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Article posted: February 11, 2000

Ryan's Heritage Notebook...
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles

Historical Atlases of Ontario
The great series of historical atlases of Ontario counties, first published in the 1870s, has always been a fine resource for genealogists.

Not only can you locate your ancestor's farm, you can tell who the neighbours were, where the roads and railways went, and what town was nearest for mail and groceries.

The atlases were all reprinted in the 1970s by two or three enterprising firms, but those copies are long sold out. Copies which appear for sale in used book stores are snapped up quickly despite high prices. There are also indexes for many of them.

Several of the atlases are now in print again, principally those from eastern Ontario. They are for sale from Global Genealogy in Milton. Look on their website ( ) for details.

Even more exciting is a project at McGill University in Montreal. They are digitizing the atlases and you can now search for your ancestral farm on the internet.

The project is entitled Canadian County Atlas Digitalization Project. As a pilot, they have done ten atlases. Most are in eastern Ontario, with Northumberland-Durham, and Victoria as the westernmost.

At the site, you simply click on 'People' and put in the name you are looking for. A listing appears which shows where the name appears on the maps, its location and the size of the lot. One more click and you have an image of the whole township to the right and a closeup of the lot which interests you on the left.

This is very attractive and it is convenient being able to do these searches from home. There does not seem to be a printing capability as yet.

Explore these atlases at

Surnames And How They Change
George Taylor of Guelph, whose private genealogical newsletter is a privilege to see, had an interesting story about name spelling. The name involved was Kechnie, which is Scottish. Or so it would seem.

The family was originally German and early records in Perth County spell the name Kuehne or Kiene. George's mother-in-law said that the name was usually pronounced Keeny or Keena into the twentieth century, but the name is now spelled Kechnie. The pronunciation is still Keeny, although some members of the family have switched to the Scottish way of saying it, 'Kek-nee'.

Joanna Waugh of Guelph is descended from the same family and she recently found the name spelled Keeman. In all, George has collected eighteen spellings of the name.

This is a reminder to all that in centuries past, virtually every name has been mispelled somehow. Family members altered their names at a whim, with brothers sometimes going down different orthographical roads.

The German version of my own name, Schneider, is familiar to everyone in Waterloo Region. There are Snyders and Sniders as well, and perhaps even a Sznajder.

One of the first genealogists I helped, years ago, at the Kitchener library was man named Schneider whose family had lived here from the earliest settlement. When I showed him his genealogy in Ezra Eby's Biographical History of Waterloo Township, he was furious at seeing the name spelled Snider. "We've never spelled it that way," he said, and angrily left the library. Eby had simply spelled everyone's name in the one way, to avoid problems.

Anyone who is interested in pursuing family history should keep an open mind on how their name was spelled. In addition, some imagination may be necessary in interpreting documents.

I recently came across the name Rachell Tholemew in an old burial record. The index naturally put her under T. Her name was really Bartholemew, but local practice found that name too long. The shorter version appears in the records as it did in everyday conversation.

Books By Ryan Taylor

Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.

Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
(Pontiac County, Quebec)

The Merivale Cemeteries
(Protestant - Ottawa area)