This page provides general instructions on researching a person's employment, including those who were self-employed.
Genealogists often search for employment records expecting to find personnel files filled with background details about their ancestor. That is seldom the case, for these reasons:
- Compiling employee files was not common in the past.
- Often, the only staff records were payrolls that listed names, number of days worked and the amount paid.
- Old records were often disposed of rather than archived.
- Some individuals worked as contract employees.
- Many people worked for themselves, such as farmers and merchants.
On this page
Before you start
Gather information such as:
- approximate year of birth
- place of residence
If you do not know your ancestor’s occupation, here are some sources than can help.
Places to look
The only records for some occupations and professions are lists created by local authorities or applications, licences and certificates. We hold a variety of these types of records.
1. Archival sources
You can search these two collections
- Applications for commission as notaries and advocates, Quebec, 1740-1852 (RG4-B8, volumes 1 to 28, microfilm H-1410 to H-1418 and H-1755)
- Applications for liquor licenses, Yukon, 1898-1901 (RG91-B-2, microfilm M-2883).
- For information about the records, read the "Scope and content" section of the
series description. To find out if there is a file for a particular person, use
Collection Search. In the search box, enter the keywords RG91, liquor and a surname.
There are also some files in federal government records. Here are two examples:
To search for these types of files, use
Collection Search. Select the
Collections and fonds database and enter keywords such as a
type of work or
The names in these records are not indexed in Collection Search:
- Lists of bakers, pedlars and carters, Quebec, 1780, 509 pages (MG8-C9, volume 1)
- Carters names and residences, Montreal, 1840 (RG4-B14, volume 37)
- Register of Coroners, Quebec, 1853-1855 (RG4-B26, volume 6)
- Roll of oaths of office and allegiance, advocates, notaries and other legal officers, Quebec, 1791-1841 (RG1- E11, volumes 7 and 9)
- Civil Secretary and Provincial Secretary, applications for licences, bonds and certificates (RG4-B28)
- licences for inns, taverns, pedlars, billiard table keepers, etc., 1765-1848 (volumes 1 to 8)
- applications for licences as auctioneers, 1805-1853 (volumes 10 and 11)
- licences, bonds, applications, etc. for cullers of lumber, timber and staves, 1808-1846 (volumes 12 to 23)
- applications for licences to keep billiard tables, 1802-1838 (volume 57)
- licences to operate ferries, 1841 and 1846 (volume 58)
- licences, applications, bonds, etc. to operate taverns, 1766-1847 (volumes 59 to 101)
- licences and applications to trade as pedlars, 1796-1845 (volumes 116 to 119)
- applications for licences to sell liquors from and to shops, 1765-1848 (volumes 120 to 128)
- Upper Canada and Canada West: Civil Secretary and Provincial Secretary, records relating to the issuance of licences (RG5-B9)
- correspondence, accounts and returns of licences issued to auctioneers, 1819-1838, 1846-1853 (volume 1)
- Provincial Land Surveyors, bonds and certificates, 1843-1867 (volumes 45 to 47)
- correspondence and returns of licences issued to hawkers and pedlars, 1807-1835 (volumes 51 and 52)
- correspondence and returns of licences for shops, taverns and stills, 1801-1846 (volumes 53 to 60)
- licences - taverns, stills, shopkeepers and innkeepers, 1817-1852 (RG68, volume 215,
Liber A, microfilm C-3948
- petitions and applications for appointment as notaries public, 1844-1847 (RG5-B17, volume 1)
2. Published sources
Many professions are regulated by provincial organizations or operate voluntary associations. They often publish directories of members, annual reports and other material that include information about members. You can find many of these in our
Aurora catalogue by searching by type of employment or occupation. Other keywords to try are association, directory, society, members, list. Here are some examples:
Many of these types of publications are digitized on
Canadiana. Here are some examples that include names of individuals:
Access the records
If you find a record of interest, there may be a digital image. Some of these are available through Collection Search. Others, specifically some digitized microfilms, are available through
For records that are not digitized, you will need to
see them in person. If you cannot visit us in person, you may want to
order copies or
hire a researcher.
Provincial and territorial archives and other Canadian archives hold records relating to employment. There are also occupational and professional associations that may have information about past members.
Research guides and other resources
|Title||Guide description||Topic||Sub-topic||Type of guide|
|Private companies||Limited resources relating to employment at private companies are available at LAC. Find out what we have in this guide.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|
|Public service ||Information on records relating to employees of the federal government is available here.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|
|Employment records||General instructions on researching a person's employment, including those who were self-employed.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|
|Pension records||Pension records can include where a person worked, what they did and where they lived later in life.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|
|Clergy||Research members of the clergy in LAC sources. Most of these sources relate to Christian clergy.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|
|Police||See documents about members of the Dominion Police, military police, provincial and other police forces ||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|
|North West Mounted Police||Information about members of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP), Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|
|Fur trade||Find resources about ancestors that participated in the fur trade.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|
|Railway Employees (Employees Provident Fund)||The Employees Provident Fund was a pension fund for employees Railway Employees (Employees Provident Fund) who retired after long service due to old age or injuries on the job.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Database|
|North West Mounted Police (NWMP) - Personnel Records, 1873-1904 ||Search for names of individuals who served with the NWMP and Dominion Police.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Database|
|Teachers||Since education is a provincial and territorial responsibility, LAC holds limited employment records for teachers.||Genealogy and family history||Employment||Subject guide|