Public service

Find available resources for researching people who worked for the Canadian government.

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Before you start

Gather information such as:

  • name
  • approximate date and place of birth
  • where the person lived and worked
  • type of work. For example:
    • clerk
    • inspector
    • lighthouse keeper
    • engineer
    • paymaster

If you do not know those details, here are some sources than can help.

Places to look

Personnel files up to 2015

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) hold the files of former federal government public servants, also known as civil servants. These records contain information about the individual's employment history.

Files are kept for 80 years from after the person’s date of birth. After 80 years, the files are destroyed. For the files that exist, there is no online database.

Only a small sample of historical personnel files were kept for former employees born more than 80 years ago. The files in this collection relate only to people who were born before 1921 and who left government service before 1986 (RG32).

To see if there is a historical file for a particular person, use Collection Search.

  • Select Collections and fonds and enter "RG32" and a name in the search box.
  • If you find a reference, you will see the volume and file number. The file number is the person’s date of birth, which lets you know if the file is for the right person.

These records are restricted for privacy reasons. To access them, submit a request using the ATIP tool.

  • Include the person’s name and date of birth in your request and any other relevant details about their government employment
  • For historical files, include this additional information: RG32, volume number and file number.

Personnel files after 2015

If you are looking for a copy of your own file, note that LAC only has the files for people who retired before 2016. After that, the files are with the last department where you worked.

Department of Finance, Civil service personnel records, 1843-1923

These three sub-series in RG19 contain registers and lists relating to pay and dates of employment. Some also include dates of birth.

In each of these sub-series, click on Scope and content for a description of the records. Then click on View lower level descriptions to see what years are included in each volume.

Orders-in-Council, July 1, 1867 to 1924

Some public servants were appointed by a government Order-in-Council (OIC). Here is an example:

Marine and Fisheries - Recommending appointment of Pierre Godier as lighthouse keeper at Forteau, Strait of Belle Isle, 1869

You can search for OICs in Collection Search.

  • Click Advanced search
  • In Database, select Orders-in-Council
  • In All these words, enter a person’s name and the keyword appointment (optional)

Civil Service List of Canada, 1883 to 1918

These annual publications include information about civil servants, such as date of birth, date of appointment, salary and position or rank. The lists are arranged by department. For most years, there is an index of names at the back of the book.

  • Digitized copies are available on the free websites Canadiana and Internet Archive.
  • The lists are searchable by name on Ancestry. That subscription website is available free at LAC and many public libraries.

Before 1883, there was only this list, published in 1872:

Return shewing the names, origin, creed, position and pay of all the employes of the Dominion government.

After 1918, the lists were no longer published.

Other records

We hold a variety of other records that relate to public servants.

Quebec, Lower Canada, Upper Canada and Canada: Civil Service Records, 1764-1874 (RG4-B33, volumes 1 to 23)

This series includes applications for employment, examinations and returns (lists) of the Civil Establishment (government employees). The Finding Aid gives the contents and years contained in each volume.

Upper Canada and Canada West: Applications for Appointments to Public Office, 1803-1876 (RG5-B7, volumes 1 to 14, and 22)

This series includes records such as letters of application and recommendation. The Finding Aid gives the contents and years contained in each volume.

Access the records

For records that are not digitized and not restricted, you'll need to see them in person. If you can't visit us in person, you can order copies or hire a researcher.

Related resources

Your ancestor may have worked for a municipal, county, provincial or territorial government. If those governments kept old employment files, they are likely found in the relevant archives in that place.