52 Ancestors: Week 1 – First Nominal Census in Canada


Amy Johnson Crow has started a new year of her 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks prompts. Each week for 52 weeks, Amy gives a theme for participants to write about your family history. You don\’t have to be a blogger to join in. The point is to get yourself writing abut your ancestors. My blog focuses on more on record sets than on my personal family history. Because of that, my blog posts will try and feature Canadian record sets tying into the prompts, rather than strictly on my personal research.

This week\’s prompt is \”First\”, so I\’m going to look at the first census taken in Canada. The first major census in Canada was in 1851/1852, but that\’s not the first census taken. There was several small censuses done in the 2 centuries before the 1851/1852 census. Library and Archives Canada\’s finding aid on early Census records states they have records going back to 1640 onsite, and is described as \”notes on Montreal neighbourhoods\”. The earliest nominal census return is from 1666. Many of my ancestors appear in this census, as I am the 11x great granddaughter of Louis Gaston Hebert, who came to New France first in 1606. He went back to France, and came back with his wife, Marie Rollet, and their 3 children to settle permanently in 1617. Thanks to a small population, and intermarrying, I also descend from several of the first few waves of settlers in New France. For simplicity\’s sake, I\’m just going to look for the direct descendants of Louis.

You can find the digitized 882 images of the 1666 census here on Hèritage. This census is almost a work of art. The handwriting is beautiful, and you can read each page clearly. It is in French of course. However, you will not need an advanced knowledge of French to be able to read it. The first few pages comprise of the names of the men and women who lived and worked in the seminary and hospital. After that they list those families in the surrounding area. The wonderful and unusual thing about this early census is that it lists all members of the household. As well, married women are listed with their maiden names, a common practice that French Canadian researchers benefit from. Unmarried, or those with spouses still in France, are listed under a special heading. Take a look at this sample page:


The areas covered are:

  • Quebec
  • Beaupre
  • Beauport
  • Ile d\’Orleans
  • St. Jean, St. Francois and St. Michel
  • Sillery (Cap Rouge and St Francois Xavier)
  • Notre Dame des Anges, La Rivere St. Charles and Charlesbourg
  • Coste de Lauuzon
  • Montreal
  • Trois Riveres

If you are finding things hard to decipher, don\’t despair. There are two published transcriptions of the census on Internet Archive here and here. The nice thing besides the clarity on Internet Archive is the fact than you also use their search bar at the top right to search for specific names. A word of advice though if you try the search function: Use as many variations on spelling as you can think of.

Louis and Marie have passed by the time of this census, and so has my 10x great grandfather Guillaume Herbert. My 10x great grandmother, Helen Des Portes, has remarried to Noel Morin. They can be found in St. Jean, St. Francois and St. Michel:


What I find really interesting is how many of these surnames are still in existence 350-ish years later. Not only still in existence, but well known and common. In my non genealogy job I see some of these surnames quite often in northern British Columbia, some 5,000 or so kilometers away. Some have been anglicized in pronunciation, but you can still see the French surname they originated from.

If you would like to explore more of the pre-1851 census records, be sure to check out the LAC Finding Aid on early census records.

2 thoughts on “52 Ancestors: Week 1 – First Nominal Census in Canada

  1. Great blog post Jackie! My own post would have been MUCH longer had I tried to show all my ancestors. One of the hazards when you take your family back to a new settlement: you find out you’re related in some way to just about everyone!


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