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Canadian birth, marriage and death records guide

Posted 04 December 2012
By Fawne Stratford Devai and Rick Roberts




This online guide's purpose is to provide researchers with an overview of which records are available, where those records are housed and how to access them. We've also included links to online data and tutorials, as well as references to physically archived records and microfilm.

Introduction


The present design of the arms of Canada was drawn by Mrs. Cathy Bursey-Sabourin, Fraser Herald at the Canadian Heraldic Authority, office of the Governor General of Canada, and faithfully depicts the arms described in the words of the Royal Proclamation dated November 21, 1921. The present design was approved in 1994 and shows a ribbon behind the shield with the motto of the Order of Canada, DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM (They desire a better country) (the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 11 verse 16). This version replaces a former design drawn by Mr. Alan Beddoe.
Source: Canadian Heritage
The government registration of births, marriages and deaths, is usually referred to as civil registration. In Canada, the responsibility for all aspects of civil registration falls to the individual provinces and territories.

The information both required and recorded by government offices has changed over time. Modern records birth, marriage and death tend to give quite complete information (as long as the person/institution reporting the event provided the information). For example, before the early 1900s in Ontario, the names of the deceased parents were not usually recorded on the death registration record. Even when a new requirement is made for additional information to be recorded on a particular record, it often takes many years for the new requirement to be implemented and the additional information recorded. It can also take some time for the new registration forms to reach all offices and agencies responsible for recording these events. Even when new forms arrive, some offices use the old registration forms until their supply is gone before starting to use the new registration forms.

The records of many First Nation's people are an exception to the general sources offered in this guide. Traditionally, records of First Nation's people (aboriginal people) have been recorded by the federal government in Ottawa and often excluded from traditional church or other records unless the individual(s) converted to Christianity.

In the early days of government registration of births, marriages and deaths not all events were reported and recorded. Many people and local institutions were often suspicious of why the government wanted such information and simply refused to register births, marriages and deaths. This is certainly true in Ontario where government registration of these events began in 1869. George Emery in an excellent book Facts of Life: The Social Construction of Vital Statistics (1993), reported that provincial birth registrations were only two-thirds complete for the 1875-95 time period and no more than 85% complete for any year in the 1896-1919 time period. By 1920, registrations were estimated to be about 90% complete. This same discussion can be applied to other provinces and territories, however, the purpose of this article is simply to provide information about government records of birth, marriage and death for each province and territory.

Each province has its own schedule of fees for searching their records. Many provincial government offices want requests submitted on special forms. Some provincial offices will search a three- or five-year time period on either side of the date you request, while others will only search the exact date you provide. More importantly, some provincial offices will only provide information to the person whose record is being requested or to direct family members if there is proof of the person's death.

When requesting information make sure you ask for a complete "genealogical extract" and not just a copy of a certificate. Modern certificates do not provide information about the names of parents of a child and other important details - researchers will want as much information as possible from the record of registration itself. Usually, if the original registration is found, a genealogical abstract is provided for a slightly higher cost or, in some provinces for no additional fee.

Remember: modern records of births, marriage and death are often restricted to protect the rights and privacy of living people. When contacting a provincial office requesting a record of birth, marriage or death make sure to ask about their requirements, their fee structure and most importantly - what restrictions are placed on the records (terms of access).

The following list is divided by province and provides information about both historic and modern provincial and territorial government records of birth, marriage and death. Whenever possible, direct links to Government Offices and Archives are provided along with their relevant contact information.

Finally, many provinces have begun to offer their historic records of birth, marriage and death online. Accessibility varies by province. Some provinvces online records are provided free of charge. Others have partnered with commercial firms such as Ancestry.ca. This guide attempts to identify all record sources, both free and commercial, for online information, microfilm records and physical records.

Information by province or territory (the provinces are being updated now):

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