First Nations genealogy

We have many resources for researching the family history and genealogy of First Nations peoples, particularly those who have status.

The departments responsible for Indigenous affairs changed frequently over time. For the sake of clarity, when referring to records held currently, we will refer to the two departments that presently manage Indigenous affairs: Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) and Indigenous Services Canada (ISC).

Indian Status

Under the Indian Act, an Indian is "a person who, pursuant to this Act, is registered as an Indian or is entitled to be registered as an Indian." The rules for eligibility for registration have changed over time.

Most information on Indian Status is in the archival records of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds, which includes the Indian and Inuit Affairs Program sous fonds or Record Group (RG) 10.

“Non-Status Indians" commonly refers to people who identify themselves as First Nations, but who are not entitled to registration on the Indian Register pursuant to the Indian Act. Some may however be members of a First Nation band.

Historical language

In your research, you may encounter historical language referring to Indigenous Canadians that is considered offensive today. Please read the notice about historical language in LAC’s collection.

On this page

Before you start

Gather information such as:

  • name(s)
  • approximate year of birth
  • birth place
  • place of residence in Canada
  • First Nation band name

Please note that when you search for place names or band names, some names have changed. For example, Mud Lake has become Curve Lake. There may also be spelling errors, so you should try variations of spelling.

Places to look

Census records

Canadian census

Canadian censuses often recorded information about ethnic heritage. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds the records for all official Canadian censuses.

You can search for your ancestor by name.

  • Select your census of choice[URL]
  • Enter your name term in the Surname and/or Given name(s) fields.
  • You may want to try a Keyword search
    • Note adding the word “Indian” to your search may help narrow results

Census records in RG 10

Only a few census returns for a limited number of bands can be found. Early census records in RG 10 were mostly statistical in nature and did not identify all individual in the First Nation population. Some were just lists of First Nation heads of families.

Starting in 1871, Indian agents began to count the total population of each band in their area. Doing so enabled CIRNAC/ISC to include statistics on the band population in its published annual reports.

In 1939, CIRNAC/ISC began instructing departmental agents to record the names, sex, age, marital status and band number of every “Indian.” After 1951, the Indian register became the means of recording this information.

Not all Indian census records found their way into the RG 10 fonds. Some did not survive; others have not been transferred to LAC.

Inventory descriptions of censuses in RG 10 fonds can be found in Collection Search.

Birth, marriage, and death records

Provincial and territorial government offices record births, marriages and deaths. These are also known as civil registration records. Those offices may transfer older records to the provincial or territorial archives. Information about the records and where to find them is found in researching your ancestors in birth, marriage and death records

Researchers should also consult church records for this type of information.

The Indian Registers, 1951-1984

In 1951, the federal government created the first national register of every known individual entitled to Indian status under the Indian Act. CIRNAC/ISC maintains this register.

If your Status Indian ancestor was alive in 1951 or was born since 1951 with Indian status, or acquired Indian status since 1951, then this register will include them.

We hold a paper copy of the Indian Registers, 1951-1984 in Ottawa. Finding aid 10-94 is a digital file list of these registers that can be searched by band in the Collection Search database.

These documents have access restrictions.

Membership records

There are many different types of membership lists that might be useful.

Records created about bands

Members of bands are recognized by the government by a band number or ticket, a government issued identification number given to a family or an adult living alone in a band.

A band is sometimes referred to by the name recognized by its own members, such as Chippewas of Nawash, Algonquins of Barriere Lake, etc., but generally the band name does not contain the name of the tribe or nation to which it belongs.

Over the years, many bands amalgamated, surrendered their treaty rights or changed their names. It is important to know the dates of interest when searching for band information.

A number of resources can help you search for information once you know the band name:

  • A number of finding aids provide information about the relationship between bands and the field offices that administered them.
  • Binders containing band history cards are available at the Genealogy desk at LAC in Ottawa. These cards contain such band information as name of agencies, treaty numbers, dates and the name changes. Because the band history cards contain restricted information, the cards must be consulted by the staff on behalf of the researcher.

Membership registers and lists

Band membership lists before 1951 are scattered throughout RG 10 fonds, mostly in agency, district, superintendency and regional office records.

Descriptions of membership lists can be found in the Collection Search database. Many of these documents have access restrictions

Posted lists

The posted lists consist of band membership lists for all of Canada posted in 1951. These lists were posted in communities excluded before the establishment of the first centralized Indian register. Posting lists allowed band members to protest individuals who were included or excluded from the band.

The files are described in FA 10-100. File information can be found in the Collection Search database using keywords such as the names of bands and agencies. These documents have access restrictions.

Enfranchisement files

Enfranchisement was the voluntary or involuntary loss of Indian status. Very few enfranchisements took place before the First World War. After that war, some individuals decided to enfranchise to gain certain benefits, which varied over time according to changes in the Indian Act.

Most individual case files are searchable by the names of individuals in the Collection Search database.

Descriptions of records relating to enfranchisement can be obtained from the Collection Search database using the keyword "enfranchisement" at the series and government records levels. Many of these documents have access restrictions, because they contain personal information

Annuity pay lists

Treaty annuity pay lists, 1850-1982, and the Interest Distribution pay lists, 1856-1982

A treaty annuity was an annual payment made by the Crown to band members whose band had entered into a treaty. These payments are documented in the pay lists.

Originally, these pay lists record payments of money made to selected members of a band (generally the heads of families) and contained only those names. However, between 1893 and 1951, the pay lists contained the names of the other members of a band.

These records do not exist for all bands. Treaty annuity pay lists exist only for those bands that were signatories to a treaty. Interest distribution pay lists exist only for those bands that distributed interest monies to their membership.

Most of the pay lists found in the field office records and in the agency records are duplicates; however, some contain additional annotations by the agent, and some show other kinds of information. Lists in the RG 10 files can be located through finding aids (FAs) 10-91, 10-109 and 10-116.

  • FA 10-91 is sorted by the order of the volume number in which the original records are organized. This order is neither alphabetical nor chronological. The volume number, reel number, file description and outside date are listed.
    Most treaty annuity pay lists in FA 10-91 are listed by treaty number; therefore, a band's pay list can be found in the lists for the treaty to which a band belongs. For example, If your ancestor’s First Nations was part of Treaty 1, search for Treaty 1 pay lists. FA 10-91 can be searched using the Collection Search.
  • FA 10-109 is sorted by the order of the volume number in which the original records are organized. The finding aid covers:
    • 1946 to 1987 for the treaty annuity pay lists
    • 1938 to 1964 for the interest distribution pay lists. The file descriptions give the band names and their location.

    Although the Province of Quebec is not a treaty area, two bands in this province, the Abitibi Dominion Band and the Abitiwinni, are listed with the bands that obtained annuity payments. FA 10-109 can be searched using the Collection Search.

  • FA 10-116 provides a page reference for locating treaty annuities for the bands in treaties 4, 6 and 7 for the years 1874 to 1884. For the years from 1884 to 1955, the records are organized alphabetically within each year. This finding aid also contains the microfilm shelf list for the annuity pay lists.

Treaty annuity pay lists and interest distribution pay lists dated after 1909 are restricted and subject to review under the Privacy Act before information on individuals can be released.

Estates and wills

The Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development fonds (RG 10) contains estate files and wills from the 1880s to the early 2000s. Search for these using Collection Search using the keywords Estate and the person’s name.

Military records

Indigenous soldiers have served in several conflicts. Some records that may be useful:

Pre-Confederation conflicts

A few series of records at Library and Archives Canada contain references to First Nation men in the British military and their families during the British colonial period (1760-1867). Although not standard genealogical sources, these may provide ties to ancestors in the military and other family members of Indigenous origin.

Specifically, these series include:

For those who served in the War of 1812, we have these resources:

First World War

Second World War

For Second World War files of those who survived the war, submit an application through the Access to Information and Privacy Act.

Some First Nations veterans were forcibly enfranchised as a result of their voluntary enlistment in both the First and Second World Wars, and subsequently lost Indian Status and the right to live in their communities.

Land records

Information about available sources can be found on these pages:

School records

You may find relevant information about your ancestor in the Residential School files.

Orders-in-Council

There are some references to First Nations groups and individuals in these government documents.

On our Orders-in-Council help page you can find out about the records and how to search them.

Here are two examples to illustrate the kind of genealogy information found in some of these records:

Newspapers

LAC holds copies of many newspapers published in First Nations communities. We are also contributing to a project to digitize Indigenous newspapers. These publications can help you understand what was happening in these communities from an Indigenous perspective.

Search for newspapers and community newsletters in our Aurora catalogue. Try subject keywords such as:

  • a place or province
  • newspapers
  • periodicals
  • Native peoples
  • Indigenous peoples

Published histories and genealogies

Some First Nation peoples have published their own histories. These publications can include stories that might help you better understand the experiences of your ancestors. They may also include information about specific individuals. You can search Aurora to find these publications.

Try these keywords, which are the library subject headings used rather than the phrase First Nation:

  • Indigenous peoples
  • Native peoples
  • Indians of North America Canada

Also try these keywords:

  • biography or biographies
  • genealogy
  • a place
  • the name of a First Nation

Our genealogy staff have compiled a list of books in our Aurora catalogue to give you an idea of the range of publications available. These books include information about individuals.

Each title in this list includes the author and the LAC call number.

  • If the call number includes the word genealogy, that means the book is in the genealogy room at our Ottawa location.
  • Example of a call number: Genealogy Ref. - CS88 A2 A38 2003

You can click on a title in the list to open the full catalogue entry. Then if you scroll down, you will see a list of other libraries that hold copies. You can also check your local library’s online catalogue.

Annual reports

Every federal government department produces a report on the work they did each year. The reports written by the Indian agents describe the people, places and events in their area.

You can search the reports by name, place or other keyword in Indian Affairs Annual Reports, 1864-1990.

Other records

We have other collections relating to First Nations people. Here are ones that relate specifically to genealogy:

Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Fort Good Hope Mission (R559-0-2-E)

This is a register of genealogies of 309 Dene people from Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Espérance mission, Fort Good Hope in the Northwest Territories. It includes dates of birth and other family details, as well as a name index that helps you find the relevant pages. For more information, see the Scope and content section of the fonds description. The register is on microfilm M-8718. It is not digitized.

Joseph Brant and family (MG19-F6)

This fonds includes some family papers of Six Nations Chief Joseph Brant and his descendants that were collected by the Kerr family. The items are listed in the finding aid, which also includes a chart of the Brant family tree. Read more about this fonds and the ten lower level descriptions. The finding aid and the Kerr collection are digitized on microfilm C-6818.

Cosmogony of De-Ka-na-wi-das' Government of the Iroquois Confederacy (MG19-F26)

This fonds relates to the Six Nations of the Grand River, 1885. It includes some lists of names. See the Scope and content of the record description and view the digitized document.

Access the records

Please note that many of the documents listed in this guide are restricted. Please review our page on access restrictions codes for more information.

If a record is restricted, you can submit a request to our Access to Information and Privacy Division.

Records that are digitized

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

Records that are not digitized

For records that are not digitized and not restricted, 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.

Related resources