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dave obee Basics of Canadian Naturalization Indexes

By Dave Obee

The face of Canada changed dramatically in the early years of the 20th century, with the extent of the transformation revealed in census numbers.

In 1901, there were 5.3 million Canadians, and only 1 in 20 said they were not "British-born," a term that included Canada, England, and other countries of the Commonwealth.

By 1911, though, thanks to a wave of immigration from continental Europe and the United States, Canada could boast that one in 10 of its residents were from non-Commonwealth countries. That ratio held for the next 20 years.

Many of these new non-British arrivals did not speak English, and often had names that were virtually incomprehensible to English speakers. Beyond that, they often had no firm plans as to where they would make their new homes in Canada.

These factors pose major problems for today's genealogical researchers who are trying to trace the movements of their direct ancestors and other relatives. We may know they came here, but it's hard to say what names they used, and where they went.

The Canadian Naturalization Index 1915-1932 provides a solution. It includes references to about 200,000 people who applied for and received status as naturalized Canadians during those years.

The index is one of the few Canadian genealogical resources that is specifically designed to benefit those researchers with roots outside of the British Commonwealth.

Until the federal Canadian Citizenship Act went into effect in 1947, people born in the Dominion of Canada or elsewhere in the British Empire were considered to be British subjects. However, people from non-Commonwealth countries -- for example the United States, Germany, Russia, and the Scandinavian countries -- were considered to be "aliens", and had to be "naturalized" to gain status.

Once they were were naturalized, their names, addresses and countries of origin were published in indexes in the Sessional Papers -- the source of this naturalization index -- and in the Canada Gazette, a weekly report of federal government activities.

This index is a tremendous help in a variety of ways. It's possible, for example, to search for alternative spellings for surnames -- such as Diede or Diedo for Tiede, to cite one example. That may help a researcher unearth a missing ancestor.

It's also possible to find out the cities and villages where people settled. On passenger arrival records, for example, many new arrivals simply stated Winnipeg as their destination -- because that was the location of some of the key offices handling settlement. They usually moved on within days. Years later, when they applied to be naturalized, they gave their new location to the authorities. Since that new location is the one shown on the Canadian Naturalization Index, suddenly those missing relatives aren't missing anymore.

There are a couple of ways to speed up a search of the naturalization index, if you already know when a person arrived in Canada.

-- To be naturalized in the period covered by the index, a person must have lived in Canada for five years. So be sure to start a search five years after the person arrived.

-- Microfilmed passenger lists from 1925 and later often show a handwritten date near a person's name. That is the date they applied for naturalized status. The entry in the index, indicating the application was approved, would fall after that handwritten date.

Information gleaned from the index can lead to further research, especially when we're not sure where a person spent their early years in Canada. By giving a location, the index will possibly offer the key to unlocking resources such as local histories, the 1940 National Registration (which is filed by electoral district and polling division), directories and voters lists, civil registration documents -- and, of course, the naturalization documents themselves.

The Canadian Naturalization Index 1915-1932 represents the first phase of a project that will eventually span almost 40 years of records. It is a significant step forward for those researching non-British roots.


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