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Ontario birth, marriage and death records guide

Posted 04 December 2012.... Updated 26 March 2013
By Rick Roberts

Ontario coat of arms
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. I begin with recent records and work back in time. Regardless of the years that you are interested in, it is important to review the complete article insofar as some categories involve all time frames.

CIVIL REGISTRATION - 1869 to present
    Civil registration began in Ontario on July 1, 1869 resulting in a bounty of valuable records for family historians. On that date it became mandatory for all births, marriages and deaths within the province of Ontario to be reported to the provincial government and for a permanent record to be archived.

    Many areas of the province did not register vital information on a regular basis until some years later. This depended in large part on how developed or populated an area was at the time vital registration began, how capable the local clerical administration was, and how well the requirement was communicated and enforced. The result was that civil registration compliance was less than stellar initially but improved annually until becoming near universal by the late 1870s.

    Privacy concerns were addressed by establishing rules whereby vital records were to remain confidential for a prescribed number of years, then turned over to the provincial archivist to be housed in the provincial archive and made available for public access. Today, the records remain with the Office of the Registrar General during the privacy period, then are turned over to the Archives of Ontario.

    MODERN RECORDS of birth, marriage and death under civil registration

    The Office of the Ontario Registrar General holds Ontario records for births that happened during the past 95 years, marriages that happened during the past 80 years, and deaths that happened during the past 70 years. Access to those modern records are restricted to replacement certificates and transcriptions of registrations for family research use under certain conditions. Information about ordering certificates, restrictions and local government service counters where you can order certificates in person is available on the department's website.

    Contact information:

      Office of the Registrar General
      PO Box 4600, 189 Red River Road, 3rd Floor
      Thunder Bay, Ontario P7B 6L8

      Telephone: (416) 325-8305 | Toll Free in Ontario phone: 1-800-461-2156

      Office of the Registrar General website Email:

      Fax your application with credit card payment to: (807) 343-7459

    HISTORIC RECORDS of birth, marriage and death under civil registration

    Every year an additional year of BMD records is transferred to the Archives of Ontario (AO) from the Office of the Registrar General. Those records are completely restricted during the transfer process while they are catalogued and microfilmed, a process that can take some months. All historic records of civil registration are publicly available on microfilm.

    The Archives of Ontario (AO) holds the indexes and registration records of vital events for the following years (as of December 2012). Every year, one additional year of records becomes public:

    • Births: 1869-1914
    • Marriages: 1869-1929
    • Deaths: 1869-1939

    The method of public access to civil registration records of birth, marriage and death has evolved as technology has improved. Today we can use microfilm at a variety of institutions or access the records online.

      MICROFILM historic civil registrations of birth, marriage and death for Ontario:

      All historic records of civil registration are publicly available on microfilm. Microfilm can be used at the Archives of Ontario, some other institutions and public libraries (usually through inter library loan)

      • The Archives of Ontario:
          The new Archives of Ontario building is a state of the art facility located in north Toronto. Microfilm is available to the public in the Reading Room on the main floor. Check in with reception. They will take your information and give you a pass. You enter the Reading Room doors to your right and proceed to the help desk for guidance. How-to pamphlets are available to help you navigate your way around the collection. Microfilm use is self serve . Microfilm readers are modern computer driven units with large high resolution screens that empower you to locate and print documents, or save them to your own USB memory stick. Paper copies are charged for... digital copies are free.

            Archives of Ontario
            134 Ian Macdonald Boulevard
            Toronto, Ontario, Canada
            M7A 2C5

            Telephone: 416-327-1600 | Toll Free in Ontario call: 1-800-668-9933
            Fax: 416-327-1999
            Email: | Website:

            The Archives of Ontario staffers do not conduct searches.

      • Other places to access microfilm:

        • Libraries Some large reference libraries keep microfilms of the Ontario civil registrations of birth, marriage and death on hand. Most libraries will have to order microfilms from the Archives of Ontario (limit of 3 reels per researcher will be sent). More information is available from the Microfilm Inter Library Loan Services catalogue (AO).
        • Apply now
 provides immediate access to original Ontario birth, marriage & death certificates and/or registration documents
        • LDS Family History Centers Some local Family History Centres of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) have copies of the Ontario civil registrations of birth, marriage and death on hand though most will have to bring the film in from the main Family History Library in Utah. You must visit a local Centre as they do not accept written inquiries. Find a Family History Center near you.
        • Professional genealogical researchers can also be hired to do searches. Contact your local genealogical society for a list of recommended professional genealogists in your area. There is a list of genealogical societies in Ontario and links to their web sites in the "links section" further down this page.

      ONLINE historic records of birth, marriage and death under civil registration:

    Births and Deaths - pre 1870

      Prior to July 1, 1869 there was no requirement in Ontario (Upper Canada, Canada West) for recording provincial government records of birth or death. The first place to look for records of birth or death is in religious records of baptism and burial. Baptisms were usually performed soon after a baby's birth with the exception of those faiths that do not practice infant baptism. Most faiths kept carefully recorded registers of baptisms. Burial services were usually performed within a few days of the death and recorded in the parish register. A section on researching Religious Records is included later in this article. More recommended resources are covered in other sections.

    County Marriage Registers - 1858-1869

      Legislation was passed in 1857 to that required registration of all marriages performed by all clergymen in the Province of Canada West (Ontario) resulting in the "County Marriage Registers". They were to begin on January 1, 1858 and finish on July 1, 1869. Some counties started early, including marriages performed before 1858, and some include marriages performed in the later months of 1869.

      How to access the County Marriage Registers 1858-1869

      • Microfilm: The County Marriage Registers are available on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario (not indexed) and via inter library loan MS 248, reels 5-18. LDS Family History Centers also have microfilms under their reference: FHL microfilm 1030055-1030068.

      • Published: The definitive published work on this collection is County Marriage Registers of Ontario 1858-1869 series published by Global Heritage Press. These books are more than just indexes of the original registers. Most volumes contain transcriptions of names, dates and places and oftentimes, ages of bride and groom, and names of parents. The first 37 county volumes were compiled by Elizabeth Handcocks & William Britnell, and published by Generation Press between 1979 and 2000. The Second Edition of the County Marriage Registers of Ontario 1858-1869 was published by Global Heritage Press in 2005. The 38th volume (Glengarry County) was compiled by Donald A. McKenzie and published by Global Heritage Press in 2008. The CD version of the collection was released in 2011. A full set of the printed books is available for public use in the Reading Room at the Archives of Ontario and some reference libraries.

        Individual County Marriage Registers 1858-1869 volumes can be purchased in either printed and digital formats. Click here for a complete list of volumes

      • Online: has digitized and indexed the microfilm of the original County Marriage Registers and made them available online. If you find that the microfilm that contains your marriage is unreadable, check the Global Heritage Press transcriptions in book form.

    District Marriage Registers - pre 1869

      The first legislation to create a government record of marriages required all ministers who performed marriages, with the exception of Anglican (Church of England) and Roman Catholic,to submit returns to the Clerk of the Peace for the District. The majority of returns begin in the 1830s with a few Districts having earlier marriage returns (1780). The Clerk of the Peace then copied these returns into a register kept in the District office. Most District Marriage Registers survive.

      What were "Districts"? When Upper Canada was first established it was divided into five administrative "Districts". As the province's population grew the five original Districts were subdivided and re subdivided into more districts. Legislation was eventually passed to abolish the Districts (1850) and establish administration and courts within each county. An administration building/land registry office, court house and jail had to be established in every county, a conversion that took a different number of years in each county, creating inconsistencies and confusion for researchers.

      Anglicans and Roman Catholics were authorized to keep their own parish registers. Look to the Religious Records section of this article for information about those registers. Don't assume that because your family is Anglican or Catholic that your ancestors' marriages are not recorded in the District Marriage Registers. Early communities did not always have an Anglican or Roman Catholic church yet. Circuit riders, primarily Methodist, travelled the roads and trails around Upper Canada preaching and performing marriages. People of all faiths took advantage of the availability of a circuit riding pastor or church of another faith in their community when the need arose.

      It is important to remember that the ministers who performed marriages were required to submit their returns to the District in which the minister lived. Not necessarily the same district where the marriage was performed. That means that you should always check the registers of the Districts surrounding the District where your ancestor lived.

      How to access the District Marriage registers

      • Microfilm: The District Marriage Registers are available on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario (not indexed) and via inter library loan District Marriage Registers, 1801-1858. MS 248, Reels 1-4. LDS Family History Centers also have access to microfilms. If you find that the microfilm that contains your marriage is unreadable, check the Dan Walker transcriptions in book form.

      • Published: Dan Walker transcribed the District Marriage Registers from both microfilm and surviving registers in 27 volumes. Some of the microfilm is not readable while the original registers often were. Every volume was proof read by experienced genealogists in the communities where the marriages took place. Walker published the transcriptions in conjunction with Fawne Stratford Devai with Global Heritage Press. Those transcriptions are considered to be so reliable and complete that they are prominently available in the Reading Room at Archives of Ontario. Click here for a list of volumes and detailed descriptions of each

      • Online: has digitized and indexed the microfilm of the original District Marriage Registers and made them available online. If you find that the microfilm that contains your marriage is unreadable, check the Dan Walker transcriptions in book form.

RELIGIOUS RECORDS - including parish records of baptism, marriage and burial
Parish registers are a particularly important resource for family history researchers. They typically record baptisms, marriages and burials. The strength of the document is that it was recorded at the time of the event by the parties who were present at the event. This can be considered a primary record. That doesn't mean that the information in parish registers is infallible. People make clerical errors, and can have faulty memories especially when recording emotional events. Researching the parish registers should be your first goal but it is equally important to look to other church records including conversions, confirmations, correspondence, diaries, tithe records, pew rentals, disputes, introductions, discipline and more.

Every faith has its own method of archiving records - some archive centrally, others regionally, and a few still keep historic records in individual churches. The records that churches will allow you to use vary greatly between faiths. Even within one faith there can different levels of access from parish to parish, from archdiocese to archdiocese. Some churches offer research services for a small fee to help support the cost of preservation. Others are self serve. Some refuse any access at all. It is best to contact the church or church archive that houses the records you are interested in and ask for their guidelines so you know what records are available and your options to access them.

Some church records have been transcribed and published. Those are usually provided in either alphabetical order or are indexed so that it is easy to find the record that you are looking for. I've often used a published transcription of parish register to find a record, record names, when the event happened and where, then use that information to find the original record in the register. Original parish registers are not usually indexed. OTHER VITAL RECORDS SOURCES- 1780 to present - Ontario
    Other Vital Records Sources category under construction this week....

    Wills and Probate
      Gravestones can be a notoriously inaccurate source of information -- or absolutely perfectly accurate with information provided by the deceased prior to their demise. To determine accuracy it is important to validate information on gravestones with other records, preferably primary sources. Many cemeteries kept documented records of burial. Others do not. Church cemetery burials are usually backed up with parish register accounts of the burial service. See the Religious Records section on this page for more information about access. The Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) has undertaken the task of transcribing every cemetery in Ontario. Those transcription have been published by individual branches of the society. Most are available in book form, though many are going digital with either a book on CD format or online access to transcriptions for a fee.

      • Ontario Genealogical Society The online Ontario Cemetery Locator and Ontario Cemetery Ancestor Index databases on the OGS site have been down for some time at the date of this writing
      • Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid is a pointer database consisting of the surnames, cemetery name and location of over 3 Million interments from several thousand cemeteries, cairns, memorials, and cenotaphs in Ontario Canada.

      Census records are an important but not always reliable method of finding records of birth, marriage, and death dates and places. Historical census information was gathered at the doorstep, usually from the person answering the knock. Answers to questions about age, birth dates, birth places, etc were most often provided from memory. There was different information required during each census taking. For instance in 1871 there was a requirement to report any deaths in the household during the preceeding year. That said, census records are still an important resource to use, especially when you are uable to locate a primary record. Census may help you narrow down a time frame in which to search for a primary record. Or may serve as the only record that you find of the event. Canadian census records can be released for genealogical purposes and historical research after 92 years.

      Census taking in Canada is a federal responsibility. Census records are available on microfilm. However modern online access to searchable digitized census records eases access to the records that you seek, saving you a trip to an archive, library or Family History Center.


More Ontario Resources - from Global Genealogy

  • Ontario-wide Interest includes books, maps, and resources involving the entire province or more than a single county.

  • Ontario titles concerning a specific town, city, township or county are listed under their respective counties or regions

  • Oxford County
  • Parry Sound District
  • Peel County
  • Perth County
  • Peterborough County
  • Prescott County
  • Prince Edward County
  • Renfrew County
  • Russell County
  • Simcoe County
  • Stormont County (Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry County)
  • Sudbury Region
  • Temiskaming District
  • Thunder Bay District
  • City of Toronto - See York County
  • Victoria County
  • Waterloo County
  • Welland County
  • Wellington County
  • Wentworth County (including City of Hamilton)
  • York County (including City of Toronto)

  • More Ontario categories:
  • District Marriage & Vital Records of Upper Canada / Canada West (Ontario) - Pre 1863
  • County Marriage Registers of Canada West / Ontario - 1858-1869
  • Surrogate Court Index of Canada West / Ontario 1859-1900 ( Wills )
  • Diaries & Firsthand Accounts of Pioneers and Settlement in Canada
  • First Nations, Métis, Status & Non-Status Indians, Inuit in Canada
  • Home Children in Canada
  • Military - Canadian and British North America
  • United Empire Loyalists in Canada
  • More Canadian Resources

  • Browse the resources at

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

    The Merivale Cemeteries
    (Protestant - Ottawa area)