The term Inuit refers to the diverse Indigenous peoples who live in the Artic, across Inuit Nunaat (Inuit homeland across Greenland, Alaska, Canada and Russia). Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homeland in Canada) is made up of four regions each with their own distinct languages and traditions:
- the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northwest Territories)
- Nunavik (Northern Québec)
- Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador)
The federal government did not exercise its constitutional responsibilities for Inuit until the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1939 that Inuit fell within the definition of Indians as written in the Constitution. As such, the Inuit are reflected in records of federal initiatives.
We acknowledge that archives can be sites of trauma for Indigenous peoples. Working with historical records that document experiences of genocide, assimilation, and oppression, as well as the inherent anti-Indigenous bias and offensive language in these records, can create feelings of distress, grief, and pain for researchers.
We encourage researchers to be informed and to place their well-being first.
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:
- approximate year of birth
- place of residence in Canada
Places to look
1. Census records
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds the records for all official Canadian censuses.
Few Arctic communities were enumerated in census records before 1941.
For earlier census, we have identified the following census sub-districts that include the names of people in Inuit communities and the names of Inuit living in other communities. They were identified as “Eskimo”, which was the term used at that time. Note that some of these sub-districts only include the names of a few Inuit.
If you cannot find a person in the census database when you search by name, you can try searching page by page using these district and sub-district numbers.
Unorganized Territories, District 206
- Sub-district c, Keewatin
- Sub-district d, Mackenzie
- Sub-district e, Ungava
Northwest Territories, District 218,
- Sub-district 18, Fort Providence, Fort Simpson [Liidli Koe], Fort Wrigley, Fort Norman [Tulita], Fort Good Hope [Radili Ko], Fort Artic Red River [Tsiigehtchic], Fort Macpherson [Teet'lit Zhen], Mackenzie district, Mackenzie River
- Sub-district 24, McKenzie Delta
- Sub-district 25, Charlton Island, Ungava Unorganized Territory, Nicheguon
- Sub-district 26, Egg Island. This includes a list of the Padlemuit who inhabited the country north of Churchill to Rankin Inlet during the summer of 1910 (page 3) and the census enumerator’s report about that list (page 4).
- Sub-district 28, Churchill
- Sub-district 35, Labrador, Rigolet
Yukon, District 217
- Sub-district 13, Rampart House
Quebec, District 161, Chicoutimi and Saguenay
- Sub-district 89, Great Whale River, Richmond Gulf, Nastapoka River
- Sub-district 90, Rigolet, Hamilton inlet, Labrador
- Sub-district 91, East Main James Bay
- Sub-district 93A, Port Harrison
- Sub-district 93B, Fort George, Cape Jones
Northwest Territories, District 233
- Sub-district 1, Belcher Islands
2. 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.
LAC holds microfilm copies of the records of the Moravian Brethren in Labrador (MG17-D-1). The records include registrations of births, marriages and deaths of Inuit in various mission posts for some years between 1777 and 1933. See the series description for more information. A detailed list of contents can be found in Finding Aid 339.
The registers of marriages for 1904 to 1933 are digitized on microfilm H-1806.
3. Disc Number System (1941 to 1969)
Please note that these records are restricted and must be accessed through an ATIP request.
The Canadian government gave Inuit personal disc numbers from the 1940s to the 1960s. Identification discs were similar to those used in the army, stamped with a letter and a number.
The identification disc system was adopted in 1941. The plan was for each Inuk to be assigned a number on a disc to be worn at all times or sewn into clothing. The numbers were used in all official documentation.
This identification system was an example of colonial paternalism. It was fraught with issues including shortage of discs, their purposeful destruction and incomplete reporting and registration of births and deaths.
For files related to the Disc Number System, see the following records:
[Inuit] Registration and Record Books, 1946-1959 (RG85-D-1-c): These records are arranged by "E" and “W” District number and within each book by the identification (disc) numbers of the heads of each household. Details include each person’s name, birth date and place, racial origin, religion, language, education and birth certificate number.
- In the record description, click on Lower level descriptions to see which dates and districts are in those 13 files. For example, the records for district E6 include the years 1946 to 1959 and are in volume 1906, file E6, 1946-1959.
- If you do not know the district letter and number for a particular community, consult the map following page 25 from the 1975 Department of Indian Affairs document, “Eskimo Identification and Disc Numbers, A Brief History.”
[Inuit] Disk Lists, 1965-1996 (RG85, BAN 2003-02344-5): This series contains district lists of disk (disc) numbers with names and details of birth and death. There are also copies of community lists of Inuit artists.
- Boxes 1 to 4 and part of box 5 contain files arranged alphabetically by community. They also give the names of artists in those areas. Boxes 5 and 6 contain regional Eskimo disk lists stored in binders and arranged by district in numeric order.
- See the finding aid for a list of what is in each box.
[Inuit] Identification Disc Lists (RG18-F-1, Accession 1985-86/048): There are 24 files in this series, which are arranged by place. The dates are indicated as [1920-1980] but that only means that the records fall within that range, but do not necessarily include all those years.
- To see if there is a file for a particular place, go to Collection Search. Enter the keywords RG18, the name of a place and the words Identification Disc List.
If you find an item, it will give you the archival reference and file number. For example:
- Pond Inlet, RG18-F-1, Accession 1985-86/048, box 54, File TA-400-3-12
- N.W.T., RG18-F-1, Accession 1985-86/048, box 55, file TA-400-4-1
4. Project Surname (1970)
The Northwest Territories Government (NWT) introduced “Project Surname.” This initiative intended to persuade all Inuit adults to adopt and register a family (last) name, which, along with their first names, was given a standardized spelling. By 1972, all Inuit within the NWT were registered and the disc system was discontinued. The disc system was gradually phased out in other regions.
For some, Project Surname was seen as a more effective and politically correct system of identification, but others saw it as another instrument of paternalism.
See the archival reference for the Project Surname Lists, NWT file.
5. Military records
Inuit soldiers have served in several conflicts. We have the service files for the Canadian Forces:
First World War
The Personnel Records of the First World War database can be searched by name.
- Note some names have been Anglicized when recorded or misspelled, so you may wish to searching for variations of a name using the wildcard function (*).
Second World War
6. School Records
You may find relevant information about your ancestor in the Residential School files. For more information on what those files contain and how to search them, please see Indigenous School File series
7. Other records
Records in the Northern Affairs Program sous-fonds (RG 85) may be useful for genealogy research. A search in the Collection Search database can be done using the keywords RG85, and either Inuit or the colonial name,“Esk*mo”, plus the name of a person or a place.
Here are two examples of RG85 records:
Correspondence of Inuit patients translated through Northern Welfare Services, 1956-1969 (RG85 R216-955-6-E): This series contains letters written by Inuit patients undergoing tuberculosis treatment outside of their home communities. Records include the original letters, as well as the translations from Inuktitut syllabics into English. The files also contain letters written by family members to the patients.
To learn more about the records, the names of the hospitals and sanatoriums where the patients resided and how the records are organized, see the sub-sub-series description.
- On that page, click on Record Information - Details, then click on the sections called Additional Information and Scope and Content.
- Click on View lower level descriptions to see the title and archival reference for each of the 24 files.
Census of all Native [Inuit] trading into Baker Lake, N.W.T., 1930 (RG85, volume 1870, file 540-3, part 2): This two-page list is found in a file called Police Services - NWT (Incl. RCMP Patrols - Posts), 1925-1935. It includes each man’s name, how many men, women and children in the family and the location of their hunting ground, for example Aberdeen Lake.
- Go to the record description to see the digitized file. The census can be found on images 10 and 11.
You can also search in Collection search without the keyword RG85 to look for other records, such as files relating to the construction of the DEW line.
8. Published sources
Some 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 keywords like:
- Inuit genealogy
- Inuit biographies
- Inuit history
- a place name
Library and Archives Canada holds a large collection of photographs of Inuit and other Indigenous peoples. You can search for photographs in Collection Search. Select Images from the drop down menu, then enter keywords such as Inuit, a place name or an ancestor’s name.
Find out how you can help with the identification of Inuit in photographs from the collection: Project Naming.
See also Flickr albums on Indigenous Peoples.
Consider events and locations that are connected to Inuit. Such events include:
- Forced relocation to the High Arctic
- Residential schools
- From the 1940’s to the 1960’s, federal government policy was to screen Inuit for tuberculosis without their consent. Anyone thought to have tuberculosis was sent South to sanatoriums without families knowing where they had gone or for how long. When a family member passed away during treatment, they were buried in the South and only sometimes were their families told.
- Geographical differences in language and dialect had a significant impact on the spelling and pronunciation of names and places. As a result, individuals who are related may have names that are spelled or pronounced differently.
- When searching place names, it is important to remember that place names have changed over time, and different groups might have different names for a single location.
- Spelling was not standardized, and the same names might be written in many different ways.
Inuit naming systems and traditions
- In the past, Inuit had only one name as the Inuit naming system did not recognize shared family names or surnames. Inuit names were also not gender specific.
- It is a common practice for a child to be named after a family or community member who has since passed.
Access the records
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 microfilm, are available through Héritage.
Records that are not digitized
References in Collection Search show if a record is open (access code 90) or restricted (access code 32). To find the access code in an item description, click on Ordering and Viewing Options, then Conditions of access.
If the item is restricted, use the the ATIP tool to request a copy.
In your application, be sure to include the archival reference and explain what information you are trying to find in that record.
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.
Forced relocation to the High Arctic
During the 1950’s, the federal government forcibly relocated some Inuit families to the High Arctic in order to assert Canadian sovereignty, at the cost of great suffering and hardship for Inuit families.
We have not identified any unique genealogical collections related to those events, but the following publication may be helpful:
From the 1940’s to the 1960’s, federal government policy was to screen Inuit for tuberculosis without their consent. Anyone thought to have tuberculosis was sent South to sanatoriums without families knowing where they had gone or for how long. When a family member passed away during treatment, they were buried in the South and only sometimes were their families told.
If you feel your family might require assistance to find out what happened to a loved one, the Nanilavut Initiative may help you find and honour Inuit who went missing during the tuberculosis epidemic.