Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Canada Voters Lists 1935 to 1980 new on Ancestry

Let's elebrate!  This huge collection, over 88 million entries from Canadian voters lists between 1935 and 1980, is now available on Ancestry.  It's by far and away the largest Canada-wide database so far, a major resource for finding people living here more recently than the 1911 (or 1916 for the Prairies) census

Included are 15 elections, 15 voters lists, between 14 October 1935 and 18 February 1980. The wartime referendum on 27 April 1942 has no list included.

The lists gives you voter's name, address and occupation (before 1979). The original images have registered voters in a household listed together so you see adult family members. Remember that women had the vote on a equal basis to men throughout this period, although you do find them listed with their husband's name - as Mrs John Smith. The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 starting with the 1972 election.

Lists for all but the last two elections for the period, in 1979 and 1980, have been indexed by Ancestry by an optical character recognition technique. You can also browse them, and the other two, from files of images by parliamentary riding.

Here's some basic information on coverage, the first three columns are from Elections Canada at, the last column from Ancestry.

Election Population

on List
Entries in Ancestry database
October 14, 1935 10,367,063 5,918,207 4,412,068
March 26, 1940 10,429,169 6,588,888 4,978,971
April 27, 194211,494,627 6,502,234   (referendum)
June 11, 1945 11,494,627 6,952,445 5,318,978
June 27, 1949 11,823,649 7,893,629 6,306,269
August 10, 1953 14,003,704 8,401,691 5,889,453
June 10, 1957 16,073,970 8,902,125 7,241,080
March 31, 1958 16,073,970 9,131,200 5,961,477
June 18, 1962 18,238,247 9,700,325 6,605,162
April 8, 1963 18,238,247 9,910,757 7,521,803
November 8, 1965 18,238,247 10,274,904 7,774,464
June 25, 1968 20,014,880 10,860,888 8,282,839
October 30, 1972 21,568,311 13,000,778 9,474,815
July 8, 1974 21,568,311 13,620,353 9,111,902
May 22, 1979 22,992,604 15,233,653
February 18, 1980 22,992,604 15,890,416

There are a total of 121,156,190 entries on the lists indexed; Ancestry includes 88,879,281 entries, that's about 73% of the electors.

The microfilm records are not complete and many are not correctly transcribed. OCR technology is limited by the quality of the digital images.  If the image resolution is poor, as in this sample, the OCR software is unable to accurately recognize the text.

For people I thought should be indexed a search often found less than all expected occurrences. Sometimes it was easy to work around this, such as when a man's last name was not properly transcribed but his wife's was. One letter was mis-transcribed in his.

To illustrate the performance I searched for Northwood in Winnipeg.  Architect George Northwood lived there with his family.  In 1935 of the four Northwoods in the household George and his wife were found by the index, Margaret's name was interpreted as Marroret, and Rosamund was entirely missing. Happily Richard Bonnycastle (son-in-law) and his wife are in the listing. One of three members of another Winnipeg Northwood family were also found by the OCR.

Two of three members of the George Northwood family were found by the OCR in 1940, but none in 1945, 1949, or 1953. George and his wife are in 1957 but not 1958. He died in 1959. That's about a 50% success rate in finding that Northwood family in those OCRd records.

George's brother James, who lived in Ottawa, is not in 1935, is in 1940, not in 1945, is in 1949, not in 1957, is in 1958 and 1962,  not in 1963, 1965. He is not  indexed in 1968 but his wife is and he's in the image version. He died in 1972. Again that's about a 50% OCR success rate.

Of interest to some will be that if you're looking for former colleagues you may be able to find them by searching on occupation. I found many searching for meteorologist.

When you find errors in Ancestry's OCR indexing please assist others by making corrections - its easy. You'll help yourself too when you need to find them again.

For the 1979 and 1980 unindexed lists there is no occupation given. Postal code is included as well as street address. There is often strong bleed-through from the reverse side of the paper sometimes making it appear as if mirror image text is superimposed, as in this sample. With the heavy lines drawn across the columns further complicating interpretation its no wonder Ancestry decided not to index these.

If you do decide to try a manual search be aware that the file for one parliamentary riding can be long and the geographical organization difficult to discern. In looking for myself in 1979 I found no original voter list but lists of people added late, and some pages indicating nobody had been added - a bit annoying when you have to wait for that page to download. It would be helpful if thumbnails could be shown to save that time.


This is the largest Canadian collection on Ancestry with indexing for 15 elections between 1935 to 1974. About 74% of the possible electors are indexed, that's over 88 million entries. Using a fairly distinctive surname about half of the people I expected to be indexed were easily found. Although you're unlikely to find accurate OCR for all occurrences of a person of interest you should easily find some of them.

Don't forget that city directories are another valuable source for this time period.


Old Census Scribe said...

Even with Ancestry's new addition of the Voters' Lists (which haven't reached their drop-down choices yet), there is still an empty space when it comes to tracing people between 1911 and 1935. Online Directories for Toronto only go up to 1922. There may be others beside myself who are curious about where to find their grandparents in the 1910-1935 period.

M. Diane Rogers said...

And there will be more of us who ask - why was this information given to a commercial company? Why is it less private than the census? What was the agreement between Ancestry and the responsible department(s)? When will we see this at LAC - on-line for free? (And why is Ancestry basically asking users who've paid for subscriptions to do the editing for the OCR indexing?)
And when using this collection, you need to remember that over these years, thousands of people we think of as Canadians were not eligible to vote. Many of those people will not appear in directories either.

Cecil Turcotte said...

It should be noted that until 1960 native women holding 'native status' were refused enfranchisement, they would not be included on the earlier 25 years of voting lists. (From 1876 through 1951 these women were completely barred from voting.)

Yvonne Demoskoff said...

Thanks for writing about this new database at Ancestry. I especially liked the part where you show in table format the differences in coverage between the voters lists and the entries that made it to Ancestry. (For example, Cochrane district in Ontario for 1940 has only 11 images at Ancestry and is missing most of Timmins.)