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Ancestry.ca releases census data from 1921 online

A sample census card from 1921. ANCESTRY.CA.

On June 1, 1921, 241 commissioners and 11,425 cataloguers set out to conduct a comprehensive Canada-wide census. In addition to being the first census since the First World War (and the sixth comprehensive census since the 1867 Confederation), the decennial census schedule meant the 1921 census was to be the only one conducted in the country throughout the interwar years.

Ninety-two years and three months later, the 1921 Census is, for the first time ever, fully indexed and searchable online.

To celebrate the milestone, Ancestry.ca, the genealogy site hosting the census data, held a launch party last Tuesday in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District.

“Census data in Canada only gets released to Library and Archives Canada after 92 years and only then becomes available for public consumption and research,” explains Lesley Anderson, a genealogist with Ancestry.ca. “The release of the 1921 census is just a treasure trove for researchers. There is so much rich detail.”

While the Census was first released to Ancestry.ca by Library and Archives Canada this past August, users and researchers wanting to access the data were only able to look through digitalized photographs of the documents.

“Until a few weeks ago, if you wanted to look at the 1921 census data, you had to do it the old-fashioned way–the way people used to have to do with microfilm—you had to go image by image, page by page on our website,” says Anderson. “So unless you knew what you were looking for it could be very time-consuming.”

“But we sent the images off to our indexers [a company archives.com regularly contracts out to] who spent countless hours making the indexes searchable,” says Anderson.

Now anyone with internet access anywhere in Canada can access the data and using keyword searches to bring up information on their families, neighbourhoods, and towns within seconds. As per an agreement with Library and Archives Canada, the information will remain completely free for a minimum of three years.

Last Tuesday’s launch party at the Distillery District—which involved a keynote talk about the data’s significance by University of Toronto social historian Kevin James–celebrated what Anderson describes as a “huge moment” for historians, genealogists, and just about anyone who wants to track their family history in Canada in the 1920s.

“This was the first census after the First World War and after a large wave of immigration was encouraged by the government to come and settle in Canada. It was also a time of political and social change in Canada, women were getting rights and the first time two Canadian cities–Montreal and Toronto–reached the half million mark.”

“Now that we have this census data we can look at other records like passenger lists and find out who was actually coming to Canada by ship or by rail and when they arrived. We also find how much money they made, if they were renting their house or owning their house. When they became citizens. What their occupation was. And more.”

“It gives a real snap shot of Canada at the time and a real sense of the social history.”

Among other search terms, visitors to ancestry.ca can search the census by place (including township or street address), first name, last name and date of birth.

This article first appeared on Yonge Street Media.ca.