at 187 Pickering Street, as can be seen in the snippet view below. Mr. and Mrs. Leo Doody are the grandparent’s of my sister’s husband. My mother had always told us, to our amazement, that the grandchildren of next door neighbours would marry many years later. Now I have the record showing it to be true.

As a side note, on that same 1945 voters list, living at 205 Pickering Street were Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Perkins. What is notable about this is that Mr. and Mrs. Perkins had two sons whom attended St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto. Johnny and Ray Perkins, childhood and young adult friends of my parents, joined with two other choir school friends to form a singing group that gained fame as ‘The Crewcuts,’ recording chart topping hits like “Sh-Boom.” 

I now have find the many other members of my family in these records and then, of course, it will be necessary to start tracking the whereabouts of Ellen’s many family members across the country.

Young Louis Henry Wagner

Louis Henry Wagner began a diary, really a set of what turned out to be four leather-bound diaries, when he was 15 years old. The diaries document some of the milestones, good and bad, that occurred in his life. The diaries are important records of the events in the Wagner and Breithaupt families during the latter half of the 19th century as well as providing an interesting perspective on the life of a young man living in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, Canada during that pre-cable television, pre-video game era.

Louis began his diaries on December 15, 1872. His accounts of life at that time are filled with church services that were clearly at the centre of the family’s life, completing a range of chores and errands like “fetching” hides for the Breithaupt’s Eagle Tannery or loads of hen dung for use as fertilizer, and fishing with his cousins. Christmas 1872 is described as a time of for church services in the morning and the evening. In between, the family “had a splendid turkey for dinner.” Louis received a ‘cravat’ from his mother Margaret (Hailer) Bean (previously Wagner) and her sister “Aunt [Catherine (nee Hailer)] Breithaupt (pictured above right in 1907).” In addition, he received 25 cents from “Grandmother Breithaupt” [Barbara Catharina Goetze].

Louis was born in Grove, New York, USA in 1857. When he was only one year old, his father Jacob died, just a couple of months after moving the family to Berlin, Ontario. Louis’ mother, Margaret re-married in 1862, shortly after Louis’ fifth birthday. Interestingly, among all of his recording of the family member visits to his home and trips being taken by family members to neighbouring towns and villages to visit relatives, Louis always refers to his mother’s second husband, Daniel Bean, as “Mr. Bean” and never references him as his step-father. While I can’t assume that there were any problems between Louis and Daniel Bean, the references don’t suggest to me a close relationship.

By the time Louis had begun his diaries he was living with the Breithaupt family, his Uncle Louis Breithaupt and Aunt Catherine along with their children, Louis’ cousins. It is clear from many of Louis’ early diary entries that he felt a particular affection for his Aunt Breithaupt. In early December 1872, Aunt Breithaupt gave birth to her ninth child, Catherina Louise ‘Katie’ Breithaupt. Aunt Breithaupt, as Louis consistently referred to her as, experienced a tough time recovering from the childbirth. As Louis described in his January 2, 1873 entry, “I had to go along to Preston with the teams to fetch hides today. Aunt Breithaupt was very weak this evening. Johnny [cousin John Christian Breithaupt] and I had to go and fetch Doctor Bowlby. We brought Aunt Brehler [referring to Harriet Brehler (nee Hailer)] along out. When we came home Aunt Breithaupt had given them all a farewell in this world, she thought she had to die, but she got better again.”

In addition to describing the gradual recovery to good health of Aunt Breithaupt, Louis left behind a record of weather reports for his southern Ontario town and a unique glimpse into teenage life during a time long past.