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Archived Articles
Formerly published by

The Challenge of Locating Vital Records in Ontario / Upper Canada / Canada West
Article posted: January 11, 1998
By: Fawne Stratford-Devai & Ruth Burkholder

1869 - present   |   1858-1869   |   Pre 1858    |   more sources

Part 4: Additional sources of information for vital records

There are many additional sources of information for births, marriages and deaths when the province of Ontario was known as Upper Canada and Canada West. We will attempt to highlight a few of these below. The following list is by no means exhaustive.

The Methodist Church in Upper Canada and Canada West provided religious comfort and ritual to many early settlers in the Province. There were many types of Methodists: Episcopal, Primitive, New Connexion, Bible Christians and Wesleyan Methodists. Searching for early Methodist records can be a real challenge, however there are a few indexes which makes this search somewhat easier.

Beginning in 1843, the Wesleyan Methodists began a central registry of births and baptisms. These records are available until the 1890s. Many Methodist denominations united over the years until by 1925 they were all but absorbed by the United Church. As a result of this uniting of faiths, the central Wesleyan Methodist Baptismal Register is available at the United Church Archives, 73 Queen’s Park Cres. East, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7 and consists of four separate volumes on four reels of microfilm. They can be viewed at the Archives in Toronto or borrowed through Inter-Library Loan. The registers are arranged by towns and townships and are not necessarily in chronological order.

An index to the Primitive Methodist Baptism Register was published in the Ontario Genealogical Society’s journal Families in 1989 and 1990. Please note that the listing is not available in any other published form. The original register is extremely fragile and not available to the public. Entries from the Markham Circuit Primitive Methodists from 1844 to January 1856 were listed in the May and November 1989 issues of Families and the listing is continued in the May 1990 issue of Families. The Ontario Genealogical Society can be contacted by writing to them at: 40 Orchard View Blvd., Suite 102, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M4R 1B9.

An Index to the Niagara Conference Methodist Episcopal Baptismal Register was published in two parts by the Louise Hope and the Ontario Genealogical Society. Do not let the name Niagara Conference lead you astray! The Niagara Conference covered large areas of the province at various times. For example, in 1849, The Niagara Conference included the London District, the Niagara District and the Toronto District. In 1858 the Conference included the same districts plus the Brantford District and Oxford District. At one point the area covered by the index stretched all the way to Chatham in the west, Newmarket, the Bay of Quinte and beyond in the east and a good distance north of Toronto. The baptismal register is a single volume with no page numbers, containing some eight thousand entries.

The alternative to being married in a church with marriage banns being read for 3 Sundays before the marriage was to occur was to be married by a licence from a magistrate or Justice of the Peace (JP) once a bond was signed. The marriage bond was not given to the couple intending to marry but to their relatives or friends who signed the bond on their behalf, accepting any liability if any hindrance was discovered before the marriage occurred. It is important to note that a marriage bond did not necessarily mean a marriage occurred. The bond was merely demonstrated an intent to marry!

Thomas B. Wilson has published an index and partial abstraction of surviving Ontario Marriage Bonds for the years 1803 - 1834. There are some bonds available beyond 1834. The original bonds are held by the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa and are available on microfilm through Inter-Library Loan and through local Family History Centres of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Wilson’s Ontario Marriage Bonds book is now available with many other invaluable vital records references on CD #204 from Family Tree Maker's Family Archives Series, produced by Broderbund.

Unfortunately marriage licences have been lost to us over time as have the records of most Justices of the Peace. Occasionally the records of a local J.P. will turn up in a private manuscript collection, however, there are no comprehensive collections of J.P. records available.

Many religious newspapers published notices of births, marriages and deaths in the province. The Rev. Donald A. McKenzie has spent many years extracting these notices from a variety of Methodist Church newspapers. Donald McKenzie ’s efforts to date include the following publications: 12 Volumes - complete 19th century Thomas B. Wilson and Hunterdon House have published William D. Reid’s, Marriage Notices of Ontario, 1813-1854 which are abstracted from a wide variety of early Ontario newspapers.

Death Notices of Ontario by William D. Reid was published in 1980 by Hunterdon House (Lambertville, N.J.) and includes death notices from many stray newspapers to 1830 and many other newspapers from across the province up to the late 1840s.

Ontario Marriage Notices by Thomas B. Wilson was published in 1982 by Hunterdon House and includes Marriage Notices from a variety of early Ontario religious newspapers including the Christian Guardian and The Church newspapers.

Marriage Bonds of Ontario, 1803-1834, Marriage Notices of Ontario, Ontario Marriage Notices, Death Notices of Ontario, Ontarian Families: Genealogies of United Empire Loyalists and other Pioneer Families of Upper Canada, Volumes 1 and 2, The Loyalists in Ontario, The Sons and Daughters of the American Loyalists of Upper Canada, The Old United Empire Loyalists List and the Directory of the Province of Ontario 1857 with a Gazetteer.

Originally published by Hunterdon House, this extensive collection of genealogical records references the names of approximately 230,000 individuals.

Newspapers are an important source of family history information. It is important to remember that the area of a newspapers circulation is dictated by primarily by commercial factors. In other words, newspapers do not respect county boundaries! Researchers must also keep in mind that even when items are located in newspapers, they may not be accurate. However, when available, newspapers may be an excellent alternative source of family history and vital records information.

Many local genealogy and local history groups have published indexes or transcriptions of local newspapers in their areas. It is important to ask for a publications list of any local genealogy group in an area where you are researching. In addition, W. Craig Burtch of Stratford, Ontario has spent many years transcribing vital record information in Ontario newspapers. To date, Craig has published extracts from newspapers in all areas of the province. His publications are carried by Global Genealogy & History Shoppe. It would require a separate article to list all of Craig’s work but a few of As we mentioned in our previous articles - 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. Please refer to our earlier articles for suggestions of where to look for parish records.

If you are researching in Ontario, you would do well to purchase Brenda Dougall Merriman’s invaluable, "Genealogy in Ontario: Searching the Records, 3rd edition.

Other sources of vital record information available to researchers include wills and divorce records. Unfortunately each of these would require a separate series of articles. The sources of vital records in early Ontario, to some degree, is limited only by the imagination and resourcefulness of the researcher!

part three

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