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Article posted: January 11, 1998

By: Norman K. Crowder

Here is some information that may be helpful if you are visiting the National Archives of Canada (NAC) for the first time.

Essential Information

Location: National Archives of Canada is located at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N3, slightly west of the Parliament Buildings and the Supreme Court. Facilities for genealogical research are primarily on the third floor.

Office hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday except statutory holidays such as Christmas Day and July 1st. July 4th is not a statutory holiday in Canada. The building is open after hours to 10:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and statutory holidays for researchers with a pass but there are no staff members on hand to provide services.

Car parking: There are limited parking facilities on the west side of the building; visitor parking is limited to 2 hours during office hours and is strictly monitored. Do not park in spaces with a number or you will be sorry!

Telephone numbers: Genealogy reference service (613) 996-7458; FAX (613) 995-6274.

Web site: - click on "Genealogy Research".

Services are provided in both English and French.

Busy times - January to December year-round.
Incredibly busy times - June to September; there are often long line-ups

Before You Come to Ottawa

The most important thing is to ensure that you are coming to the right place! Obtain by mail or from the web site a copy of the free NAC guide entitled TRACING YOUR ANCESTORS IN CANADA for information on the kinds of records available here. This is the greatest genealogical bargain in Canada and has many helpful tips on family history research as well as the addresses of provincial and territorial archives and the major genealogical societies in Canada. Generally speaking NAC has national or federal records such as the census (up to 1901), military, settlement, and immigration records; provincial archives have vital (birth, marriage and death), estate, and land records. Don't take my word for it - go to your public library and consult Angus Baxter's IN SEARCH OF YOUR CANADIAN ROOTS or a provincial handbook such as Brenda Merriman's excellent GENEALOGY IN ONTARIO. If you turn up at the NAC looking for the 1911 Census or your grandmother's will, you will be disappointed and may find that your trip has been wasted - of course, you can always pass the time by sightseeing or visiting the museums.

The web site has a number of clickable topics under Genealogical Research which complement the text of TRACING YOUR ANCESTORS IN CANADA. For example there is a searchable database for World War 1 soldiers and an index to the 1871 census of Ontario. Articles on Loyalists and Upper Canada petitions contain microfilm numbers to enable your library to order films under interlibrary loan arrangements.

NAC has some early church records; those which are available on microfilm are listed in NAC publication CHECKLIST OF PARISH REGISTERS 1986, which is held by many public libraries. It also has a number of printed transcripts of church registers which may be consulted on site at the NAC only. The printed transcripts are listed in a finding aid in a large blue binder in the Reading Room.

They are also in the late John Coderre's GUIDE TO BIRTH, MARRIAGE AND DEATH RECORDS, published by Ottawa Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society, P. O. Box 8346, Ottawa, Ontario, K1G 3H8. The copy in the Reading Room is kept up to date by the staff of the Genealogy Unit; they add new entries in manuscript. While the microfilms may be borrowed on interlibrary loan, the printed material may be consulted only in the Reading Room. Note, however, that these publications may be available on interlibrary loan from other institutions including the National Library of Canada.

You may send an inquiry by mail, telephone, FAX, E-mail or via the web site to the Genealogy Unit. Always provide your postal address in case the NAC staff genealogist wishes to send you some documentation. Do NOT send self-addressed stamped envelopes or international reply coupons - they are not necessary. If you telephone, you may be greeted with a recorded message and an invitation to leave a message - be sure to include your telephone area code as well as your telephone number. The staff will reply as soon as possible to people in Canada or the United States. Researchers in other countries should use mail, FAX, E-mail or the web site. If you use the web site, you may put a short general question at the end of the inquiry form under Other Records. You may send inquiries by mail but depending on the mail service and the volume of inquiries at the Genealogy Unit, it could take some time to receive an answer.

When You Arrive at the NAC

When you enter the NAC, directly in front of you is the Reception Desk; during office hours the staff there will provide you free of charge with a research pass on presentation of identification such as a passport or a driver's licence. While you are there, it would be a good idea to get a pass (also free) for the National Library of Canada in the same building - it has immense resources of family histories, local histories, historical atlases, directories, handbooks, and published church, cemetery and military records, etc.The reference librarians on the second floor will be happy to help you.

Remember if you arrive Friday evening you cannot obtain a pass until Monday morning; this will leave the weekend free for sight-seeing.

Once you have your research pass, go to the Security Desk on your left and sign in. You may obtain a locker in which to leave purses, briefcases and large objects - only notebooks, clip boards, and laptop computers may accompany you to the third floor. Don't even think about joking about cans of red paint as the security officers may be sensitive on this subject - years ago a researcher brought in some paint and vandalized historical documents.

Now you are ready to go to the third floor and start to work.

Visiting the Reference Room on the Third Floor

As you come off the elevator at the third floor, to your left is the Reading Room and to your right is the Reference Room. Inside the Reference Room are tables and rows of cabinets with finding aids and indexes. As you go in, to your left is a staff genealogist who will be pleased to offer advice on your research and the resources which you should consult. The genealogist will not do your research for you but can help you find your way around the immense collection of records in NAC.

Most genealogical records have been microfilmed; the microfilm numbers consist of a single letter and several digits, e.g. C-1024. Records without film numbers, often beginning with RG or MG, must be ordered in their original condition.

Fill out request forms for the documents and keep a record of the films that you want to look at. Now go to the Reading Room at the other end of the hall.

Using the Reading Room on the Third Floor

As you enter the Reading Room you will find a stand with a number of finding aids, including the Coderre guide to births, marriages and deaths - if the Coderre book is not in the stand, you may have to search for it on one of the tables as it is in constant use. If you have documents to order, take your requests to the Circulation Desk to your right - some documents will arrive in short order but some may take longer if they have to be obtained from Renfrew, about 60 miles away.

On the left of the entrance is the Microfilm Reading Room with a large number of electrically-powered microfilm readers. The microfilms are mostly stored in cabinets in this room but some are in a row of cabinets just outside in the main room. You select your own films and insert them - if you need help, ask someone at the Circulation Desk or a nearby researcher who seems to know what he is doing. After you have finished with a film, put it in the stand for returns, not back in its original location.

The printed books mentioned in the Coderre finding aid are filed along the wall in the main room in alphabetical sequence by call number. Again it is a self-service process and when you are finished put them on the return cart inside the entrance door.

You are allowed to use pens or pencils to make notes in the NAC. If you prefer to have copies made of records of interest, fill out a request form and take it to the Circulation Desk. Again depending on the volume of business it may take a few days to obtain your copies; if you wish you may have them mailed to your home. At present copies cost 20 cents each plus applicable taxes; charges may also be paid by MasterCard or Visa.

You may stay in the Reading Room after normal office hours to continue with your research but remember that no staff members are there to provide services. There is usually a security guard on hand to ensure that you behave yourself so be warned!

No Tips But Donations Are Welcome

Just outside the door to the Reference Room is a receptacle in which you can unload your pocket or purse to get rid of those weighty loonies (dollar coins) or toonies (two dollar coins) as donations to express your thanks for services received.

As You Leave the Building

Ask at the Reception Desk about taking out a membership in the Friends of the National Archives of Canada. Members receive a newsletter periodically as well as invitations to special events and discounts on some merchandise. Your membership fees will help to supplement the NAC budget and finance additional activities. Further information is on the web site under "Want to Know About the National Archives?" then click on "Friends of the National Archives". Your support will be appreciated.

Happy Hunting!

Editor's note: Norman K. Crowder, the author of this article is an accomplished genealogical and historical author, lecturer, educator & researcher. Be sure to check out Norm's biography and the books he has written. Inc. 1992-2018
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