Civil records (birth, marriage, divorce, death) in Manitoba can be found in a number of different places, and the information that was collected varied over the years.
From 1670 to 1870, the area that is now Manitoba was called Rupert’s Land and was controlled by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Manitoba officially became a province in 1870 and was small area (160 sq km) around Winnipeg. In 1912, Manitoba expanded to it’s present size.
Hudson’s Bay Records
The earliest civil records in much of Canada were kept by the Hudson’s Bay Company on their employees. A few genealogists are familiar with these Biographical Sheets and some contain extensive information, and some contain scant information. In addition to the Biographical Sheets, the HBC has a lot of other data in their records like: community activities in their reports, noting births, marriages and deaths, as well as other significant events like drought, famine, visitors and a variety of other details of daily life. They have census returns, parish and church records and so much more.
The Manitoba Genealogical Society (MGS) has published two books written by MGS members Elizabeth Briggs & Anne Morton. They are Biographical Resources at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 that are an invaluable resource for genealogists. The authors went through the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, and identified all the records that have genealogical information, and indexed them in these books. There is a large index of names in the book, but also early census information on First Nation People associated with the Company, wills and estate records of employees, and so much more. There are over 400 pages of directions for locating information in the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in these two books that a genealogist would love. To see the index and sample pages of these books, and read the full description of what is in these books, visit the MGS Store. They are available for viewing at the MGS Resource Library. The call numbers of these two books within the MGS Resource Library are ‘REF 15.7127 BRI’ and ‘REF 15.7127 HUD’.
The churches that established themselves during the ‘Rupert’s Land years’, were the Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land, and the Catholic Church. When the explorer LaVérendrye came to the North-West in 1731, Jesuit missionary priests accompanied him. The first Catholic mission, a church at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers (named St. Boniface) was established in 1818. The first Anglican church, St. John’s, on the banks of the Red River, was built in 1822. As the population grew, new churches were built, and it is these early churches that created the first civil records for those who lived in what is now Manitoba.
Thanks to the efforts of MGS volunteers over the years, two filing cabinets holding many files of these early church records are available at the MGS Resource Centre. These include:
• Anglican Marriage, Baptism and Death indexes from over 60 churches from the Diocese of Rupert’s Land from 1813 to 1925. The vast majority of the files within the two cabinets pertain to Anglican records.,
• Some Catholic Marriage Indexes from 1834 to 1982, and
• United Church Archives – marriage, baptism and burial indexes for a large number of Manitoba and N.W. Ontario charges.
These early records are not online. Individual searches by name for a specific type of record may be available for a fee from the applicable church archive.
These early church records are available at the MGS Resource Library in Winnipeg but are restricted records that must be used while you are physically in our Library. The MGS Resource Library is located in Winnipeg at Unit E – 1045 St James Street in the corner of the strip mall adjacent to the Brick Furniture store.
These early church records are paper indexes of the names by church/parish plus baptism-marriage-death information. As mentioned, these binders of information fill two filing cabinets, and our friendly volunteers will guide you in your search of these records.
The transcriptions held by MGS in Winnipeg of the Anglican records are detailed and especially helpful to genealogists:
- Baptismal transcriptions may include some or all of: name of church, name of person baptized, father’s name, mother’s name, father’s occupation, date of baptism
- Marriage transcriptions may include some or all of: for each of the groom and the bride – name, age or date of birth, marital status, residence, birthplace, occupation, religion, parents’ name; and date of marriage; and names of the witnesses.
Using a personal subscription to Ancestry.ca on your home computer or the Library Edition of Ancestry found on each computer at the MGS Resource Library in Winnipeg, you can search Ancestry’s ‘Card Catalogue’. When you search on the keyword ‘Manitoba’ numerous useful and immediately accessible and searchable databases appear. Of particular relevance are the following:
- Manitoba, Canada, Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1834-1959
- This collection consists of baptism, marriage, and burial records from various churches in and around Manitoba, Canada between the years of 1834 and 1959. Some information found by browsing the collection may date back to 1800, but baptism, marriage, and burial records are only found post-1834.
- Some of the records in this collection pre-date Manitoba’s creation as a province, and, as a result, are from locations that do not exist in present-day Manitoba, but instead are found in Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, or Minnesota. Most locations were fur trading posts, the earliest records are those created by Oblate missionaries to the First Nations and Metis populations in those remote areas which, at the time, belonged to the Hudson’s Bay Company until 1869.
- Manitoba, Canada, Census Indexes, 1832-1856 & 1870
- This collection consists of Census Indexes from Manitoba (Red River Settlement), Canada, from the years 1832-1856, taken by the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the 1870 provincial census of Manitoba.
- Within this collection you may find information such as:
- Residence Place
- Birth Place
- Marital Status
- Father’s Name
- Father’s Religion
Many visitors to the MGS Resource Library come to use the Library Edition of Ancestry.ca and seek guidance in the use of this online software from our Library volunteers. Many other genealogical databases are also accessible using our MGS computers.
In 1870, when Manitoba was first formed, it was about 160 sq km in size with Winnipeg at its centre. In 1882, legislation enforcing the registration of births, marriages and deaths with the civil authorities was passed into law. Just because the legislation was passed did not mean that everyone complied with civil registrations—many times language, weather, distance to the registration office, and indifference resulted in no registration of births, marriages and deaths during those early days. In 1912, Manitoba became its current size of 647,797 sq km, but it wasn’t until about 1920 that civil registration became the norm—but even so, there were those who did not register their births or deaths. Marriages tended to be registered through the church or a civil office more readily than births and deaths in those early days. This is why the transcriptions of early Anglican records of marriages and especially baptisms held by MGS are so important.
It is for this reason that you sometimes see an early birth record, and it says it was registered in 1955 or some other year when the person was an adult. Often, people would register their birth so they could get married, travel across borders, or to access public services like Canada Pension (1967) or universal health care (1969). Sometimes, there is no birth record, only an accurate death record that mentions the presumed year of birth.
Unlike today, many people in the first half of the 20th century went without identification like birth certificates until they were required to provide said identification, usually to the government to access social services. In the latter half of the 20th century, students in schools were encouraged to apply for their birth certificate when they turned 16 years of age, as they were then legally able to work and would need identification. Now that we are in the 21st century, having identification is necessary for almost anything you want to do.
There are two ways to get copies of civil records from Manitoba Vital Statistics:
- The first way is to find your ancestor through the Genealogy Searches for Unrestricted Records which is listed as Search The Database on their website. Note that these records are sometimes misspelled because not everyone was educated back then or the writing was so poor the person inputting the data couldn’t read it properly. (ie. Mailing instead of Mehling) When you find a record through this method, click on the ADD TO CART button to purchase that document for $12.
- The second method is to apply for Genealogy Searches for Restricted Records which costs $30. The link will give you the details of that method.
- If either the party concerned or the immediate next of kin (spouse, children, parents, or siblings) are living, written proof of their consent to release the requested information is to be attached to the application.
- The document issued is a certified photocopy of the registration of the event on file at Manitoba Vital Statistics which is stamped “Genealogical Purposes Only”. The certified photocopy contains information exactly as recorded on the original registration, and, although the information may differ from your application, it cannot be amended. If the record you requested is not located, a Search Receipt is issued stating there is no record of the event for the years searched. The fees are not refundable.
What information do you get on the birth, marriage and death record? You will get the place of birth/death/marriage, dates, parents names, and so forth Of course, the information is only as good as what the person filling out the form put on it. If the person told the clerk they were born in Poland, then that is what was written in. If more detailed information was given, that detailed information was written in. I have a 1903 marriage registration certificate of an ancestor that lists 3 marriages on one form, and the other 2 that were not what I requested were blocked out. A 1919 marriage certificate I received was of that particular couple on a full page. I received a death certificate AND a medical certificate for the death of another relative—I didn’t know I would be getting the medical certificate. Getting the certificate is worth it if you are missing any vital information on an ancestor. Parent’s names have been on every record I have accessed to date. Places tend to vary in regard to detail.
The first newspapers in Manitoba appeared before Manitoba became a province. These early newspapers have notices of birth, marriage and death.
In 1859, the Nor’Wester was the first newspaper published in the Red River Settlement. There are only three locations in Canada known to have a complete run of this newspaper: the Legislative Library of Manitoba, the University of Calgary, and l’Université de Montréal. Since then, there have been hundreds of different newspapers published in Manitoba—some lasting only a few years, some in the language of immigrants to the province. Most of these smaller, local newspapers from the early years of the province have not survived.
At MGS, our Manitoba Name Index has all those Manitoba newspapers listed and the location in Manitoba where they were published.
More importantly, MGS volunteers spent many hours transcribing and indexing the entries in the early newspapers at the Manitoba Archives, and published them as follows:
- An Index of Marriage & Death Notices From Manitoba Newspapers Volume 1 (1859-1881) Marr / Deaths only
- An Index of Birth, Marriage & Death Notices From Manitoba Newspapers Volume 2 (1882-1884)
- An Index of Birth, Marriage & Death Notices From Manitoba Newspapers Volume 3 (1885)
- An Index of Birth, Marriage & Death Notices From Manitoba Newspapers Volume 4 (1886)
- An Index of Birth, Marriage & Death Notices From Manitoba Newspapers Volume 5 (1887)
If you visit our store, you will see sample pages of the books to get an idea of what information is in the entries. Sometimes there would be an obituary, but mostly there was just a simple listing of genealogical information to identify the person and event.
The MGS Resource Library has NewspaperArchive.com International Edition available to all visitors. Members: Free. Non-members: $10/day. You can search the world for your ancestor’s name and you may find interesting articles about them, birth and marriage announcements, and obituaries. NewspaperArchive.com is the best choice for searchable archived Manitoba newspapers both urban and rural compared to any other source. The local news columns from rural Manitoba that were in many newspapers were filled with the people who lived there: who was celebrating a birthday, who bought a car, who got engaged/married, who visited whom and why, and so forth. Court reporters humorously wrote about court appearances. Adoption, divorces, and child and family service events were often in the newspapers with names. There was no privacy back then! What you find can be “clipped” and saved digitally to a thumb drive or printed ($0.25 per page). If you don’t have a thumb drive, we have them for sale at MGS for $10.
In Manitoba, the divorce records can be found at the Manitoba Archives. Family Search says: “Between 1920 and 1983, divorce records were kept at the King’s Bench court offices of the province. Since 1983, all divorce records over 25 years old from each of the offices outside Winnipeg or 40 years old in the Winnipeg Eastern Judicial District are being transferred to the Provincial Archives. These records are indexed.”
In addition, Ancestry has the Canadian Parliamentary Marriage and Divorces from 1867-1919 indexed which is searchable by name, spouse’s name, year of marriage and year of divorce. Along with the couple’s data, these records may also include children, residences, occupations and other information. Ancestry Library Edition is available for free (non-members pay a $10 day use fee) at the MGS Resource Centre.
Manitoba is a young province with a long history of occupation. These resources will help you find your ancestors, and guide you to other resources to find more family information. As usual, our volunteers at the MGS Resource Centre can help you access all these records on Tue, Wed, and Thu from 10 am to 3 pm, and one Saturday a month by appointment. We are in The Brick strip mall on St. James Street in Winnipeg and there is lots of free parking and many restaurants nearby to refresh yourself.
And if you have a particularly troublesome ancestor, our Research Team is extremely knowledgeable. They are the Thursday volunteers and can help you then as time permits, or you can purchase their services here to obtain at least six hours of a researcher’s time devoted just to you. Happy hunting!
Shirlee Anne Smith, Frits Pannekoek, J.E. Rea, Jeff Scott, Michelle Filice, Jon Tattrie, Andrew McIntosh. (2014, Nov 18, last edited 2020, May 15). Manitoba and Confederation. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed 2023-Nov-25. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/manitoba-and-confederation
Family Search. 2023, Aug 22 last edited. Manitoba Civil Registration. Family Search. Accessed 2023-Nov-25. https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/Manitoba_Civil_Registration
Bradford, T. 2013, Number 71 Winter Issue. Manitoba History: Conservative Visions of Christianity and Community in Early Red River, c1800-1821. Manitoba History. Manitoba Historical Society. Accessed 2023-Nov-25. https://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/71/christianity.shtml
Archdiocese of Winnipeg. A History of the Archdiocese: Part 1 – The Catholic Church in Manitoba to 1916. Archdiocese of Winnipeg. Accessed 2023-Nov-25. https://www.archwinnipeg.ca/main.php?p=21#:~:text=The%20first%20permanent%20Catholic%20mission,Boniface
Legislative Library. Conservation and Restoration of The Nor’Wester. Manitoba Legislative Library. Accessed 2023-Nov-25. https://www.gov.mb.ca/leg-lib/spotlight/norwester.html#:~:text=The%20Nor’Wester%20is%20the,and%20l’Universit%C3%A9%20de%20Montr%C3%A9al.