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Researching Your Aboriginal Ancestry at Library and Archives Canada

Part I: Researching Your Aboriginal Genealogy at Library and Archives Canada

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Aboriginal Peoples in Canadian Records

French Regime

During the very early French colonial period (1534-1760), explorers, the military, the colonial government and the clergy maintained accounts of their respective operations in New France. Unfortunately, the documents for that period in the custody of Library and Archives Canada contain very little information of genealogical significance.

Petition of the Indians of Bécancour for a grant of land, Montreal, August 30, 1803

Source

Petition of the Indians of
Bécancour for a grant
of land, Montreal,
August 30, 1803.
Library and Archives
Canada, RG 1 L3L,
vol. 154, pp. 75377 to 75382,
reel C-2552.

Original archives and records created during the French Regime period are mainly housed in the National Archives of France and Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. Nevertheless, Library and Archives Canada has copies of most documents relating to the history of New France, whether as transcripts or microfilm copies of the originals. Some original documents from private sources are also available for research. For conservation reasons, researchers are usually required to consult a reproduction of those originals.

The following archival sources might contain references to Aboriginals during the French Regime.

France. Archives des Colonies (MG 1)

Transcript and microfilm copies of records accumulated by the Ministre de la Marine in its administration of French Colonies. The records relates to both civil administration and defence, touching on relations with native people. The records include ordinances and decrees issued in Paris and New France; dispatches to and from governors and intendants, instructions to administrators, reports and census.

France. Archives de la Marine (MG 2)

Transcripts and microfilm copies of records accumulated by the Ministère de la Marine in its management of naval forces and colonial defence.

France. National Archives (MG 3)

Copies of records of lesser agencies held by the Archives Nationales de France. Included among them are records of missionary activities in New France.

France. Archives de la Guerre (MG 4)
Transcripts and microfilm copies of records accumulated by the Ministre de la Guerre. Series C contains significant reports and memoirs of military officers on reconnaissance missions.

France. Ministère des Affaires étrangères (MG 5)

Transcripts and microfilm of records accumulated by the Ministère des affaires étrangères. Includes documents about the rights of native peoples to territory and self government.

France. Archives départementales (MG 6)

Transcripts and microfilm copies of records in the regional archives (archives départementales) of France.

France. Bibliothèque de Paris (MG 7)

Transcripts and microfilm copies of archival collections in various libraries of Paris. Scattered among them are correspondences, journals and memoirs, song and prayer books, and dictionaries of native languages.

Nouvelle-France. Correspondance officielle (MG 8)

Original documents created in New France and copies of records held in other archives or private repositories. Series A to D contains official records retained in Canada after 1760. Series E and F document the military and seigniorial regime. Series G contains parish registers, including several for native missions.

Fonds de l'Église catholique (MG 17)

Important collection of ecclesiastical records is found in Series A. Included are records of missionary societies covering all geographical areas of New France.

British Regime

A few series of records at Library and Archives Canada contain references to aboriginal individuals in the British military and their family members during the British colonial period (1760-1867). Specifically, these series include the Lower Canada Land Records (RG 1 L3L), the Upper Canada Land Records (RG 1 L3), the British Military and Naval Records (RG 8 series A"I") and the Haldimand Papers (MG 21 Great Britain, add. mss 21661-21892). Although not standard genealogical sources, these may provide ties to ancestors in the military and other family members of aboriginal origin. The above series are indexed and on microfilm.

There may be information relating to aboriginal people in other records from the time of the British colonial period, but the indexing practices of earlier decades have left any such references unmarked. Whether such non-indexed information would be of value to the genealogical researcher is unknown. Certainly, the researcher should consult the Hudson's Bay Company Archives at the Provincial Archives of Manitoba, as these records do include additional indexes relating to aboriginal ancestry. For more information see the Web site of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBCA) [www.gov.mb.ca/chc/archives/hbca/index.html].

In 1850, with the passage of the Act for the Better Protection of the Lands and Property of the Indians in Lower Canada, the first definition of AIndian@ was given, with Indian status linked to band membership. This fairly loose definition was found inadequate after Confederation in 1867, when the Constitution Act, 1867 (formerly known as the British North America Act), gave responsibility for AIndians and lands reserved for the Indians@ to the new Canadian government. Unfortunately, the Act did not define AIndian@, leaving it up to the federal government to determine whether Aconstitutional Indians@ included Indians, Inuit and the Métis. As a result, over time, constitutional jurisdiction has been exercised in different ways for the different groups that make up the aboriginal population of Canada.

Nonetheless, records on Aboriginal Peoples did improve after 1867, as the federal government began documenting the many aspects of relations between aboriginal groups and various government departments. Many of these records are located at Library and Archives Canada, the official depository for historical records of the federal government.

The archival records relating to Aboriginal Peoples are grouped into those for Indians, Métis and Inuit. These categories are not related to the cultural reality of the lives of status Indians, non-status Indians, Inuit and Métis individuals and families, but rather to the administrative organization of the records. It must be remembered that the records were almost all created by non-aboriginal people, primarily federal government clerks and officials, and that the manner of their organization is based on how those people recognized the status of the aboriginal person during his or her lifetime.

Further information on federal government records can be found by consulting Aboriginal Peoples - Guide to the Records of the Government of Canada.

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