Ontario Getting Started (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in April 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Vital Statistic Records - Part 1  by Sharon L. Murphy. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Starting Ontario Research[edit | edit source]

The first thing you need to determine is the actual geographic location of your ancestors’ family around the time period that you suspect they may have been born. This will then help you to determine where to look regarding districts or counties. The country was divided into these units for different reasons at different times. The following publications are some of the tools you will use when trying to locate the original records.

Publications[edit | edit source]

District Marriage Registers of Upper Canada[edit | edit source]

The series of publications known as District Marriage Registers of Upper Canada, produced by Dan Walker and Fawne Stratford-Devai, also contains some baptism and burial returns in various different volumes. These publications are transcripts of the original registers and copies are available at various libraries including the Archives of Ontario. They can also be purchased from Heritage Productions. These publications have been indexed. Each volume is by geographic district and covers specific dates. When searching for birth information, remember not to overlook these registers; do not be confused by the word marriage in the title.

Vital Records of Upper Canada/Canada West[edit | edit source]

Another series of publications is known as Vital Records of Upper Canada/Canada West. This includes many religious records that have survived in a district. This series is more comprehensive and all encompassing than the District Marriage Registers of Upper Canada series. Included are:

  • Church registers of baptisms and marriages;
  • Records of confirmation, pew rentals, membership rolls and bastardy bonds;
  • Early diaries of professionals such as doctors, nurses and midwives;
  • All manner of any other vital records.

As you will agree, the name Vital Records of Upper Canada indicates the contents more clearly. Norsim Research and Publishing first produced these books as well and Global Heritage Press is adding to the series. Dan Walker and Fawne Stratford-Devai are to be commended for a job well done and very much needed.

County Marriage, Baptism and Burial Records[edit | edit source]

County Marriage, Baptism and Burial Records is another series of publications of various registers that have been transcribed for some counties. Its title describes its contents accurately and it is available at the Archives of Ontario, libraries or obtained from Heritage Productions.

Also, the series of County Marriage Registers of Ontario, Canada 1858-1869 is explained in the County Registration section and is very helpful. Now you are likely wondering how you can determine which of the above series of publications to use to find your ancestors’ baptismal record and/or marriage registration.

The following chart and maps will help you see the boundary lines and dates that the districts and counties evolved. You will need to be familiar with these facts in order to be able to locate the appropriate records. There were 20 Districts by the year 1849. At that time they were all abolished but the following list gives you their creation date. This list is alphabetical for your convenience and was taken from Handbook of Upper Canadian Chronology, by Frederick H. Armstrong. The dates after the name show the actual proclamation as a district. The names in brackets were the original four districts of the Quebec colony phase.

Bathurst District 1822 Midland District (Mecklenburg) 1788
Brock District 1839 Newcastle District 1802
Colborne District 1841 Niagara District 1800
Dalhousie District 1842 Ottawa District 1816
Eastern District (Lunenburgh) 1788 Prince Edward District 1834
Gore District 1816 Simcoe District 1843
Home District (Nassau) 1788 Talbot District 1837
Huron District 1841 Victoria District 1839
Johnstown District 1800 Victoria District 1839
London District 1800 Western District (Hesse) 1788

There were 45 counties. The next list will give the date of creation and the district in 1849 within which the county was located. Remember the counties were set up to establish the ridings for elections, militia organization and land registration. The counties were originally much smaller than the districts. There were only 19 counties in Upper Canada at first. More than twice as many counties were established by 1849 bringing the number of counties up to 45.

County Year Created District in 1849

(Present day district or region in brackets)

Addington 1792 Midland
Brant 1851 ---
Bruce 1849 Huron
Carleton 1800 Dalhousie (Ottawa-Carleton)
Dufferin 1874 ---
Dundas 1792 Eastern
Durham 1792 Newcastle (Durham)
Elgin 1851 ---
Essex 1792 Western
Frontenac 1792 Midland
Glengarry 1792 Eastern
Grenville 1792 Johnstown
Grey 1851 ---
Haldimand 1800 Niagara (Haldimand-Norfolk)
Haliburton 1874 ---
Halton 1816 Gore (Halton)
Hastings 1792 Victoria
Huron 1835 Huron
Kent 1792 Western
Lambton 1849 ---
Niagara (Niagara)
Talbot (Haldimand-Norfolk)
Ontario (2)
Home (Durham)
Brock (Oxford)
Home (Peel)
Prince Edward
Prince Edward
Gore (Hamilton-Wentworth)
Home (York and Metropolitan Toronto)

Next Steps[edit | edit source]

Once you have determined the area and time period, you can then direct your search towards the source that will be of most value to you.

Next you will need to identify their religion. If you are not sure, have a look at census records as they usually indicate the family religion. Remember that the religion can change from census to census but this will give you a place to begin.

A historical map and directory of the area will help you locate the closest church. One online source for this is the “In Search of your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Project” website which shows maps as of 1880 and can be searched by county, township, town or people’s names. Churches of the time are located on the maps. People often attend the most convenient church. Traveling was not easy and often churches were few and far between in the early years. As mentioned before, the Methodist preacher in particular would travel from place to place, holding his meetings wherever his congregation could gather.

Finding Records[edit | edit source]

Now that you have established where the family was and what their religion was, the next step is to find out what records were created during this time period and where they are today. In order to ascertain this, you will need to do some research.

Find out what the Archives of Ontario and Archives of Canada have available. The list of resources available at the Archives of Ontario is included below. Determine if they have the records or registers you need to search.

Microfilms of vital records are available from the Archives of Ontario through inter-institutional loan service. They can also be viewed at FamilySearch Centers as well as at various archives, libraries and other institutions. Don’t forget, the microfilm numbers are listed on the website for the Archives of Ontario.

Marriage Schedule[edit | edit source]

This schedule was completed to gather information regarding marriages following the act to amend the laws relating to the solemnization of matrimony in Upper Canada.

Marriage Scedule Upper Canada.jpg


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Vital Statistic Records - Part 1 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.