The purpose of this document is to give people a general idea about what resources are available to persons doing genealogy research in Nova Scotia. A great many people have contributed to it, but I must alone take responsibility for any errors. Any additions and/or corrections will be most welcome!

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At the risk of over-simplifying, there are more published sources available for Halifax, Pictou, and Lunenburg counties [roughly in that order] than for elsewhere in the province. That said, more information is being made available (online and in print) all the time.

1. What census records exist for Nova Scotia?

The following census returns are available that cover a majority of the province (in chronological order). Note that before the 1871 census, only the heads of household were enumerated and most of the information consists of statistical returns.

  1. 1770: Returns are available for most Nova Scotia townships. They were published in NSARM Annual Report, 1934. These include parts of what is now New Brunswick.
  2. 1780's: Some early poll tax lists exist. There is an alphabetical index available at NSARM.
  3. There are a few scattered County census for ca. 1811-1817
  4. 1827: The scattered returns have been indexed and were published by NSARM. (This volume is now out of print)
  5. 1838: Complete except for most of Cumberland and parts of Kings and Cape Breton Counties. Indices for almost all counties have been published by GANS or other organizations.
  6. 1851: Only extant for Halifax, Kings, and Pictou counties, It has been indexed and published.
  7. 1861: Substantially complete for all counties. A few counties have been indexed and published.
  8. 1871 to 1911: Full nominal census of all living persons. Some counties have been indexed and published for some years and a few returns are available online.
  9. The 1921 census and beyond are not accessible to the public.

The Federal census returns (1871-1901) are available via ILL from the Library and Archives Canada. The earlier census are available at the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management and also from the LAC.

2. What vital records are available?

There are several sources for vital records, depending on the time period. The main sources are enumerated below.

Civic Registration:

The records are available on microfilm at many locations, The New England Historic Genealogical Society Library in Boston for one, and on loan at any LDS Family History Centre. Several Nova Scotia County historical societies and museums have copies of the records for their area.

Registration was not compulsory. The concluding date for marriage records varies by County -- when they changed to the "new" system. Marriage records are substantially complete for most counties. On microfilm the indices to marriage licences are arranged by County so knowing that and the year is most helpful in locating the Page No. in the register volumes and the file folder number.

The marriage register volumes are transcripts, the original license file folders exist and are also available on microfilm. The file often contains more details from the certificates, affidavits, or bond applications than the two line entry in the register. The index must always be consulted first and again, they are available on microfilm, organized by County, surname and year except for a few of the smaller counties where the index is by year and surname which makes the search a little more time consuming.

Births and Deaths are woefully incomplete and available only from 1864 to 1877. There is an alphabetical index available on microfilm which gives the County, Year, Page No., and Entry No. in the register volumes. Knowing the year and County helps but is not critical unless it is a very common surname.

Certified photocopies of certain birth, marriage and death records are available from NSARM (the address can be found below). The charge for a single copy is $10.00 Cdn. plus 15% H.S.T. There is an additional charge of about $3 for postage and handling per order. The more details that you can provide in regard to location, date, and parents' names, the easier it will be for NSARM staff to locate the correct certificate, if it exists.

Civic registration of births and deaths began again in 1908 but those records will not be publicly accessible before ca. 2008. They are not reasonably complete before about 1914. For more information, contact the Provincial Registrar of Vital Statistics. A taped information message is available at (902)424-4380. The phone number for general inquiries is: (902)424-4381.

Marriage Bonds

The Genealogical Association of Nova Scotia have published an index to Marriage bonds from 1763 to 1864. The originals are available on microfilm at NSARM. As the document was filed before the marriage, the existence of a bond is no guarantee that the ceremony actually took place. More information is available.

Other sources for vital stats:

The Genealogical Association of Nova Scotia has published a series of indices to vital statistics in Halifax newspapers (1769-1854) as well as many other useful sources. Check out their page for more information.

From the late eighteenth-century onwards, there exist township books for many communities. These record local vital stats and other information of use to genealogists, especially for the period before the beginning of civil registration. A few books have been published; NSARM has microfilm copies of all known township books. Other provincial repositories often have copies of those pertaining to the local area and a few are available on microfilm from the Library and Archives Canada and through the network of Family History Centres.

Township Years NSARM Mfm# GSU# LAC#
Annapolis 1783-1856 12146, 15026 1376192 C-3026
Argyle 1702-1913 12164
Aylesford 1792-1855 12165
Barrington 1764-1920 12169-12172 1376192
Chester 1762-1859 15029 1376192 C-3027
Cornwallis 1720-1874 12260-2, 15031 1376192
Douglas 1784-1873 12283, 15034 M-1806
Falmouth 1747-1825 12298 0928972 C-3027
Fort Lawrence 1766-1891 12183 0477526 M-843
Granville 1720-1881 12323 0928972 C-3027
Guysborough/Manchester 1782-1870 12690, 15049 1376195
Horton 1740-1877 15038 1376195 C-3027, H-1806
Liverpool 1761-1870 12654, 15059 1376195
Londonderry 1820-1840 12648-9
Maccan 1813-1925 12689 M-843
Newport 1752-1858 13546, 11136 0477530 C-3027
Onslow 1761-1841 15051 1376195 C-3027
Parrsborro 1760-1822 13256
Rawdon 1810-1897 15054
River Philip 1793-1928 15055
Sackville, N.B. 1748-1871 13353 0477528 C-3201
St. Mary's River 1775-1856 13355 1376195
Stormont 1784-1877 13402
Truro 1770-1853 15058 1376196 C-3027
Westchester 1782-1900 13497
Weymouth 1834-1864 564
Wilmont 1749-1894 13511 1421093 C-1356
Windsor 1799-1845 13524-5
Yarmouth 1760-1811 Pub. by the Yarmouth Co. Historical Society, 1982

Various other sources such as funeral home records, cemetery lists, and other newspaper indices exist; what is available varies dramatically by community. Some of these have been published by GANS or other individuals or local organizations.

3. How do I access Church records?

Church records provide coverage of the interim periods when civic vital records are not available but their existence and availability varies greatly by denomination and community. Contact NSARM and/or the Beaton Institute to inquire about their holdings for a specific community or area. Also note the addresses of other repositories listed below, many of which may have a few church registers for their local community.

Commenting on the state of church records, a Cumberland County school inspector made the following comments in 1836 at the end of his report:

The deaths, baptisms, and marriages given are only those recorded on the Register of the Established [i.e. Anglican] Church. There is no source from which information can be obtained of the deaths and births among Dissenters nor do they, as I am informed, keep any certain Registers of their marriages.
[Source: NSARM RG 14, v. 10, #112]

At the risk of over-generalising, Anglican and Roman Cathloic records tend to be the most comprehensive, followed by the United Church of Canada and its predecessors.

Roman Catholic Records

Roman Catholic records are in a special situation with regards to accessibility. Note that any Roman Catholic records held by NSARM that were created after about 1910 are not available to researchers without permission of the Parish Priest.

There are three Diocese in Nova Scotia: Yarmouth, Halifax, and Antigonish. They cover Western, Central, and Eastern Nova Scotia respectively. Cape Breton is under the authority of the Diocese Antigonish. Access to the records largely depends on where they are located.

Most of the records of Churches under the Diocese of Yarmouth are held by the University of Moncton, due to the Acadian content in them. A very few are available on microfilm at NSARM and in the collections of various local historical socities and archives. The early (mostly pre-1850) registers have been published for a few Roman Catholic churches in Digby County.

The staff of the Archdiocese of Halifax are still working on their records so that they can be easily access by staff when a request is made; they are not available for public viewing. The majority of the accessible records are available on microfilm at NSARM.

Access to records held by the Diocese of Antigonish is largely at the will of the local Parish Priest. One reseacher has reported that "if he is young you will get free access to them, if older you will have to make a request of him and he will look up the information at his leisure". A very few records have been microfilmed by the Beaton Institute in Sydney but researchers must still have have prior permission of the particular Parish Priest before gaining access to the material. The records for a very few Antigonish and Cape Breton churches [mostly for the Sydney area] are available on microfilm at NSARM.

Baptist Records

Most Baptist records are either still with the local church or at Acadia University. NSARM has some very scattered records available on microfilm. Likewise, some historical and genealogical socities have copies of records for their local area.

That said, Baptist records are of less value to genealogists than those of other denominations. Baptists do not baptize infants and so it would be very rare for a pastor to record the parents of a baptismal candidate. It would even be rare for clergy to record the age of the candidate, though it does sometimes show up. The Atlantic Baptist Archives at Acadia contain very few records of baptisms and those that they do have do not list parents.

Marriages and deaths are recorded but the next problem is that most Baptist ministers keep the records with them even when they move. Some churches do have a register that is also filled out but that is not usual practice. The collection at Acadia has no births records and very few marriage or death records.

Administrative records may be a useful source of information. It is usual for a baptismal candidate to be brought into membership the following Sunday as it is up to the congregation to accept all new members to the church there should be a business meeting to regularize the membership and there may also be a register with the persons name and date of membership. Also, there is always the chance that they were baptised and brought into membership at another church and have been transfered to that church so researchers should check the records of membership transfers as well.

4. What Passenger Lists and Immigration records exist?

The short answer is very few. Unlike the major U.S. ports, immigration lists for the port of Halifax were not compiled before the early 1890's. They exist for approximately 1892 - 1919. These are available on microfilm from the Library and Archives Canada and elsewhere. Be warned that they are NOT indexed so it is necessary to know both the name of the ship and the year of arrival. It should also be noted that by this point, new immigration to Nova Scotia was very limited.

Some scattered lists exist for specific groups and these have mostly been published e.g. the Hector bringing Scottish immigrants to Pictou (1773), the Foreign Protestants to Lunenburg (1752), and the first arrivals at the founding of Halifax in 1749. A very few lists are available online, see the County sections for the links.

5. What about Deeds and Probate records?

Several years ago, the Genealogical Society of Utah microfilmed deeds and probate records at all the County registries around the province. Copies are available at NSARM and through the network of Family History Centres.

A few caveats are in order, though. While the films go up to the 1970's for most counties, there is generally no index to the probate records and the early ones may be very difficult to decipher because of bad handwriting or the deteriorated condition of the original records.

With deeds, note that the indices are filmed on sperate reels from the records themselves. Also, while the indices were filmed up to the 1960's, in most counties the actual deeds themselves were only filmed to about 1900.

6. Are there any other useful sources?

City Directories have been published for Halifax annually (more or less) since 1864. These and the directories listed below are undoubtedly available on microfilm or fiche at a library near you. There are also several published directories that cover the entire province:

Note that unlike a census, these directories generally list only (male) heads of household; a few widows are included. They also specify occupation and the person's community of residence. The older directories are notorously incomplete and often miss many families in a community.

This list is based upon NSARM library holdings and has been verified complete by comparison with the holdings of the National Library of Canada.

There are a few municipal directories for other towns such as Amherst, Sydney, Truro, Windsor, and Yarmouth but they are only extant for scattered years. Most of these are not available in the NSARM collection. These directories are supplemented by the Federal and Provincial electoral lists which are available for 1925, 1935, 1953, 1967, 1970, and 1979 -- and various other election years. All of the lists are available on microfilm at NSARM. The Federal lists are also available on loan from the National Archives of Canada.

In my experience, Land Grants are of limited value to genealogists. Generally, they just name an individual and provide a legal description of his property. Sometimes grants were made to organised groups (disbanded British military regiments or companies of Loyalists) and these will sometimes provide more background information. Land Grants have been microfilmed and are available at NSARM. Some local organizations have copies of the records for their area. There are a few published indicies.

7. What about Mi'kmaq genealogy?

First, a note on spelling. The older (and better known) name for Nova Scotia's aborginal people is "MicMac". In recent years, this has been replaced by "Mi'kmaq", which spelling has been widely adopted.

There are some important things to note about researching Mi'kmaq familes. First, since Confederaion, Aboriginal people have been a matter of Federal jurisdiction. Therefore the bulk of the records available at NSARM date from before 1867. Post-Confederation material is available at the Library and Archives Canada; many of the pre-1930 records are also available on microfilm at the Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Centre of Nova Scotia in Shubenacadie.

Second, Mi'kmaq persons did not traditionally use surnames in the European manner. There is no continunity of surnames as a child generally takes the father's first name; this practice continued until the late Nineteenth or even the early Twentieth century.

I have personally found one individual (b. 1803) who, it appears, simply took the surname of one of his neighbors in the community. As far as can be determined, he had no connection to the family but simply needed a surname for official purposes. The family has continued using this surname to the present day.

An interesting case study of Mi'kmaq names can be found in Ruth Holes Whitehead's book Tracking Doctor Lonecloud (Halifax: N.S. Museum, 2002) pp. 28-29 where she discusses the various names used by one individual over the course of his life (1854-1930).

Several institutions, including NSARM, the Beaton Institute, and the Shelburne County Genealogy Society have undertaken projects specifically relating to Mi'kmaq genealogy and so it would be useful to contact any local groups in the area where one is doing research.

Mi'kmaq records can be found at NSARM in RG 1 v. 430-432, and MG 15 v. 3-7 & 17-19.

8. Where do I find obituaries from the 1800's?

The short answer is that they do not exist. Before about the 1910's, the vast majority of people received only a bare death notice. This may sometimes mention their spouse and/or family, but it only very rarely provides any more biographical detail. The one exception was when a person was very prominent, such as a local politician or (sometimes) a member of clergy.

Many indicies to newspaper vital stats for different parts of the province have been published by loccal historical socities or other individuals. Most begin in the mid-1800's.

9. What are some useful addresses?

Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management
6016 University Avenue
Halifax, Nova Scotia
B3H 1W4
(902) 424-6060

Baptist churches traditionally did not keep comprehensive vital records. That said, most of the holdings for the Maritimes are held at the following repository:

Atlantic Baptist Archives
Vaughn Memorial Library
Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia
B0P 1X0
(902) 542-2201, ext. 412

The Colchester [County] Historical Society has a very comprehensive collection of genealogy materials and, in my experience, has provided a very prompt and efficient correspondence service.

Colchester Historical Society
P.O. Box 412
Truro, Nova Scotia
B2N 5C5
(902) 895-6284

The Cumberland County Museum has a virtually complete set of cemetary inscriptions for the whole County. This incredible resource is not available elsewhere.

Cumberland County Museum
150 Church Street
Amherst, Nova Scotia
B4H 3C3
(902) 667-2561

Pictou County researchers may wish to contact the:

Hector National Exhibition Center
Old Haliburton Road
P.O. Box 1210
Pictou, Nova Scotia
B0K 1H0

Cape Breton Genealogical Society
P. O. Box 53,
Sydney, Nova Scotia
B1P 6G9.

The Yarmouth County Museum has a large collection of genealogical material on Town families.

Yarmouth County Museum
22 Collins Street
Yarmouth, Nova Scotia
B5A 3C8
(902) 742-5539

West Hants Historical Society
281 King Street
Box 2355
Windsor, Nova Scotia
B0N 2T0
(902) 798-4706 (Summer)
(902) 798-2823 (Winter)

The Treaty Centre has a large collection of both published and manuscript research materials available for public consultation, including Federal Government records not available elsewhere in Nova Scotia. They are not able to respond to individual genealogy inquiries.

Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Centre of Nova Scotia
P.O. Box 341
Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia
B0N 2H0
(902) 758-1953
(902) 758-1759 (Fax)

Last Modified: March 13, 2006