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.
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.
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:
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
(delayed registrations 1830-1910)
|January 1, 1911
to the present
|1936 to the present|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
There are two basic types of Nova Scotia vital records relating to marriage:
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:
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.
Actual marriage records (proof that the marriage actually occurred) can take several forms:
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:
Marriage records from 1864 to 1934 are indexed by county and, within the county, by family name.
Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management is located at:
6016 University Avenue
Ancestry has the following databases:
The Family History Library has the following 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.
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 www.novascotiagenealogy.com 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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