Friday, 12 January 2018

Finding Your Ancestors in the Yukon, NWT and Nunavut

Genealogy in Canada's North is not for the faint of heart. Please note that I have done my best to uncover the resources via the internet and the only real roadblocks that I encountered were to identify genealogists who are actually living in each of these territories. Something to keep in mind is that a portion of the Northwest Territories was divided into Nunavut in 1999. Therefore, any records relating to Nunavut will be found in the Northwest Territories before that time.

If you have an interest in the Yukon, Northwest Territories or Nunavut, I would recommend starting at the Archives and the Library webpages as the staff will more than likely be aware of those individuals who have local knowledge.

On Twitter I follow  @CBCNorth  ;  @CBCNunavut  ;  @CBCMinogue  ;  @YukonMorin  and it is possible to glean interesting resources via their 'on the ground' reporting.

Brief History

When one thinks of the Yukon, the Klondike Gold Rush certainly comes to mind. But what about the people who were there before the rush for gold? The Tagish of the Tlingit Nation were and are First Nation Peoples who live in the Carcross area. There are six clans in the Tlingit nation and the Teslin people regularly traversed the Chilkoot Trail to trade with other communities. Later the miners would use this same trail to find their pot of gold. The Hudson's Bay Company, the North West Mounted Police and explorers such as Samuel Hearne, Alexander Mackezie, Sir John Franklin and Roald Amundsen amongst others were a part of the exploration of the territories and the North.

Yukon Communities  - a listing of communities in the Yukon and their events and happenings

To support the miners and the economic opportunities in the area led by the discovery of gold in 1896 by George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie, the railroad, known as the White Pass & Yukon Route was developed in 1898.  As well, the arrival of the first party of North West Mounted Police in Yukon was in 1894. An important tragedy, one that is not often highlighted, was a horrible maritime disaster, the sinking of the Sophia Oct. 1918 with a loss of 354 lives. Burials took place in Juneau and gravestones in the cities of Vancouver and Victoria carry their names. (Morrison, p.124)

For Genealogists

These free websites should be your first stopping ground for Yukon genealogy.
Cangenealogy Yukon  is a website created by Dave Obee with links to explore Canadian genealogy.  Library & Archives Canada - Yukon  the Government of Canada's British Columbia Genealogy Page. Family Search Yukon  is the Family Search wiki.

Genealogy Resources Yukon and Alaska

Main Page of the Yukon Archives

Resources available through this site have been compiled by two of the Yukon's largest repositories of historical information, the Dawson City Museum & Historical Society Archives and the Yukon Archives. Since the holdings in these facilities are different, each institution has a separate searchable database accessible through

Candice has provided a thorough overview of the Yukon site provided by the Yukon Archives staff.

Yukon E-Resources

Explore North - A Watery Grave - Drownings in the Yukon & Alaska - this does sound a bit gruesome, but truth of the matter is that many explorers in the north met their end by drowning. Alphabetical Lists.

Murray Lundberg has done an awful lot of work collecting information about cemeteries in the Pioneer Cemetery now known as the Gold Rush Cemetery - a list of names of the burials.

Print Resources

Women of the Klondike and Children of the Klondike by Frances Backhouse

History Hunting in the Yukon by Michael Gates - historical accounts of adventurers in the North.

**Biographies of Alaska-Yukon Pioneers 1850-1950, Volumes 1 to 5 by Ed Ferrell

From Norway to the Klondike: The Adventurous and Independent Life of Georgine B. Sonsteby by Georgine B. Sonsteby and Kathy A. Lewis

The Story of Henry Isaacs and his Daughter, Hortie by Ric Newman

People of the Lakes: Stories of Our Van Tat Gwich'in Elders/Googwandak Nakhwach'anjoo Van Tat Gwich'in by Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation  and  Shirleen Smith - oral accounts that the Elders have been recording for 50 years translated from Gwich'in.

Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899 and The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush by Pierre Berton

Non Fiction books for understanding Canada - included in this list are some titles about Northern matters of interest.

Yukon Genealogists' Blogs

Not specifically genealogists' but nevertheless, I was astounded at the amount of information I uncovered - but I'm sure you will find much more.

Explore is a valiant effort by Murray Lundberg to document, gather photos and content of historical sites in the Yukon. Very impressive!  Contact:  yukonalaska @ 

Explore North - Harriet Pullen, Skagway, Alaska - well known entrepreneurial woman of the North who was passionate about retaining the history of the area.

Family History Research at Yukon Archives ca.2004 - even though this site is old, old, old, it does contain some worthwhile resources. Don't be disheartened by the broken links.

How to Find Your Gold Rush Relative: Sources on the Klondike and Alaska gold rushes, 1896-1914. Compiled by R. Bruce Parham, May 1997 (Updated April 2001)

SOS Disasters - articles about the Gold Rush - particularly the Chilkoot Trail. (Archived content from Library and Archives Canada.)

The Horror of the White Pass Trail - this is an account by Michael Gates, a local historian who hiked the trail in 1973.

An article about the Gold Rush in British Columbia and the Yukon. A collaboration by Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 and the University of Western Ontario’s MA Public History Program.     Forgotten Stories about the Klondike Gold Rush     Unique facts about Canada Klondike Gold Rush

The Real Characters of the Klondike   - One of the main inspirations for the content on this website is the story of Micí MacGabhann’s search for gold in the Yukon as described in Rotha Mór an tSaoil (The Great Wheel of Life). MacGabhann’s work was later translated into English and republished under the title The Hard Road to the Klondike. 

Researchers Located in Yukon

Murray Lundberg - is not so much a specialist in genealogy, but he is interested in the history of the region - see

Brief History
According to William Morrison, (True North: the Yukon and Northwest Territories the difference between the Yukon and the NWT - 'might as well have been on different continents'. The Yukon Territories was a part of the economic structure of Canada while the North-West Territories '[...] had hardly been touched at all by the world developments of the nineteenth century, let alone of the early twentieth. The non-native population of that huge region consisted of a handful of fur traders and missionaries.'
    In 1870 Canada acquired  the continental part of the NWT with the transfer of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company and in 1880 Britain transferred the islands of the Arctic archipelago to Canada. (Morrison, p.110)
    Morrison also indicates that as of 1900 there were many Inuit in central NWT, and no-one knew the exact population as the government [Ottawa] was not in regular contact with the people. (Morrison, p.105) After the Second World War, the land was measured to be 3.38 ml. km squared or 34% (per cent) of Canada. To compare, the land mass of the Yukon was just under 5% (per cent). During this time, more attention was paid to gathering statistics and recording the number of residents.

For Genealogists

These free websites should be your first stopping ground for Northwest Territories genealogy.
Cangenealogy Northwest Territories is a website created by Dave Obee with links to explore Canadian genealogy.  Library & Archives Canada - Northwest Territories the Government of Canada's British Columbia Genealogy Page. Family Search Northwest Territories is the Family Search wiki.

Northwest Territories E-Resources

NWT Place Names Database 

Online collections at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre include some fabulous photographic collections.

James Jerome : Through a Gwich'in Lens the first photo on the page is of Laura Firth.

Henry Busse professional photographer - online collection

Print Resources

NWT Public Library Services
Jijuu Who are my grandparents? Where are they from? by Gwich'in Enrolment Board. 
(accessed on the NWT Public Library catalogue)      Reviewed by Carmen McCullough, on her family history website researching her ancestor, John Firth who moved to Fort Macpherson, NWT from the Orkney Islands in 1853.

Sharing Our Stories - Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre  - Two titles of interest to family historians: Ełexègots’edo and Nahe Gondıé Goghánídle both published in 2013. Includes discussions of local artifacts and interviews with elders.

True North : the Yukon and Northwest Territories by William R. Morrison - a modern general history of the North. The author acknowledges help from northern archives: the Yukon Territorial Archives in Whitehorse, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.  Oxford University Press publication.

Northwest Territories Genealogists' Blogs

Access Genealogy List - addresses of First Nations societies and residential offices.

Candice McDonald is not a resident of the Northwest Territories, but has two articles which would prove useful in your research. These were written while visiting Yellowknife and give a feel of being there in person. Exploring Canada: The NWT Legislative Building  and 
Focus on an Archive: Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, NWT

Researchers Located in Northwest Territories
    Difficult to pinpoint, I would suggest sending an email to the archives in the first instance.
If you know of someone to list here, please put a note in the comments. Thank you!

Two Copper Inlet girls dressed in caribou clothing.
Bernard Harbour N.W.T. [Nunavut] 1916
MIKAN 3232522 Library & Archives Canada
Brief History
The Territory of Nunavut was created on 1 April 1999 after negotiations over the redevelopment of  boundaries of the North West Territories. One of Morrison's points is that in 1957 the population of the North was 32,000 people with 5,000 Government employees. (Morrison, p.159)

History of Nunavut  |   History of Iqaluit, formerly Frobisher Bay  - Iqaluit is the captial of Nunavut - this page has a good timeline of the area.  Genealogists will need to be patient as well as creative in their searches.

For Genealogists

These free websites should be your first stopping ground for Nunavut genealogy.
Cangenealogy Nunavut is a website created by Dave Obee with links to explore Canadian genealogy.  Library & Archives Canada - Nunavut the Government of Canada's British Columbia Genealogy Page. Family Search Nunavut is the Family Search wiki.

Government of Nunavut - Archives page

Nunavut E-Resources

The Family Search website has links to the standard e-resources for Nunavut, but specialist and digitized resources are slowly being developed. Many histories of the Inuit people are shared in the oral tradition and the Archives are collecting and recording them, as can been seen on the Archives page.

Library and Archives Canada have been collecting information on identifying the photos of people in the Arctic - please see Project Naming This project is well represented on social media groups - Facebook and Twitter for example.

A unique online photo collection - Nick Newbery Photo Archives

Inhabit Media is a collection of books for children, young adult and adult highlighting Inuit writers and topics.

Print Resources

There were 21 results for genealogy in the Nunavut Public Library System catalogue centred in Iqaluit. Out of the 21, I believe these titles have a family history 'ring' to them.

Swan River : memoir of a family mystery by David Reynolds.

North Pole legacy : black, white and Eskimo by S. Allen Counter. Transcribed---Account of the lives of Anaukaq Henson and Kali Peary. The American-Eskimo sons of Matthew A. Henson and Robert Peary respectively, and their families in the village of Moriussaq, northern Greenland.

A Negro Explorer in the North Pole by Matthew Alexander Henson - the appendix contains a list of Smith Sound Esquimos.   transcription: Matthew A. Henson had been Rear-Admiral Peary's body-servant for twenty-one years and his companion in every Arctic venture since 1891, before he attained the distinction of being with Peary the only man from civilization to reach the Pole. Mr. Henson's little book is a narrative of personal impressions, told for the most part in straightforward style BL

Welcome to Johnny's Place : the Coronation Restaurant in Bowmanville : a Chinese Canadian family business in pictures / by Janice Seto ; all photos courtesy of Johnny Seto and Janice Seto.  (I'm curious as to why this book is in a library in Nunavut!? Was it donated or perhaps a member of the family lives in Iqaluit?) This link gives a review of the book and a little history of the family. 

The juggler's children : a journey into family, legend and the genes that bind us. By Carolyn Abraham.

Nunavut Genealogists' Blogs

Researchers Located in Nunavut - TBD - To Be Determined

This is the last article in the Finding Your Ancestors in Canada Series
but I will continue to monitor resources and add to these pages.
Please stay tuned and stay in touch.   
I hope you find these pages useful to refer back to time and again.

Finding Your Ancestors in Canada Series - BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, 
Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Maritimes

Finding Your Military Ancestors in Canada  |  Finding Your Ancestor in Canadian Directories 

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