Genealogy at the Public Archives
The Public Archives and Records Office has a large collection of genealogical material including primary sources, finding aids, and indexes. Some of the major resources are listed below. If you are new to genealogy, Tracing Your Family History in PEI has tips to help you get started.
The Master Name Index
One of the Archives’ most popular resources, the Master Name Index is a set of alphabetical card catalogues. Entries have been compiled from cemetery transcripts, census records, extant passenger lists, marriage registers, selected newspapers, the 1880 Meacham’s Atlas, funeral home registers, and other original sources.
Births, marriages, and deaths
With no civil registry before 1906, researchers looking for early vital statistics information rely largely on existing church records. The quality varies considerably and many records have been lost over the years. Beginning in 1906, civil records for births, marriages, and deaths were collected more consistently. The following restrictions apply:
- Births: Restricted for 120 years after the date of the event;
- Marriages: Restricted for 75 years after the date of the event;
- Deaths: Restricted for 50 years after the date of the event. Note: Cause of death is permanently confidential.
For births, marriages, and deaths still under restrictions, to request cause of death information, or to request official copies of certificates and licenses, contact Vital Statistics, 126 Douses Road, Montague, PE, C0A 1R0, (902) 838-0887 or 1-877-320-1253 (toll-free in Canada).
The Public Archives has the following sources of vital statistics information:
Vital statistics records
- Baptisms to ca. 1923: Records are indexed by the name of the child baptized. The information was taken from available church records and usually includes the child's name, date of birth and baptism, parents’ names, and reference to the church record, many of which are available at the Archives. Baptisms can be searched online through the PARO Collections Database.
- Deaths prior to 1906: An alphabetical listing of death or burial records taken from church records, newspaper announcements, and unidentified sources. Information given is limited and references may be impossible to trace. These records can be searched online through the PARO Collections Database.
- Deaths, 1906–1960: Microfilmed copies of the death registrations and related indexes are available in the Reading Room. Cause of death is not given. Death records are added to the PARO Collections Database every month so check back for new additions.
- Marriage Register Books, 1832–1923: Records of marriage returns from the clergy and justices of the peace. Information includes name, marital status, and place of residence of bride and groom, date of marriage, names of witnesses, and officiant. Parents’ names are not given. These records are indexed in the Master Name Index.
- Marriage Licenses, 1787–1936; Marriage Bonds, 1849–1902: These are separate collections of bonds and licenses indexed by bride and groom. Information is similar to that in the marriage register books although the bonds do not include the date of the ceremony. Parents' names are not included in marriage records before the 1920s. Marriage licenses up to 1919 are available through the PARO Collections Database.
- Marriage License Cash Books, 1879–1970: These records are organized by county and provide a chronological listing of marriage licenses issued through the Provincial Secretary's Office. Information includes the names and marital status of the parties, place of residence, name of the person to whom the license was issued, the bondsman, and the date.
Most churches kept records of baptisms, marriages, and deaths. The Archives has copies of many church records on microfilm. Indexes are available for some records of the Church of Scotland, St. John's Presbyterian Church in Belfast, St. Peter's Anglican Church in Charlottetown, and St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church on Lennox Island. The type and amount of information in these records varies. Deaths were often poorly documented compared to baptisms and marriages. Marriage records, particularly those of the Catholic Church, may include parents' names. Restrictions on access vary according to the individual church. Catholic Church records after 1900 are restricted.
Inscriptions from existing gravestones have been indexed into the Master Name Index. Cemetery booklets are also available in the Reading Room. As well as dates of birth and death, these records may establish family relationships, indicate place of origin, or offer miscellaneous genealogical data.
Most PEI newspapers are available on microfilm at the Public Archives or the University of Prince Edward Island's Robertson Library. Digital copies of the Guardian newspaper (1890-1957) are searchable online through the Island Newspapers website. Notices of births, marriages, and deaths are of uneven quality depending on the date and newspaper. Some newspapers were indexed into the Master Name Index for vital statistics or other information, but the vast majority of newspapers are not indexed. It is important to have a specific date or newspaper searches can be extremely time-consuming.
Census records for PEI cover the period from 1728 to 1921, with gaps. Almost every census is missing records for some lots and the information recorded varies considerably. Starting in 1881, census records list the name, gender, and age of each person living in the household and give more detail regarding place of birth, education, occupation, and family relationships. Users can access census records up to 1911 in the Archives Reading Room. The 1841, 1881, 1891, and 1901 census returns can also be searched through the PARO Collections Database and an index to the 1911 census can be found at AutomatedGenealogy.com.
Note: The 1921 census is not available at the Public Archives. Visit Library and Archives Canada’s website for information on accessing 1921 census records.
Land records and maps
Land records can establish that your ancestors were on PEI in a given year, pinpoint a location so records arranged by lot can be more easily used, and help trace the movement of your family. Land records may include the purchaser's place of origin, occupation, or spouse's name. Researchers should note that until October 1939, land could be transferred by will alone without registration of the transaction. In addition to land records, maps can be particularly useful in tracing who was on a specific piece of property at a given time.
Most of the Archives’ land-related documents date from before 1900. Post-1900 land records are found at the Registry of Deeds (Land Registry), Charlottetown Office, in the Jones Building, 11 Kent Street, Charlottetown, PE, (902) 368-4591. Some records at the Archives that may be of interest include:
- Conveyances: The first series of land conveyances covers all of PEI from 1769 to 1873, while records after 1873 are arranged by county. The conveyances are indexed alphabetically and also contain some leases, mortgages, court judgments, and powers of attorney.
- Leases: Though an index exists, leases were not transcribed into registry books like the conveyances. The original lease and its counterpart were kept by the parties to the rental agreement. The Archives’ collection of leases is made up of documents turned in to the government in exchange for crown deeds. The names recorded on these documents can be a valuable source of genealogical information.
- Crown Deeds and Township Ledgers: Following the first Land Purchase Act of 1853, tenants were allowed to purchase their land from the government who had bought it from the proprietors. After a series of payments, recorded in township ledgers, a deed was issued. These deeds may contain information about previous transactions and may record the number of the original lease.
- Maps and Plans: In addition to the 1863 Lake Map, the 1880 Meacham's Atlas, and the ca. 1928 Cummins Atlas, which contain maps with residents' names for all lots, the Archives has a large collection of manuscript maps of the Island and individual lots. Many show property boundaries. Although the quantity and quality of maps varies, they may be useful in establishing a family's location at a particular time. Maps may also contain land record reference numbers for a deed, lease, or township ledger entry. A number of the Archives’ maps have been digitized and are available online through the Island Imagined website.
- Rent Books: Recording payment of rent by tenants, rent books kept by proprietors or their agents may be the only source establishing your ancestors' place of residence. Rent books have not survived for all lots and time periods.
- Petitions: Petitions made to Executive Council (1780–1837) contain some requests for land. These have been indexed in the Master Name Index and can also be searched online through the PARO Collections Database.
- Warrants of Survey: Issued by the Crown, these land survey orders exist for some Loyalist allotments for the years 1784–1803.
The Public Archives has an extensive collection of records from various PEI courts dating from the 1790s to the 1950s. The genealogical information in some cases may be marginal, but the records can shed light on the broader circumstances of your ancestors' lives. Some records you may find useful include:
- Probate Records: Wills and administrations may contain family names and clarify relationships. They are also useful for documenting pre-1939 land transfers. The Archives has indexes, register copies of wills, estate packages, and administrations from 1807 to 1930. Post-1930 records are kept at the Estates Section, Sir Louis Henry Davies Law Courts, 42 Water Street, PO Box 2000, Charlottetown, PE, C1A 7N8, (902) 368-6000.
- Supreme Court Records: The Archives has a large collection of Supreme Court documents from 1787 to 1958 including minute books and case papers. The quality and quantity of case papers varies considerably, but these records may establish date of residence in a particular locality and give details of your ancestor's life.
- Inquests: These records document inquiries into deaths from unusual circumstances and date from 1789 to 1969. There are gaps and not all inquests have survived. The amount of documentation varies, but there is usually a report of the coroner's jury convened to conduct the inquest. These records may be useful in providing relationships as well as locations of family members. Up to 1850, all names included in the case files, including those of the jurors, are indexed in the Master Name Index.
The Archives does not have adoption records. For access or information contact the Provincial Adoption Coordinator.
The Archives has a collection of provincial and city directories dating from 1864. Directories were published sporadically, often with approximately a ten year interval between volumes. They usually give an alphabetical listing of residents by community or location with an indication of their occupation. In the case of Charlottetown and Summerside, they may also give a listing by street address.
Genealogies and family files
The Archives has a large collection of bound genealogies and family files. The family files contain loose material including genealogical notes, pedigree charts, family group sheets, newspaper clippings, and correspondence received from multiple donors. The information has not been verified by Archives staff but the family files and bound genealogies can provide useful clues for researchers.
Community and church histories
A large part of a community's history revolves around the individuals and families who lived there. Most community histories contain sections devoted to genealogies of local families and there is always information about individuals in the community, such as the local schoolteacher, postmaster, or farmer. The church was often the centre of the social and religious life of a community, making church histories another useful resource. The Archives has many church and community histories available on site. Many of these sources are also available through the PEI Public Library Service.
Genealogy from a distance
Not able to visit the Archives in person? The following resources are available to you:
- Search the Public Archives’ online resources. While the online content represents only a fraction of the genealogical holdings, new records are uploaded regularly to increase access.
- Some microfilmed genealogical materials can be accessed through interlibrary loan. Contact your local public library, university library, or Family History Centre for more information.
- Microfilmed copies of some Public Archives material can be found at the following out-of- province locations:
- Library and Archives Canada
- Master Name Index
- Census records
- PEI newspapers
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) Family History Centres
- Master Name Index
- Index to pre-1886 church baptismal records
- Some land, probate, and church records
- Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, Toronto, Ontario
- Master Name Index
- Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec (formerly the Montreal Central Library), Montreal, Quebec
- Master Name Index
- New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
- Master Name Index
- Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
- Master Name Index
- Library and Archives Canada
- Contact the Archives by email email@example.com or phone at (902) 368-4290. While not able to provide extensive research services, Archives staff can try to answer a specific question or offer suggestions for sources to consult. A list of private contract researchers is also available.