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County Marriage Registers of Ontario, 1858-1869
What are they and why are they important?
Article updated March 3, 2005
By: Fawne Stratford-Devai
Following the move from a district system to a county system of local government it became the responsibility of all counties to record the marriages performed within their boundaries.
In 1857 legislation was enacted to provide for the registration of all marriages performed by clergymen in the Province of Canada West (Ontario). As a result of this legislation we now have a series of records called the County Marriage Registers. The Archives of Ontario in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, hold the original registers that can be viewed on microfilm.
Elizabeth Hancocks, C. G. and W.E. Britnell transcribed a multi-field index of each volume into what became the series of books entitled, County Marriage Registers of Ontario 1858-1869. Most of the books in this series include names of bride and groom, date of marriage, ages of bride and groom, parents, residence at time of marriage etc, where availabel in the original record.
County marriage registers were kept from January 1, 1858 until the formal government registration of all births, marriages and deaths (vital registration) began in Ontario July 1, 1869.
Most often the County Marriage Registers include only marriages performed between 1858 and 1869. However, occasionally there will be marriages recorded that were performed before 1858 and even some marriages performed in the later months of 1869 (after vital registration began). An official account of marriages was kept prior to 1858 in what we now call the District Marriage Registers of Upper Canada/Canada West. If you are looking for a marriage before 1858, please refer to the District Marriage Registers of Upper Canada/Canada West, a multi-volume series of transcriptions by Dan Walker and Fawne Stratford-Devai, published by Global Heritage Press Inc.
There are 42 County Marriage Registers, one each for the counties existing in the period 1858-1869. In addition there are separate marriage registers for the City of Toronto and the City of Ottawa. It should be noted that Dufferin County was not established until a few years after the period covered by these registers and then the territory was divided amongst Grey, Simcoe and Wellington counties.
If you cannot find the marriage you are looking for in the County Marriage Registers do not give up. There is evidence that marriage returns from many ministers performing marriages in the province never reached the Registrar to be entered into the County Marriage Register.
In some instances ministers performing marriages continued to send their marriage returns to the clerk of the peace for the old districts of Upper Canada who then continued to enter them in the District Marriage Register.
For example, in Haldimand County there are essentially two different transcriptions, the first transcription done by Dan Walker covers the period 1851 to 1865 and is essentially the County Marriage Register which was started by the Clerk who used to keep the District Marriage Register. However, there is also a transcription of Haldimand County which covers the years 1858-1869, compiled by Elizabeth Hancock and now published in its second edition by Global Heritage Press Inc.. To be sure you have covered the county properly you must consult both Haldimand County transcriptions. It is also important to check the District Marriage Register for the District in which the county is located to be certain the marriage was not recorded in the District Marriage Register.
Information Recorded in the County Marriage Registers When the legislation was passed requiring County Marriage Registers to be kept it also required the following information to be recorded:
Please understand that County Marriage Registers were created from returns submitted by clergy. Officiating clergy/clerks kept the original record of marriage. Therefore the original record of the marriage (created at the time the event occurred) would be clerk's register or parish register. Each quarter, the minister or another church officer would copy all marriages for the quarter onto the marriage return forms and submit them to the county/city registrar. The registry office clerk then copied the marriages from the returns into a book that we have come to know as the County Marriage Register. Please keep these steps in mind if you come across errors or misspellings in the transcriptions. More importantly, make sure to use your imagination when searching for surnames (e.g., some surnames are written down based on how they sounded rather than how they were properly spelled).
In addition always be sure to check the surrounding counties in the event that a traveling minister, who regularly crossed county boundaries, performed the marriage. In many instances, the original marriage records do not survive, leaving the County Marriage registers as our only source of information.
For marriages after July 1st, 1869 you must consult official vital registrations of Births Marriages and Deaths at the Archives of Ontario.
For marriages before 1858 you must consult individual parish registers or the District Marriage Registers of Upper Canada/Canada West.
Listing of County Marriage Registers of Ontario 1858-1869
Listing of District Marriage Registers of Upper Canada/Canada West (mostly pre-1858).
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