Nova Scotia Vital Records:
Births, Marriages, and Deaths

Historical Background

Nova Scotia vital records are somewhat complex. This is partly due to the province’s history of settlement, and partly due to the government's abandonment of civil registration with respect to births and deaths, some 13 years after its implementation in the late 1800s, and the re-institution of civil registration in the early 1900s.

Nova Scotia flag
Nova Scotia flag

European settlement in Nova Scotia began in 1604, with the arrival of some French settlers. Control of the area passed between the French and the British a number of times over the ensuing century, eventually remaining in the hands of the British. The first Scottish settlers arrived around 1621.

The Scots became the dominant group in the province. Hence the name “Nova Scotia”, or New Scotland. However, there are a number of other ethnic groups represented as well, including Acadian French, First Nations, African Nova Scotians, and Germans.

Nova Scotia’s Privacy Policy

According to the changes made in 2004, Nova Scotia vital records become inactive and are transferred annually to the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management (NSARM) for archiving and public access, as follows:

  • Births: 100 years after the end of the year in which the birth was registered;
  • Marriages: 75 years after the end of the year in which the marriage was registered;
  • Deaths: 50 years after the end of the year in which the death was registered.
  • Divorces: 50 years after the end of the year in which the divorce was finalized.

More recent Nova Scotia vital records (births, marriages, and deaths) are considered “active records”, and are housed at the Vital Statistics Office. See below for divorce records.

As of January 1, 2011, Nova Scotia vital records are found in the following locations:

Records Nova Scotia Archives
and Record Management

Nova Scotia
Vital Statistics

Births 1864-1877, 1909-1910
(delayed registrations 1830-1910)

January 1, 1911
to the present
Marriages Bonds 1763-1864
Registrations 1864-1935

1936 to the present
Deaths 1864-1877, 1908-1960
City of Halifax 1890-1910
1961 to the present

Documents at Archives and Records Management are available to the general public. Those at the Vital Statistics office are accessible only to certain individuals, under specific circumstances, to protect the privacy of the persons named in them.

Before Civil Registration: Parish Records and Township Record Books

The French kept records of christenings, marriages, and burials in Roman Catholic parish registers. Very few of these records exist prior to 1702.

The British kept the same types of records in Church of England parish registers, beginning in Halifax in 1749.

All Saints Anglican Church,
Springhill, Nova Scotia
Wikimedia Commons
All Saints Anglican Church, Springhill, NS

Township books, covering only part of the province, began to be used for Nova Scotia vital records, along with other occurrences in the township, around 1760, although some marriages were recorded in these books as early as 1702.

This continued until about 1860 in most townships, although some areas continued recording marriages in these books until as recently as 1920. Most existing township books can now be found at the NSARM office.

Civil Registration – Births and Deaths

Mandatory civil registration of Nova Scotia vital records began in 1864. In 1877, registration of births and deaths was discontinued, although civil registration of marriages continued. Even during the 1864-1877 period, not all Nova Scotia vital records were registered, as there were high levels of non-compliance with the registration requirement.

Newborn feet. Wikimedia Commons.
Newborn feet

Birth and death records from 1864 to 1877 are indexed by county and by family name.

As of October 1, 1908, the requirement to register births, marriages, and deaths was reinstated, and has continued to date.

Delayed Registration – Birth and Death Records

Thus, there was a time period (1877-1908, and to some extent before that, due to non-compliance) during which there was no official record of births or deaths.

As a result, individuals whose births were never registered had difficulty applying for passports, pensions, and other things for which official birth documentation had to be provided. The Nova Scotia government therefore implemented a ‘delayed registration’ process for a number of years after 1908, so that individuals in these situations could register their birth and thus obtain the necessary documentation in support of those other applications.

This process required up to four ‘proofs’ of birth, such as statements from other family members, census documents, or church records. About 95,000 delayed birth registrations are on file.

Deaths could also be registered in this manner. Presumably, in order for a widowed person to remarry, they would have to provide proof of death of their spouse. This would be a compelling reason to register the deceased spouse's death!

Marriage Records

There are two basic types of Nova Scotia vital records relating to marriage:

  • those expressing an intention to marry (i.e., marriage bonds (1763 – 1871) and licences (1849-1918); and

  • those recording the actual event, such as parish church records, marriage records (1864-1875) and marriages recorded in Registers of Births, Deaths, and Marriages (1864-1918).
Scottish Wedding Cake Topper
Wikimedia Commons
Scottish Wedding Cake Topper

(a) Marriage Bonds and Licenses

In 1763, procedures were put into place in most counties for obtaining marriage bonds and licenses, for those who wanted to dispense with calling the banns. However, participation was optional. The records therefore are not complete. Most couples continued with the reading of the banns and marriage in the church.

It also appears that ministers in 'non-conformist' or 'dissenting' churches were allowed to perform marriages as early as 1763, as the marriage bonds could be issued listing the name of a non-conformist clergyman as the one who would perform the ceremony.

Marriage bonds usually included the following information:

  • names, ages, places of residence, and marital status of intended bride and groom;
  • occupation of intended groom;
  • date and place of issue of the bond;
  • name, place of residence and occupation of bondsman;
  • name of clergyman to whom the licence would be sent forms for non-conformists / dissenters included minister's name and religious affiliation;forms for the Church of England identified name of the parish only
  • if the intended bride or groom were under the age of majority or in the military, letters of permission were sometimes attached to the bond. Where this is the case, the letters have been digitized and included in the online records.

Marriage bonds and licences are not proof that the marriage actually occurred. They serve to indicate that there was no legal impediment to the marriage.

They also signal the groom’s sincerity in his intention to marry. Marriage bonds cost £100 - quite a hefty sum in those days! If the marriage did not occur, the groom would forfeit the bond.

Marriage bonds are organized chronologically at Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management. They exist for the following years:

1763, 1765, 1770–1780, 1782, 1784–1799, 1801–1850, 1854–1856, and 1858–1863.

NSARM also has marriage licenses from about 1849–1851 to 1934. The records are organized by county and then by year.

Wedding Morning
Wikimedia Commons
The Wedding Morning

(b) Records recording the Actual Marriage

Actual marriage records (proof that the marriage actually occurred) can take several forms:

  • A note on the marriage bond or license;
  • A separate document – sometimes called a marriage return certificate - signed and dated by the minister and sent to the government. This could be filed with the bond or license, or in another file.
  • After 1864, a marriage "slip" that includes detailed information about the couple and their parents
  • After 1864, marriage register books or loose pages that list the names of several couples;
  • An entry in a township book;
  • A record in a church register;
  • A newspaper notice; and
  • A note in a family Bible.

Only the first four would be considered Nova Scotia vital records.

Marriage records from 1864 (the year that civil registration began) typically include the following for both the bride and groom, although details may be missing in early records:

  • name, age, and marital status;
  • occupation, trade, or profession;
  • religion;
  • place of residence;
  • place of birth;
  • names and places of birth /residence of parents; and
  • marriage date and place

Marriage records from 1864 to 1934 are indexed by county and, within the county, by family name.

Where can I find the Records?

Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management is located at:

6016 University Avenue
Halifax, NS
B3H 1W4

NSARM has put all of the records listed as being in its possession in the chart in the "Privacy Policy" section (see above) online, and provides free access, at

Ancestry has the following databases:

  • Nova Scotia, Canada, Births, 1836-1907
  • Nova Scotia, Canada, Marriages, 1763-1932
  • Nova Scotia, Canada, Deaths, 1864-1877, 1890-1957

The Family History Library has the following records:

  • Births, 1864–1877. On 37 Family History Library films beginning with film 1318341. The records are organized by county, then town, then year.
  • Death Records 1864–1877. On 38 Family History Library films beginning with 1293436. The records organized are by county and then by year.
  • Transcripts of Marriage Bonds Issued at Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1763–1871. On Family History Library film 1376196 items 2–3 and film 1376197 items 1–3
  • Marriage Licenses, 1849–1918. On 535 Family History Library films beginning with 1301853. The records are organized by county and then by year. The cutoff dates for the marriage licence records, for each county, are:
    Annapolis 1908
    Antigonish 1910
    Cape Breton 1912
    Colchester 1914
    Cumberland 1913
    Digby 1909
    Guysborough 1906
    Halifax 1916
    Hants 1916
    Inverness 1908
    Kings 1909
    Lunenburg 1908
    Pictou 1917
    Queens 1910
    Richmond 1918
    Shelburne 1908
    Victoria 1918
    Yarmouth 1908
  • Marriage records, 1864–1875. On 17 films beginning with 1317402. The records are organized by county and then by year.

Divorce Records

For general information about divorce records in Canada, see my page Canadian Divorce Records.

NSARM has divorce records from 1759 to 1960. It also has an online database, Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes case files, 1759-1960, which is quite helpful.

More recent divorce records can be found at the appropriate branch of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

Obtaining Copies of the Records

Copies of Nova Scotia vital records (birth, marriage, and death records) can be purchased, at a cost of $10.25 each for e-filed records, or $20.55 each for paper copies, through the website.

They can also be printed from the Family History Center's microfilm, if you order the appropriate film to the nearest Center to you.

You can also obtain copies by ordering from Ancestry's website.

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