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The Challenge of Locating Vital Records in Ontario / Upper Canada / Canada West
Posted: January 11, 1998
By Fawne Stratford-Devai
Part 1, 1869 - present, Civil Registration
Whenever possible researchers should always check the parish registers for the Churches in the areas where their families lived/worked. Church records are really the primary source of information for any vital records. All other indexes, newspaper accounts and even official government records are secondary sources of information. What this means is that the actual details of the event were recorded first and foremost in the parish register. All other information and reports submitted to the government or transcribed by other people are secondary sources of information. The National Archives in Ottawa have some parish registers. They have published a Checklist of parish registers (1986) Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, Manuscripts division, 1987, Patricia Birkett. The Archives of Ontario is also in possession of some early parish registers.
For many of us who cannot travel to every parish connected with our families, government records, newspaper accounts and the generous work of volunteers who undertake to transcribe and index these records are a blessing. It is important to check with the local genealogy group in the area you are researching to determine if they have transcribed and published any of the parish registers you are searching for. In addition check the local newspapers to see if the events were reported. Whenever possible try and follow up the information you receive from newspaper accounts or other secondary sources in the parish records.
One of the greatest challenges for family historians is how to find Birth/Marriage/Death records in the Province of Ontario (also known as Upper Canada/Canada West earlier) in these other secondary sources.
Civil registration 1869 - present.
Responsibility for official record keeping of all births marriages and deaths in the province rests with the office of the Registrar General. For information about Births 1902-present, Marriages 1917-present, and Deaths 1927-present, you must contact:
Office of the Registrar General
The province of Ontario only began to keep individual registrations of births, marriages and deaths in central registers July 1, 1869. Many areas did not register vital information on a regular basis until many years later. This depended in large part on how developed/populated an area was at the time vital registration began (eg. what municipal/township/county structures were in place with staff (clerks) to keep these records etc.) When a vital registration cannot be found during the early period of official registration the sources outlined for the earlier periods and other secondary sources should also be checked carefully.
The Indexes (where they exist) and Registration Books from the Office of the Registrar General of Ontario for the following records and time periods can be found at the Archives of Ontario.
The Ontario Vital Statistics microfilm is publicly available in the Reading Room of the AO located at 77 Grenville Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This room is open weekdays 8:15am-10:30pm and Saturday 10:00am-8:00pm.
The microfilm of the indexes and the registers can also be requested on Interloan from the Archives of Ontario to your public library (limit of 3 reels per researcher will be sent). Researchers can also request the Ontario vital registration films on loan through the Family History Centres of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For the nearest Family History Centre, contact the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or, in North America, call 1-800-346-6044. You must visit the Centres personally as they do not accept written inquiries.
The Archives of Ontario does NOT do personal searches. Research can be done by the public using the Vital Statistics microfilm in the Archives' Reading Room or on loan to the nearest public library or Family History Centre. Professional genealogical researchers can also be hired to do searches.
One of the problems with this record group is the lack of a central index of Marriages for the 1869-1873 time period. However, there is a series of 6 books compiled and edited by Carrie Slingsby & Renie A. Rumple which index the marriages that were registered with the Registrar General's Office 1869 - 1873. Spouse's surnames are included in the index. This set contains an index to all 31 volumes of marriage registrations for this difficult time period.
In addition, some people/genealogy groups have begun to transcribe all information in the marriage registers for the 1869-1873 time period for specific counties within Ontario. For example, Jeff Stewart and Sherilyn Bell have transcribed, edited and indexed all marriages for Grey County for the 1869-1873 time period, including the names of the parents and witnesses (if they were recorded). No search for marriages in this time frame are complete without checking these indexes.
Some sources of information for parish registers:
As with any well established institution, the various religious denominations within the province have their own hierarchy which must be recognized and understood if you want to have the best chance of finding that elusive vital record. Many individual denominations and even dioceses within a particular faith have their own archives. Here are a few hints and addresses to help you.
Roman Catholic Church : Each Archdiocese is responsible for the records within their boundaries. Most of the sacramental registers (baptisms, marriage, burial and confirmation registers) have been filmed by the Latter Day Saints (with the exception of the Hamilton diocese) and are available up to 1910 on loan through the various LDS family history centres. The microfilming was done so that priests in the local churches did not have to deal with genealogical inquiries. Individual churches do not have the staff to cope with genealogical requests.
Presbyterian Church Archives, #104 - 11 Soho Street, Toronto M5T 1Z6, (416) 595-1277 This archives holds the records only for those Presbyterian churches which did not join with other churches & denominations to form the United Church in 1925. Therefore, it is important to know whether the early Presbyterian Church you are interested in, is still a Presbyterian Church today.
United Church Archives, 73 Queens Park Cres. East, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7 (416) 585-4562. As their brochure states, This archives holds local church records of the United Church and its uniting denominations (Methodist [Episcopal, Wesleyan, Primitive, etc.], Congregational, Presbyterian [some] and Evangelical United Brethren. The United Church Archives holds the records for all Ontario Conferences (and individual churches) with the exception of: Montreal & Ottawa Conferences Ottawa area records held by The City of Ottawa Archives, 174 Stanley Ave. Ottawa, ON. (613) 564-1348. Quebec Conference Records are held by Archives in both Montreal & Sherbrooke. The extreme northwest of Ontario is part of what is called the Cambrian Presbytery which is part of the Manitoba and North West Ontario Conference whose records are at the University of Winnipeg.
Baptist Church Records: Canadian Baptist Archives, McMaster University, Divinity College, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON. L8S 4K1. Please be aware that as with other Anabaptist faiths you will NOT find infant baptismal records as people are only baptized as adults. In addition, marriage records are extemely limited in many baptist churches because as one author was told when enquiring of a marriage in the Ottawa area, the baptist church fully recognizes the separation of church and state and since it is the states responsibility for the keeping of official marriage records, the church did not see the need to do so themselves.
Lutheran Church Records: Eastern Canada Synod Archives, 50 Queen Street North, Kitchener, Ontario, N2H 6P4. (eg. Williamsburg 1800 forward, Waterloo 1835 forward, Preston 1840 forward).
Anglican Church Records: A wonderful reference to the ecclesiastical boundaries of the Anglican church in Ontario and the records held by the various dioceses can be found in the book: A Guide to the holdings of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario. Generation Press, Agincourt, Ontario. To find the records for the church you are interested in, you must know the diocese in which it belongs. This information and the address for the appropriate diocese archives can be found in the book mentioned.
Jewish Records: Ontario Jewish Archives, 4600 Bathurst Street, North York, Ontario M2R 3V2.
Quakers (Society of Friends): All records have been microfilmed and are available through the Archives of Ontario and the Dorland Friends Historical collection, Pickering College, 16945 Bayview Ave., Newmarket, Ontario. L3Y 4X2.
Mennonite Records: Mennonite Archives of Ontario, Congrad Grebel College, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G6.
Christian Church Records: Unfortunately there does not appear to be a central archives for this denomination. The church began in Ontario in 1821 but many of the local churches have now closed. There is an excellent book detailing the history of the Church, published by Udelle Wood, Stouffville Christian Church, 6528 Main Street, Stouffville, Ontario. L4A 5Z4 called Our Christian Heritage (2nd edition, 1992).
Checklist of parish registers (1986) Ottawa: National Archives of Canada, Manuscripts division, 1987, Patricia Birkett. National Archives of Canada, 395 Wellington St. Ottawa ON. K1A 0N3
A Guide to the holdings of the ecclesiastical province of Ontario. Generation Press, Agincourt, Ontario.
Roman Catholic Marriage Registers in Ontario Canada, 1828 - 1870 Compiled and Edited by Renie A. Rumple. Published in 1997 http://globalgenealogy.com/countries/canada/ontario/general/resources/897001.htm . This series consists of certificates of marriages which were copied from registers of Roman Catholic churches in various parishes located in the Niagara Peninsula, the Toronto area and Simcoe and Dufferin Counties. Most of the registers are arranged alphabetically by the name of the groom.
Many local genealogy/historical groups have documented the history of individual parish churches or a history of all parish churches in the area. This information can be found in many local histories of towns, cities and townships. For example many Women's Institutes have compiled information about the parishes in their geographical area. The work of the Picton Branch of the Prince Edward County Women's Institiutes was included in a book published in 1971 by the Picton Gazette Publishing Company titled "History of the Churches of Prince Edward County (now out of print). Ryan Taylor has published a guide to Family Research in Waterloo and Wellington Counties which provides detailed information about the various religious denominations practicing in the area and lists information about the parish churches in the two counties also.
About Fawne Stratford-Devai
Fawne Stratford-Devai's work on Land Records and early Ontario records is well known in the genealogy community. A published author of several Canadian and UK research books, she has also contributed articles to the Ontario Genealogical Society's newsletter "Families" as well as writing for the online family history newsletter the "Global Gazette". Biography