Jun 29, 2023

New Partnership Between Findmypast and Library and Archives Canada Reveals Secrets of 1931 Census

The following is a press release written by Findmypast:

Findmypast and Library and Archives Canada mark new partnership with publication of the historic census records online for the first time

The Census offers an unprecedented glimpse into life during the Great Depression, with stories of over 10 million people ready to explore

Records reveal both the ordinary and extraordinary, including famous Canadians like First Nation activist James Gladstone and first female Senator Cairine Wilson

New partnership will see thousands of Canadian family records regularly published to the site, offering key connective data to build global family trees

Findmypast and Library and Archives Canada (LAC) today announce a new partnership as they bring the long-awaited 1931 Canadian Census to family history researchers around the world.

The 1931 Canadian Census, published initially by LAC on 1 June, is a remarkable snapshot in time, capturing the experiences of millions of individuals and families during one of the most challenging periods in Canadian history. With records containing details that shed light on socio-economic status, education, occupation, and religious affiliations, researchers can delve into the lives of their ancestors and gain a deeper understanding of their experiences during this transformative era.

The new online collection on Findmypast will supplement their comprehensive census data from across the Commonweath and include 234,678 digital images of census returns to browse by district and sub-district, alongside 13,000 Census reports – statistical information published by the government offering insights into the data.

Under this new partnership, Canadian family history records will be published on an ongoing and regular basis to Findmypast. Records will include migration, military, and institutional data that will open up a wealth of opportunities for family history enthusiasts on both sides of the pond. With access to Findmypast, millions of people from Canada and the UK will be able to trace their ancestors with greater ease, bridging the gaps in their family narratives and connecting with their roots.

Jen Baldwin, Research Specialist and North American Content Manager at Findmypast, says:

We are delighted to mark the start of such an exciting new partnership by publishing this remarkable collection of 1931 Canadian Census records online. The effects of the First World War were being keenly felt during this period, and these stories of upheaval and survival are reflected in these records, just waiting to be explored. We’ve got an exciting upcoming programme of records to publish in partnership with LAC, increasing access to key connective data that will enable everyone to make incredible discoveries and uncover their family’s unique stories – no matter which side of the pond they’re on.”

Johanna Smith, Director General, Outreach and Engagement Branch at Library and Archives Canada, says:

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to partner with Find My Past! International partnerships like this one helps LAC promote a broader understanding of our collections and expands access for new users. LAC looks forward to building on this relationship.”

Canada during the Great Depression

The 1931 Census of Canada is a detailed population census, taken on June 1, 1931. It includes a national population of 10,376,379 people, captured across 234,678 images. It is the seventh comprehensive decennial census since confederation on July 1, 1867 and was recorded in the two official languages of Canada: English and French. At this time, 4/5ths of the population at the time noted either British or French heritage.

Taken during the Great Depression, this census offers a historical narrative of a country with massive unemployment rates, a lack of goods, failing businesses, and financial desperation. As one of the most profoundly affected countries, Canada would see an unemployment rate of 30% by 1930, which gives insight as to why the government was seeking such detail on job status in 1931. 

The Prairie Provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba) and Western Canada (British Columbia) were hit the hardest, with 2/3 of the population in rural areas relying on relief programs. Population in these areas fell below a natural replacement level and there was higher migration from the southern prairies as a direct result of the Dust Bowl conditions later in the decade.

The 1930s also saw dramatic technological advancements. Radio broadcasting was becoming a primary source of entertainment and information for many households. Radio sets were relatively affordable and accessible, leading to widespread adoption. This is the first census in which the question ‘do you have a radio in your house?’ was asked of inhabitants, revealing that there were 173,200 radio sets in Canada in 1931 – around 1 for every 60 people.

It was also revealed in people’s occupations; where Canada had been largely agrarian, the financial crash and the rise of technology saw people moving into urban centres and transition from ‘farm hand’ to ‘factory worker’. 

Also impacted by the financial crises was the question of immigration. From 1930-1931, the active government applied severe restrictions to entry into the country. New rules limited British and American subjects with money, certain classes of workers, and immediate families of the Canadian residents. A large number of unemployed immigrants were also deported. 

If you suspect your ancestor was migrating between Great Britain and Canada during this period, it is essential that you confer with records in both countries, as they could have been moving quite rapidly and even frequently. In this instance, any individual found in the 1931 Census as an immigrant to Canada within the past twenty years, from anywhere in the British Isles, should also be sought in the 1921 Census of England and Wales and the 1921 Census of Scotland, along with passenger listselectoral rolls, and newspapers.

A connected story

Experts from Findmypast have already discovered some amazing stories of both Canada’s famous faces and ordinary people. One story that stood out was of the Hartley family.

On the 10th of June, 1927, the Doric departed Liverpool for Canada. On board were several families identified as part of the “3000 Scheme,” a joint migration plan between the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom, which ultimately facilitated the migration of over 18,000 individuals between 1924 and 1930. 

The Empire Settlement Act of 1922 required that the adult male members of each family acquire “local farm experience” by accepting employment on farms in the vicinity of where they were assigned land before they were able to claim that land. The females of the family were expected to learn “to look after cows and poultry,” to further benefit their own eventual farms. 

The final location of settlement was determined by the government of Canada, but some consideration was taken for the type of farming each family wanted to pursue and their aptitude for the same. 

The average cost to the settling family was anywhere from $4000 – $5000 Canadian dollars, equivalent to approximately £800 to £1000 at the time. If they did not have the cash readily available, loans were an option, to be repaid over a period of 25 years, with 5% interest.

One such family to take advantage of this program was Raymond and Margaret Hartley, and their children, Effie and Muriel. Traveling on the Doric, they had left their home at 105 Shelley Road in Preston, UK, headed for a new opportunity. 

Clearly, their life in England had not been easy. Just six years earlier, in the 1921 Census of England and Wales, they were living in the home of Samuel Hodson and his family, at 111 Shelley Road, as boarders. Raymond was employed as an iron dresser for J Dewhurst & Sons Moor Brook Foundry, but Margaret was an out of work winder. The home they lived in had only 4 rooms, but a total of 7 individuals living there, in two families.

By the time the 1931 Census of Canada was taken, Raymond could boast owning his own home, valued at $500. While they didn’t have a radio, they had added to their family with another daughter, Myra Agnes. They were members of the Church of England and Raymond is classified as a general farmer. They were assigned land near Marquette, Manitoba.