How to begin your genealogy research

Learn search strategies, sources and tips to help with your research and create your family tree.

On this page

Before you start

Start with yourself and work backwards in time.

  • Note the information you already know.
  • Add your parents’ details, like their dates and places of birth and marriage.
  • Keep working back, one generation at a time, to grandparents, then great-grandparents and so on, based on the facts you discover.
  • Talk to everyone around you. Elders, neighbours and community members may have stories to share!
  • Find copies of birth, marriage and death records; old letters; photos; and citizenship and naturalization documents.

Places to look

Sometimes people remember things incorrectly, so you’ll want to compare what you know with the facts. Start searching historical records to make sure everything is accurate.

The most helpful sources are as follows:

Censuses

Census returns count the country's population and might have records of your ancestors. Our Census Search tool allows you to search by name, province or place.

For tips on using the search, consult our Census help pages.

Birth, marriage and death records

These records have names of people, relatives and witnesses. They can link generations and offer relevant dates, places of residence, occupations and even religious information. Search Births, Marriages and Deaths Recorded in Canada.

Land records

Your ancestors' land records can reveal valuable information about them and where they lived.

Immigration records

Discover your immigrant ancestors' arrival details and more in our Immigration records.

Military

Learn about your ancestors’ military service through their military records. You can find names, dates of service, the units in which they served and more.

Indigenous history

If your ancestor was Indigenous, use our First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation genealogy pages to guide you through your research.

Other topics

Explore more tools and information in our A-Z tools and guides or on our Genealogy and family history page.

Published sources

Search our Aurora catalogue.

Look for published sources like family history books, newspapers, magazines, genealogical society newsletters and more in Library and Archives Canada’s collection. Try keywords like:

  • “genealogy” plus a place or topic.
  • a last name and the word “family”.
  • “registers” along with a place.

Search tips

There are many tips and tricks that you can use to make your genealogical research a little easier.

General

  • Start with the easiest branch of your family tree. If you’re stuck, switch to another.
  • Don’t forget about non-blood related relatives like spouses, adopted relatives, or honorary relatives.
  • Focus on events such as baptisms, wars or large-scale migrations.
  • Note that sometimes details such as dates are incorrect due to human error.
  • Check both online and physical documents.
  • Try local, provincial, and international archives and museums.
  • Learn from genealogy workshops and courses given by local school boards, colleges and universities.
  • Tap into the vibrant community of genealogy bloggers, online groups and podcasts.

Names

  • Names can change over time.
    • Try maiden names, adopted names, traditional names.
    • Try names that are not exact but sound similar.
    • Try spelling variations or use the * wildcard character (in a database) if you’re not sure about a specific letter. For example, “Fran* for Frank, Francis, François, Franz, Francisco.
    • Get to know the naming patterns of different Ethno-cultural groups.

Places

  • Find the places where people may have lived.
    • Place names also change. For example, Ville-Marie became Montréal, and York became Toronto.
    • Places move from one province (or country) to another when boundaries shift because of treaties, accords or wars.
    • Use maps, atlases and gazetteers.

Record your information

Here are some ways to record and organize the information you find.

Create a family tree

One of the easiest and best ways to record information is to use a family tree. You can make your own, or you can use templates. Many websites and online genealogy magazines have free tools and print outs for pedigree charts and family charts.

Use a genealogy application

There’s a lot of software to choose from that lets you:

  • assemble and organize your family data.
  • create reports and charts.
  • share information and files with others.

Set up a research log

It often helps to save and record which sources you have looked at or where you have found information. Come up with a method of naming and storing files so that you can find them again easily.

It is also useful to record if you have submitted a question to an organization or research centre.

Access the records

If you visit a library or archive and find useful information, follow these guidelines when copying materials:

  • Record complete source information for the copy.
  • If it is from a book, copy the pages that have the title and publishing information, and make sure you include the page number(s).
  • Record information about the repository (library, archives, etc.) in which you found the item.
  • When copying a page or file from the Internet, record the original filename (especially if you rename the file for your own purpose) and the complete Internet address.

For more information on copying guidelines at LAC see Copy services.

If you’re using our databases, there are both digitized and non-digitized records. Use the guidelines below when accessing records:

Digitized records

If you find a record of interest at LAC, there may be a digital image. Some of these are available through Collection Search. Others, particularly digitized microforms, are available through Héritage.

Non-digitized records

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

Related resources