Parkinson: How Canadian Census data improved my research of the early British and American Settlers of Rawdon Township, Lower Canada

Ted Hsu
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As I work to mobilize support for Bill C-626, my private member’s bill to reinstate the mandatory long-form census, I have been asking Canadians how the elimination of the mandatory long-form census has affected their lives and their work. Daniel Parkinson, a writer and genealogist, responded to my request, and wrote about some of the ways he uses the census to plot the growth of families in the late nineteenth century. Please help me. Please share your experience with census data by emailing me at [email protected].


I am a writer and genealogist who in February 2013 published two volumes on the history of Rawdon (Quebec) and its earliest settlers. This would not have been possible without access to the material found in census documents. The descendants of those who settled at Rawdon before 1850 are spread across the continent and beyond and correspond with me regularly. My website contains letters of praise and thanks for my research.

Census information allows one to plot the growth of families – one child in 1881, seven in 1891 and 9 in 1901. One can see if names have disappeared. If it is an older son possibly you can locate him, married with his own family started. If the family has moved from their initial location one can track their progress from Quebec to Ontario to Manitoba. One does not get the full story but the possibility is suggested that younger children may have died if they disappear before the age of 18.

The census information gives other guideposts concerning the family head – is the wife’s name and age consistent? If not the husband may have remarried. If the family head is a widow one has an approximate idea of her husband’s death especially if there are very young children in the household. If family members are born outside of Canada and some children were born in Canada one can get an approximate idea of when they immigrated.

Use of the census requires ingenuity as surnames are often misspelled, a child named William Henry can be William or Henry.

The 1861 Garafraxa, Wellington County Census was the major source of information on the large scale movement there of families from Rawdon. Nearly every individual on that census who was Quebec-born had come from Rawdon and from information about the children one could discern when they had moved west. That census gave dates of marriage for many couples.

In some cases, this was the only information I could find about a particular individual. Dates of birth were given in 1901 and 1911 and again, this may be the only information available if the birth was not registered or if the individual was not born in Canada. Some agricultural censuses provided location and size of farm and what was grown on the farm and how much. All this is eagerly received when trying to determine where and how your ancestors lived.

Without the census material I would have been lost trying to piece together the families of Rawdon Township.