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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.

WESLEYAN METHODIST BAPTISMS:
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.

PRIMITIVE METHODIST BAPTISM REGISTER:
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.

METHODIST EPISCOPAL BAPTISMAL REGISTER:
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.

MARRIAGE LICENCES & MARRIAGE BONDS:
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.

RELIGIOUS NEWSPAPERS:
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:

Death Notices from the Christian Guardian: 1836-1850

Death Notices from the Christian Guardian: 1851-1860

Obituaries from Ontario’s Christian Guardian: 1861-1870

Death Notices from the Canada Christian Advocate 1858-1872

More Notices from Methodist Papers, 1830-1857

More Notices from Ontario’s Methodist Papers: 1858-1872

Obituaries from Ontario’s Christian Guardian: 1873-1880

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.



THE ONTARIO REGISTER & BRODERBUND’S CD #204:
The Ontario Register was a series of 8 volumes devoted solely to the publication of a variety of Ontario records. A few highlights from some of the volumes include: Death notices from the Niagara Mail (1847-1851), petitions to the Lieutenant-Governor; Victoria County death records; constables of Lambton County, the census of Augusta 1796; Gore District Marriage Register; legal notices from the Gore Gazette; notices from The Church; departed wives and missing persons; deaths in Rochester and Romney 1848; noted Ontario-Americans; Talbotville Royal Cemetery Inscriptions; Toronto Marriage Licenses 1806-1809 and a great deal more!

A number of volumes of the Register are no longer available in hard copy but all 8 volumes have been published as part of CD (#204) from Family Tree Maker's Family Archives Series, produced by Broderbund's Banner Blue Division.

CD #204 also includes a few of the publications mentioned in this article and additional sources of for early Ontario research, such as:
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.

ONTARIO NEWSPAPERS
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 his efforts are listed below:

The Niagara Papers:
Niagara Mail 1843-1860
Niagara Gleaner 1823-1835
The British American Journal 1834-1835
The Niagara Reporter 1833-1842
The Niagara Spectator 1816-1819
The Spirit of the Times June 1830-September 1830
Farmer's Journal
Welland Canal Intelligencer 1826-1830
St. Catharine's Constitutional 1852-1868
Niagara Chronicle
The British Colonial Argus 1833-1834.

The Wentworth Papers:
Hamilton Evening Times.

The York Papers:
Upper Canada Gazette
York Gazette
York Weekly Post
York Weekly Register
United Empire Loyalist

The East & West Flamborough Papers

The Hamilton Papers:
Hamilton Express & Free Press
Hamilton Journal
Gore District Mercantile
Agricultural Intelligencer
Hamilton Express
Political and Commercial Journal
Western Mercury
Commercial Advertiser
Hamilton Evening Journal
Hamilton Gazette
Hamilton Free Press
Dundas Warder 1847-1857
Journal and Express
Gore Gazette.

The Huron Papers:
The Clinton New Era Newspaper

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

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






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