Inuit genealogy

The term Inuit refers to the diverse Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic, across Inuit Nunaat (Inuit homeland across Greenland, Alaska, Canada and Russia). Four regions make up Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homeland in Canada):

  • the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northwest Territories)
  • Nunavut
  • Nunavik (Northern Québec)
  • Nunatsiavut (Northern Labrador)

Each has their own distinct languages and traditions.

Harmful content

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.

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
  • place of residence in Canada

Places to look

The majority of federal records will be from after 1939, when the Supreme court ruled that Inuit fell within the definition of Indians written in the Constitution. There are other sources of records from before 1939 as well.

Census records

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds the records for all official Canadian censuses.

Before 1941, census records only counted a few Arctic communities.

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 “Esk*mo”, 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 can’t find a person in the census database by name, try various spellings. You can also try searching page by page using these district and sub-district numbers.

1901 Census

Unorganized Territories, District 206

  • Sub-district c, Keewatin
  • Sub-district d, Mackenzie
  • Sub-district e, Ungava

1911 Census

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

1921 Census

Northwest Territories, District 233

  • Sub-district 1, Belcher Islands

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

There are also some census files within RG85.

  • 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 the names of heads of households, how many men, women and children are in the family and the location of their hunting ground.
    • Go to the record description to see the digitized file. The census can be found on images 10 and 11.

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.Try 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.

Disc Number System (1941 to 1969)

Please note that these records are restricted and must be accessed through an ATIP request.

During the Cold War, the federal government imposed an identification system on Inuit, which were small leather disks meant to be carried at all times. They contained a three part number. The first part was the letter “E” for “Eastern Arctic” or “W” for “Western Arctic.” This was followed by a number representing one of the 12 geographic locations in the Arctic. The last part of the number was a personal identification number. The individual number replaced Inuit names, which the authorities couldn’t spell or pronounce. The numbers were also used used the disc numbers to track Inuit activities like hunting and trapping; the provision of healthcare andeducation services; and the Family Allowance.

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" (East) and “W” (West) District numbers, and then by the disc numbers of heads of households. 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, “Esk*mo Identification and Disc Numbers, A Brief HistoryFootnote 1.”

[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. See the finding aid for a list of what is in each box.

  • Boxes 1 to 4 and part of box 5 contain files arranged alphabetically by community. Some files have the names of some artists in those areas. Artists’ names may also be linked to “aliases”. On some lists an artist’s alias can be found in addition to his/her birth name.
  • Boxes 5 and 6 contain regional disc lists stored in binders and arranged by district in numeric order.

[Inuit] Identification Disc Lists (RG18-F-1, Accession 1985-86/048): This series has 24 files arranged by place. The records are from 1920-1980 but may not have records from each year. 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. Use this reference to request the document through ATIP. 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

Project Surname (1970)

In the late 1960s, the federal government, along with the Northwest Territories Council, introduced Project Surname. The purpose of the project was to replace the Disc Number system. Between 1968 to 1971, every Inuk in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Nunavik (northern Quebec) was required to adopt a surname for identification purposes.

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, in RG18-F-1

Health records

From the 1940’s to the 1960’s, federal government policy was to screen Inuit for tuberculosis. They did this without the consent of Inuit. They sent anyone thought to have tuberculosis south to sanatoriums. Families didn’t even know where they had gone or for how long. When a family member passed away during treatment, they were buried in the south. Only sometimes were their families told.

LAC holds some files related to Indian hospitals:

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 syllabics in the Inuit dialects into English. The files also contain letters written by family members to the patients.

To learn more about the experiences of patients in hospitals, see the help page on Hospital records.

If your family needs help to find out what happened to a loved one, the Nanilavut Initiative can help you find and honour Inuit who went missing during the tuberculosis epidemic.

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

School Records

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

Records for Northern schools can be found in RG85, while more southern schools are generally found in the School Files series. A few students were also sent south to public schools.

You can search RG85 in Collection search by entering the RG85 and the name of school.

Forced relocations 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. It was 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:


Library and Archives Canada holds a large collection of photographs of Inuit and other Indigenous peoples. You can search for photographs in Collection Search.

  • To search for photographs, go to Collection Search and select the "Images" tab. This will limit your search to digitized images in the archival collection.
  • Most of the photographs in the collection are not digitized or described; they may not be searchable in Collection Search. For further information on how to find and order photos, see the Searching for Photographic Records help page.
  • You can help with identifying Inuit in photographs from the collection through Project Naming.

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.

Note: RG85 includes records of people in the North, including both Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups.

You can search in Collection search without the keyword RG85 to look for other records, such as files relating to the construction of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line.

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 (colonial and inuktitut names)

Search for indexes

You can find many of these books on open shelves in the genealogy room at LAC’s Ottawa location. Handouts are available on site that explain the book collection and how it is organized. Staff are available to assist during service hours.

You can search for published indexes in our Aurora catalogue. Use the keyword genealogy and a place.

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

Aurora entries show if the item is available in other libraries. Check your local library’s online catalogue.

Search tips

  • Consider events and locations connected to Inuit such as:
    • Forced relocations to the High Arctic
    • Federal Hostels, boarding homes, and Residential schools
    • Hospitals and nursing stations
  • Spelling was not standardized, and the same names might be written in different ways. Try all name and spelling variations when searching.
    • Geographical differences in language and dialect had a significant effect on the spelling and pronunciation of names and places. Relatives may have names that are spelled or pronounced differently.
    • 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.
    • When searching place names, remember that place names changed over time. Different groups might have different names for a single location.

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.

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