Alberta - Finding Your Ancestors (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Alberta Ancestors  by Arlene Borgstede. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Finding Your Ancestors In Alberta[edit | edit source]

For the family historian seeking genealogical information within the province of Alberta, the trail is fairly well-defined. Considering that the prime settlement took place between 1885 and 1914, and that the majority of these settlers were homesteaders, this is the logical place to begin the search. Homestead records are well maintained and an index will assist in locating early families.

Local histories are published, which in total, cover most of the province. Large collections of these books are held by the Provincial Archives and the University of Alberta. Many scholarly publications are found on ethnic settlement or other historical subjects.

Census returns are readily accessible through archives, larger libraries or inter-institution loans. Although civil registration records prior to 1905 are sparse, some do exist and have been indexed for convenience. Church records are available through both church and public archives. Cemeteries are continually being transcribed and the records published.

Two books are recommended for your search. Tracing Your Ancestors in Alberta by Victoria Lemieux and David Leonard, lists both the obvious and the more obscure records available and at which archival institution they can be found. The information includes a concise description of the material and the archival call number.

Genealogical Resources in the Edmonton Area by the Edmonton Branch, Alberta Genealogical Society, is quite an in-depth look at all research-related institutions in Edmonton and surrounding district. Although published in 1991, and therefore out-of-date with regard to some locations and phone numbers, the listed holdings of these institutions are extremely valuable. Archival and library call numbers, and search directions are very useful.

Researchers are reminded that local museums and historical societies may provide information on their ancestors.

Abbreviations[edit | edit source]

The usage of "Mormon" and "LDS" on this page is approved according to current policy.

Abbreviations and acronyms are quite common. Here are just a few abbreviations, mainly for names of societies and organizations, you may find during your research.

AGS Alberta Genealogical Society
ANA Archives Network of Alberta
BMD births (baptisms), marriages, deaths
CPL Calgary Public Library
CPR Canadian Pacific Railroad
EPL Edmonton Public Library
FSC FamilySearch Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
HBC Hudson Bay Company
ILL Interlibrary Loan
LDS The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
OMI Oblates of Mary Immaculate
PAA Provincial Legislative Library
PLL Provincial Legislative Library
SASE Self-addressed stamped enevelope

Settlement Patterns[edit | edit source]

In 1871, just one year after accepting responsibility for Rupert’s Land from the Hudson Bay Company, the federal government put in place the pieces for its National Policy: the security of a national police force; a railway traversing the country from sea to sea, and settlement of the prairies. Two decades passed before the third plank in this policy was to have any effect on Alberta.

In 1882, the prairies were divided into four districts: immediately west of the province of Manitoba were the Districts of Saskatchewan and Assiniboia dividing the southern two-thirds of present day Saskatchewan. The District of Alberta occupied the same part of the present day province. Covering the northern portion of both provinces was the District of Athabasca. The entire area made up the Northwest Territories with its administrative centre, or capital, in Regina.

The whole of the present day Alberta was occupied by nine Indian tribes:

  • a few white traders around major fur trade posts such as Edmonton, Lac La Biche and Fort Chipweyan
  • North West Mounted Police posts in Calgary and Fort Macleod
  • descendants of Red River Settlement Métis in Catholic Missions such as Lac Ste Anne and St. Albert
  • and some Methodists from London, near Red Deer

In 1881 it is estimated that only about one thousand white men considered Alberta home. However, the land was ready for settlement. The Dominion Land Survey, begun in 1871 in Manitoba and continued west through Saskatchewan, was well underway in Alberta. As early as 1873, the special land grants provided to the Hudson Bay Company as part of their deal with the government of Canada, were surveyed around posts in Edmonton, Lac La Nonne, Victoria, Rocky Mountain House, Assiniboine and over half a dozen others, amounting to some 3,000 acres.

Four years later, the 14th base line was surveyed near Edmonton and, in 1878, surveyors ran the points of the 4th meridian. By 1881 work was started, surveying the townships in and around the Edmonton and Fort Macleod areas.

When the initial township survey was adopted by the government, the settlements of St. Boniface (Red River Settlement), Qu’Appelle and Prince Albert in Saskatchewan, and Fort Edmonton in Alberta; communities already settled in the French Canadian river lot style—narrow lots extending back one to two miles along one or both sides of a river, were designated to retain their River Lot surveys. Métis settlements at Batoche in Saskatchewan and St. Albert and Lamoureaux in Alberta were ignored. So, in 1885, when the dissatisfaction of the Saskatchewan Métis manifested itself in the Riel Rebellion, an army of soldiers was sent to deal with the rebels. Their victory solidified the prairies as the domain of the English-speaking white man.

North West Mounted Police
[edit | edit source]

The North West Mounted Police was firmly entrenched, maintaining her majesty’s law and order among Indian and whites alike. The Canadian Pacific Railway pushed past Calgary by 1883. An unfinished segment around Lake Superior was finished in 1885, thereby establishing the final link between Eastern Canada and the rich, fertile land to the west, some 75,000 square miles, which lay, marked with iron stakes, awaiting the settler’s plough.

However, still Alberta bided while free lands in the Dakotas in the U.S. and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan claimed the settlers.

The exception was the most southern part of the District of Alberta where, in 1881, the government made crown lands available for grazing. Ranchers or cattle companies could lease up to 100,000 acres for one cent an acre and many Americans and British took advantage of the opportunity. These enterprises added another thousand people to Alberta’s population.

Additional Information[edit | edit source]

For additional information see:  Alberta Birth, Marriage, and Death Records

See: Alberta Bibliography

See: Alberta Libraries

See: Alberta BMD records 1870 to Present


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Alberta Ancestors

offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.