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Thanks to the wonderful research provided by Claire Smith-Burns in the composition of this page.

Canada is the second-largest country in the world, so if your COOMBS/COMBS ancestors are "lost" in Canada, you will have lots of places to look in order to find them! Canada has an area of almost 10,000,000 square kilometres (about 3,862,000 square mile), and is made up of ten provinces and three territories. The following overview will help you in planning effective research strategies for locating your Canadian ancestors and relations.

Canada Historical Overview

You cannot be successful in your research unless you are aware of the physical layout of the country and relationship of towns, cities and provinces. You should also make yourself familiar with the waterways, water bodies and geography as these features had a real impact on how your ancestors travelled, routes they took and where they lived. Map links, courtesy of Atlas of Canada, are included in the “Settlement and Political History Timeline” below. Additonal links can be found in the Geography section.

Canada Today
Click Province on map for project links.

Canada Alberta British Columbia Manitoba New Brunswick Nova Scotia Northwest Territories Newfoundland & Labrador Nunavut Ontario Prince Edward Island Quebec Saskatchewan Yukon Territory

First Inhabitants

Before European contact, the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada lived throughout Canada. They had adapted themselves to the coastal ecosystems of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. They lived in every part of the hinterland: forest, mountain, prairie, tundra, frozen north. There are a vast number of linguistic and cultural groups among Canada´s native peoples. After European contact, a new and distinct cultural group emerged: the Métis. These people were the progeny of Native mothers and European fur- traders (usually of French or Scottish descent). For more information on Canada´s Aboriginal Peoples, see the links below.

Settlement & Political History Timeline


1000 As far as can be determined, the first Europeans to settle on Canada´s shores were a Viking group who came from Iceland at about 1000 AD and established a settlement at L´Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. However, this settlement did not survive.

French Regime 1497-1763

1497 John Cabot started exploration along Canada´s Atlantic coast. See Map of Early Exploration

1534 Jacques Cartier planted the flag of France in Gaspé, Quebec.

1541 Cartier helped found the first French settlement in North America at Cap Rouge on the St. Lawrence River near present-day Quebec City.

1617 Louis Hébert became the first French farmer (habitant) to permanently settle in Quebec. The motivating factor behind the exploration and subsequent settlement of Canada was the quest for fur and other natural resources. Over the next two hundred years, the French controlled most of what was later to become Canada, while the British controlled the colonies that would later become the USA. However, all through this time, the two powers competed for control of the lands that would become Canada. See Map of NE Territory & Great Lakes Expansion

1740´s Utilizing waterways as the main method of exploration, the interior of North America was explored under the sponsorship of both France and England. This exploration involved mapping of the Ohio River. At the same time, the northwest was probed by Russia. See Map of North America Interior Exploration and Russian Exploration Pacific Coast

1755 The British forcibly expelled the French Acadians from their Maritime settlements. The Acadians were deported to France, the Caribbean and to other British Colonies.

1757 The Seven Years War between Britain and France began.

1759 On Sept. 13th the English General Wolfe defeated the French General Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham in Montréal but both were killed in the battle. This was a turning point in Canadian history.

British Control 1763 – 1867

1763 The French ceded their North American possessions to the British and thus ended the French Regime in Canada. While immigration to Canada during the French Regime was comprised mainly of French-speaking peoples, Canada now becomes more attractive to people from the British Isles and other British Colonies.

1775/83 The American Revolutionary War forced many thousands of people who were loyal to the British Crown (Loyalists) to flee northwards to Canada. The pressure on the British government to resettle the refugees crowding into western Quebec, meant that new lands were surveyed and opened up westward in what is now Ontario. Loyalists were granted large tracts of land throughout the Maritime provinces, Quebec and Ontario to compensate them for their losses resulting from the American Revolution.

1791 With the colonies of the United States forming their own government, only the colonies in the north half of North America remained in British control. These were reorganized into what was known as, British North America (BNA). In 1791, Quebec was divided into Upper and Lower Canada (present-day Quebec and Ontario). Quebec should have research material on Lower Canada; Ontario should have research material on Upper Canada - the boundaries of these two provinces have remained the same, only the names have changed - they were also called Canada East and Canada West for a short time.

1812/14 The US declared war on Britain and thus started the War of 1812-1814 between Canada and the US. See British North America circa 1823.

1841 Upper and Lower Canada were designated as the Province of Canada and renamed Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario).

1843 Fort Victoria was established on the southern tip of Vancouver Island to assure Britain´s claim to this area on the Pacific Ocean.

1849 The boundary of the 49th Parallel between the US and Canada was extended to the Pacific.

1857 Ottawa (formerly known as Bytown) was proclaimed the capital of Canada. Many immigration schemes operated throughout the 19th Century to assist immigration from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland to designated lands in Canada.

1858 The discovery of gold on the Fraser River in British Columbia brought hoards of prospectors into this area from all parts of the world.

1859 From 1850 into the early 1930's, a new group of British immigrants emerged: thousands of "surplus" children were transported to Canada to be fostered by Canadian families. These British child immigrants were known as the "Home Children."

maple leaf

Dominion of Canada 1867 to present day For Territorial maps see Territorial Evolution

1867 July 1, the confederation of the Dominion of Canada was established. Britain's North American colonies were united by means of the BNA Act and Sir John A. Macdonald was made Canada's first Prime Minister. The Dominion consisted of Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

1870 Manitoba and the Northwest Territories (a huge area which now represents the modern-day provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and part of Manitoba, as well as the Northwest Territories and Nunavut) joined Canada.

1871 British Columbia joined the Dominion of Canada.

1873 Prince Edward Island joined Canada.

1881 The first census to cover Canada from coast to coast (except Newfoundland which was still a British Colony) was taken.

1885 The last spike of the transcontinental railway, linking Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific, was driven into place in BC.

1895 Yukon Territory was created.

1898 The Klondike Gold Rush was well underway and, over the next several years, streams of people flooded into northern BC and the Yukon.

1899 The first Canadian troops were sent overseas to participate in the Boer War in South Africa.

1905 Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed from the Northwest Territories.

1914 Canada sent troops overseas to fight in World War I.

1927 The British government awarded Labrador to Newfoundland (which was still a British colony), instead of to Quebec.

1931 Britain granted Canada full legislative authority in both internal and external affairs with the Governor-General becoming the representative of the Crown.

1939 Canada declared war on Germany and sent troops overseas to World War II.

1949 Newfoundland & Labrador joined Canada.

1951 The census of 1951 revealed that Canada had just over 14 million people.

1969 English and French both recognized as Canada´s official languages.

1999 The territory of Nunavut was established from the eastern part of the Northwest Territories.

2005 After many years of lobbying by genealogists, academics and politicians, it was announced that the post-1901 censuses of Canada would be preserved and opened to the public after a 92-year closure period. Formerly, Statistics Canada had taken the stance that there would be no public access to census material collected after 1901 (and that, in fact, these censuses would be destroyed). Since this victory, the 1911 National Census has been opened to the public. Canada´s population in 2005 was 32,270,500.

Family History Research in Canada

It is handy to have various resources available in your personal book collection or accessible through on-line resources or by visiting repositories or other organizations and utilizing their collections on-site. Some basic sources covering genealogy, history, and geography are noted below. Following these are several resources for “Locating Records & Resources” including ones countrywide, and more focused for early inhabitants, census, civil registration, immigration, military and other areas.


There are many handbooks available regarding aspects of Canadian genealogy. However, there is not currently a recommended handbook covering the whole of Canada; the two that do exist are severely out-of-date. To purchase genealogy handbooks on Canada:


Here is a general history book for your personal library that covers Canada from the beginnings up until the 20th Century:

Edgar McInnis. Canada: A Political and Social History (Toronto: Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, Ltd., 1969). An old but comprehensive book which is readily available at used book stores.

Digitized Canadian historical publications from all eras and places across Canada can be found at the following websites:


A variety of Canadian maps can be found at the:

Locating Records & Resources

Across Canada

First Inhabitants


For most provinces, nominal census returns begin in 1851 (although some are missing) and are taken every 10 years. There are several earlier censuses in Quebec, starting from 1666. There are also earlier censuses for many of the eastern provinces which were taken on a provincial or local level. All censuses are available on microfilm from 1666 up until 1911. The 1901, 1906 (special census of the Prairie Provinces) and 1911 censuses are digitized and available free online at the Canadian Genealogy Centre (see above).

Census Websites:

Civil Registration

Like the USA, each province is responsible for the registration of births, marriages and deaths. Registration started at different dates for each province. Some provinces post their vital event indexes on-line; some indexes of vital events have been published with some information pre-dating official civil registration dates. Before civil registration, church registers of baptisms, marriages and burials are usually your best source for vital information. Church registers may be found in public archives, church archives or in the original church. Some have been microfilmed while others have been transcribed and published in books, periodicals or are posted online.


Canada did not start official ship´s passenger lists until 1865 (and only at some ports); however, there are some pre-1865 lists available which were compiled by other agencies. Many of these have been transcribed and are on the Internet. Some post-1865 ship´s passenger lists and border-crossing records (i.e. immigration between Canada and the US) are also available online. All of Canada´s ship´s passenger lists from 1865-1935 are available on microfilm from the National Archives of Canada.

The late 19th Century through to the mid-20th Century saw huge migrations to Canada from Europe (especially Eastern Europe) and Asia. Many of the Europeans settled on the Canadian Prairies, where they could obtain land through homesteading contracts. Those from China, Japan and India tended to settle on the Pacific Coast. It is important to note that until the mid-20th Century, the Canada-US Border was quite fluid with people being able to move back and forth between the two countries with ease.

Immigration Websites:


Before Confederation, Canada was served by British Military forces. However, local militia groups were established throughout the colonies and these participated in major conflicts such as the War of 1812-14.

Military Websites:


To be determined.

Project Resources
(with and without findings)

When researching family history it can be helpful to know what sources are represented by the information in a project and which ones need to still be researched. Sources will be noted below with the extent or nature of the research represented in our family history research COMBS &c. project. NIL findings for which nothing was located are also noted to save researchers time in duplicating effort. We have indicated some resources that need to be searched and abstracted for COMBS &c. We clearly need help in researching records and VOLUNTEERS are welcome. Please contact ______________ if you are interested in assisting with look-ups and record abstractions.

RESOURCES SearchedComments
RESOURCES to be Searched