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New research reveals that only three in ten Canadians know inspiring stories of women in their family tree

TORONTO, ON – February 24, 2020 – Ahead of International Women’s Day, a new Leger Marketing[i] survey, conducted on behalf of Ancestry®, the global leader in family history, reveals that Canadians find female historical figures, such as Viola Desmond and Laura Secord to be the most inspiring kind of women (35%), ahead of female celebrities (15%) or women in public office (24%).

Women throughout history have changed the world with their strength, intelligence and determination to create a better future. This International Women’s Day, Ancestry is encouraging Canadians to seek inspiration from the achievements of women in their family history – particularly given that people are more likely to find inspiration from female family members (30%) than friends (20%), athletes (18%), or colleagues (11%).

Canadians want to know more about their own legacy with most (68%) in agreement that knowing more about the challenges and achievements of the women in their family history would be inspiring and empowering. Yet only 15% of respondents said they were very familiar with the women in their family history.

Indeed, Canadians are more aware of the achievements of Canadian women from history than those of the women in their own family:

  • 44% know the story of Laura Secord who warned the British of a surprise attack by the Americans in the War of 1812,
  • 40% know that Viola Desmond is featured on the $10 bill,
  • A similar proportion (37%) are aware that Roberta Bondar was Canada’s first female astronaut.

By comparison, whilst half of those surveyed (49%) believe that the women in their family history have made an impact on women’s rights and equality, the majority (70%) are not aware of any stories from these women regarding the achievements they reached or challenges they overcame.

Additionally, only a third (33%) know their grandmother’s birthday and a mere 14% know how many siblings their great-grandmother had.

Interestingly, when it comes to the achievements of current female Canadian celebrities, less than a third (29%) claim to be able to name two books by Margaret Atwood and only one in ten (11%) know the name of Canadian YouTube sensation Lilly Singh’s new late-night show – A Little Late with Lilly Singh.

Lesley Anderson, family historian for Ancestry comments, “We know that Canadians are eager to learn more about the women in their family tree so this year, to mark International Women’s Day, we are encouraging everyone to discover more about these women and draw upon their legacy as a source of inspiration and empowerment. Whether they changed the world, changed a community, or simply changed a life, these women and their incredible stories are worth honouring and celebrating this International Women’s Day.”

Dunnville, Ontario resident Chris McEvoy wanted to learn more about his family history and after conducting research and building his family tree he discovered a familiar name – Secord. He then learned that his 6th great-grandmother, Mary Secord was an aunt to the famous Laura Secord:

“I was amazed to discover through building my family tree that I was connected to Laura Secord who is such an inspiring historical figure in Canada,” said Chris. “But what was even more fascinating to me was learning about my 6th great-grandmother Mary. Her story is one of courage and resilience. She survived three husbands, two wars, a hard and long journey from the US to Canada, a refugee camp, and then went on to live to 106.”

Lesley continues, “To get started, ask your oldest living relative about the women in your family tree, get as much information as you can – birth, marriage and death dates and places, and occupations. Listen to their stories, take notes, and then head onto to build a family tree and learn more about their story from the historic records available.”

As we unite this International Women’s Day to support a gender equal world, Ancestry is encouraging Canadians to reflect on the collective achievements of the women that came before us. We all have these stories of incredible women in our family trees – they’re just waiting to be discovered. 

Visit to explore your own family tree.

[i] An online survey of 1,505 Canadian adults was completed between August 21 and August 26, 2019, using Leger’s online panel. The margin of error for this study was +/-2.5%, 19 times out of 20. Leger’s online panel has approximately 400,000 members nationally and has a retention rate of 90%.