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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Religious Records  by Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, CGL. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Denominational Background

Roman Catholic

The Roman Catholic Church is the mother of all other Christian churches. Until the early 16th century it was the Christian church in western Europe. The Reformation, a movement begun to reform or renew the church, eventually caused a series of schisms or breaks which resulted in new churches or denominations being formed. Since the 16th century, theologians or religious thinkers have arisen in many countries whose writings have inspired new denominations, and this process continued in the 20th century. The earliest of these (Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli) created groups which then had their own internal differences, or nationalistic leanings, and so they split into further divisions.

The Roman Catholic Church reacted to the Reformation by holding the Council of Trent (1545-1563) which dealt with the questions raised by the reformers to the church’s satisfaction and formed the basis for Catholic practice for the next four centuries. Roman Catholicism was the earliest European religion brought to Canada, by the French who founded their colonies in Québec and Acadia. It has remained here, a firm presence in every province and territory, ever since. As each area of the country has been opened for new settlement, there have been Catholic missionaries (priests and nuns) to establish churches, schools and hospitals.

The tradition of record-keeping established in Europe was brought to Canada and has resulted in very fine registers which are available to researchers depending on local attitudes. In the early days of LDS microfilming in the 1950s, there was considerable emphasis on obtaining Roman Catholic records for the collection in Salt Lake City. Theological differences curtailed this filming somewhat later. However, many bishops and priests have been encouraging to genealogical work and in Québec, in particular, have made possible the extensive publication of records in book form. Some dioceses, such as Hamilton (Ontario), have a policy of restricting access to the records, but these attitudes are largely the result of the bishop of the time and may change with a new administrator; at any rate, local priests or parish secretaries often have different ideas about the registers. It is always best to enquire locally.

In Ontario, the majority of Catholic dioceses, in agreement with the LDS Church microfilming program, have since allowed their parish registers to be filmed. The cut-off date was 1910. Each diocesan archives, as well as the Family History Library, has filmed copies of these 18th-19th century registers. As mentioned above, there are still some holdouts among them. An overall history of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada would be too general to be of use to the family historian, but most dioceses have published histories of one sort or another, and there are a great many supplementary historical publications which can be profitably used by researchers.


The questions raised about church practice by Martin Luther in Germany began the Reformation which resulted in the many Protestant denominations. The followers of Luther became known as Lutherans, and this became the predominant denomination, or even the national religion, of some of the German states (usually in the north and west of Germany), Scandinavia and Finland.

Lutherans came to Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries, with sizable numbers of them in Nova Scotia and Waterloo County, Ontario. Missionaries were sent from the United States and pastors emigrated from Germany. There were a great many divisions, not necessarily antipathetic to one another; in 1900 there were about 64 synods or church bodies in Canada and the United States. The bodies often had affiliates in both countries. Various amalgamations have now reduced the number to four major bodies, of which two are significant in Canada: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Lutheran Church—Canada (Missouri Synod).

Lutheran record-keeping is of the highest standard, taking the characteristics practiced in Germany, where the church records had civil importance. The German practice of allotting one page in the register to a family, and thus allowing genealogists to discover a great many family names and dates at one glance, was not continued here. The records are chronological. Lutheran liturgy is a recognizable descendant of the Catholic mass in form and the various sacraments are similar.

For the genealogical researcher, it is useful to know that there are baptisms(Taufen), marriages (Copulationen), burials (Todten), confirmations(Confirmanden), membership and communicants lists, as well as minutes and subsidiary documents. Early records are kept in German, perhaps up to World War I, when public opinion forced many Lutheran churches to change to English for services, records and publications.

German-language record-keeping also includes writing in the Gothic script which is difficult for modern researchers, since it involves a different alphabet, including letters and accents which are completely different from English, such as the double S (b). Teaching and reading in Gothic continued in Germany up to World War II, but was abandoned later and few Germans now can read it. It can be difficult to find people who can interpret it.

Non-German speakers should not be defeated by Lutheran records, however. First, there are texts which provide examples of Gothic and common church register words in Gothic. Serious researchers with a great deal of Gothic work ahead of them might find it useful to learn to read it in the form of print, in old German books or newspapers. They will then be prepared for attempting Gothic handwriting.

Success in interpreting Gothic handwriting depends on the quality of the handwriting itself (many pastors wrote dreadfully) and experience. Practice, however excruciating, does improve the ability to interpret Gothic handwriting. The benefits of learning some Gothic will be considerable. Lutheran and other German records are so informative, often including information available in no other kind of church records, that the work required to read them is amply repaid.

As time passed and the effects of the surrounding English-speaking culture was felt, the German records may be written partly in German, partly in English, or partly in Gothic, partly in English lettering. There are two Evangelical Lutheran seminaries in Canada:

Laurier Waterloo Lutheran Seminary
(at Wilfrid Laurier University)
75 University Avenue West
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3C5
Telephone: (519) 884-1970

There is a substantial Lutheran archives at WLU but the situation for using it is delicate. Researchers should not approach the archives first; they should get in touch with the Synod archivist to discern whether there are records at WLU which will be helpful. Original records are accessible only through him. Microfilmed records can be accessed through the archives but only the archivist has a list of them.

Lutheran Theological Seminary Saskatoon
(affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan)
114 Seminary Crescent
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 0X3
Telephone: (306) 966-7850

There are church records available, but the archivist is only in on Tuesdays.

The Lutheran Church (Canada also has two seminaries):

Concordia Lutheran Seminary
470 Glenridge Avenue
St. Catharines, Ontario L2T 4C3
Telephone: (905) 688-2362

The East District archives is located here, and the archivist has been able to secure East District churches’ archives which had been housed in the United States and move them here.

Concordia Lutheran Seminary
7040 Ada Boulevard
Edmonton, Alberta T5B 4E3
Telephone: (780) 474-1468

Church of England

The break of the church in England from the church of Rome happened for political rather than religious reasons at first, although the atmosphere of the sixteenth century would probably have led to some theological crisis eventually. The differences between Catholics and Protestants in England for the next fifty years were largely political and resulted in a great many deaths. In the late 17th century public opinion hardened against the Catholics and they lost most of their political rights including the right to vote and hold office, which they would not regain until the 1830s. The monarch and her heirs can still not marry a Roman Catholic.

The Church of England had always been the state church and remains so. This meant that the activities and office-holders of the church were determined by the government, and this included the record-keeping. The C of E (as it was known) kept marriages, baptisms and burials because they were legislated to do so by Parliament, and the custody of the records was also a legal matter.

The first Anglican churches in Canada were in Newfoundland at the time of the early settlements there. As each British settlement was established elsewhere, there were also Anglican churches with rectors trained in England. At the time, all Anglican priests were graduates of the universities at Oxford or Cambridge. This was even true in Québec after the conquest of 1763.

The 18th century Church of England was going through a time of stagnation which continued until the revivals of the second quarter of the 19th century. This meant that at the time of early settlement in much of eastern Canada the energy required to send missionaries to evangelize the colonies was somewhat lacking. The efforts of the Methodists to fill this gap resulted in a weakening of the C of E in Canada and gains by the newer religion.

However, there are always Anglican churches in settlements of any size throughout English Canada and their tradition of record-keeping means that researchers should, when in doubt, look in the Anglican registers for their relations.

English priests kept good records because they had been trained to do so, and they also accepted their responsibility to marry and baptize anyone who came to them for those sacraments. The records are usually in good condition and may be held by the local church or in diocesan archives.

The Anglican liturgy is a child of the Catholic mass in form and the records are similar to those kept by the Catholics and Lutherans. There are usually baptisms, marriages and burials. It is also possible to find confirmations, but communicants lists are rare. There may also be vestry minutes and accounts.

Considerable work has been done in cataloguing Anglican records. There is a catalogue of western records in Guide to the Holdings of the Archives of the Ecclesiastical Province and Dioceses of Rupert's Land, by Wilma MacDonald (1986), and a similar catalogue for Ontario, Guide to the Holdings of the Archives of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, by the Archivists of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario (1990).

There may also be individual diocesan catalogues, either official ones such as that for the diocese of Ontario, Diocese of Ontario (Anglican Church of Canada) Archives: preliminary inventory, 1980, researched and compiled by Allan J. Anderson (1980), or informal ones such as that for the diocese of Ottawa compiled by John D. Reid and Fred Neal and published in Anglo-Celtic Roots (fall 2000). To determine if there is a catalogue for the diocese which interests you, consult the diocesan archivist.

There are histories of many kinds about the Anglicans in Canada, from sweeping sagas (The Anglican Church from the Bay to the Rockies: a history of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert's Land and its dioceses from 1820 to 1950, by T.C.B. Boon, 1962) to diocesan and parish histories, and missionary accounts.

The official name of the C of E in Canada is now The Anglican Church of Canada. People who are listed in Canadian censuses as ‘Church of Ireland’ are Anglicans from Ireland. ‘Episcopal’ or ‘Episcopalian’ are the American terms for Anglican; if you find your relations listed in this way, you may suspect they are of American origin or have spent time in the USA. Do not confuse this with ‘Methodist Episcopal’ which is something else entirely. Scottish Anglicans belong to the Episcopal Church of Scotland; the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian. Mennonites and Amish Mennonites

Mennonites follow the teachings of Menno Simons, after whom the religion is named. He was part of the Anabaptist movement in Germany and Switzerland; his followers could first be found there along the Rhine River and later in Russia, where they were invited to settle in religious freedom by Catherine the Great.

Mennonites have only two sacraments, believers’ baptism and a communion service. Their beliefs encompass a whole way of life which separates them from the world around them. The freedom to praxes this non-violent and separate life is of the greatest importance, and is one reason why so many emigrated to Pennsylvania in the 18th century, where the British government had promised religious tolerance. Following the American revolution numbers of these Pennsylvania Germans (as they were known) came to Upper Canada beginning in 1786. This was partly to escape the new American government’s insistence that they bear arms in defense of the country and partly in protest against new taxation.

There was also the pressure of population growth which put land at a premium. The British government offered them continued religious tolerance in Canada. The largest settlements were in south-central Ontario (Lincoln, Waterloo and York counties) in the 19th century. After the Russian revolution, the toleration promised by Catherine the Great was revoked by the new government, and many Russian Germans emigrated, some to Ontario, but many to western Canada, particularly Manitoba. Families there have been well documented by local histories, often organized by family name, whose thoroughness makes up for the deficiencies of Mennonite church records. There are many sources for background information on the Mennonites.

Mennonite pastors are called bishops and their records are known as bishops’ books. These are regarded as the personal property of the bishop; they go with him as he moves around and follow him into retirement. What happens to them once he dies is a matter for his family to decide.

The result of this is that few 19th century records have survived. Most of those that have consist of baptismal records (not infants) and membership lists, with some marriage records.

Enquiries about Mennonite records should be made to:

Mitlion Good Library Milton Good Library and Mennonite Archives of Ontario Conrad Grebel University College University of Waterloo 140 Westmount Rd. N. Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G6 Telephone: (519) 885 0220 ext. 238

Manitoba Mennonite Historical Society 600 Shaftesbury Boulevard Winnipeg, Manitoba R3P 0M4 Telephone: (204)669-6575 It has a genealogy button on the home page.

Conference of Mennonites in Alberta Henry D. Goerzen Box 7, Site 18, R.R.#1 Didsbury, Alberta T0M 0W0 Telephone: (403) 335-8414

Conference of Mennonites in British Columbia Archives 303-32025 Dahlstrom Avenue Clearbrook, British Columbia V2T 2K7 Telephone: (604) 850-6658 Fax (604) 850-9372 Amish

The Amish broke away from the Mennonites in the 17th century to follow the teachings of a man named Ammann. They have continued a very conservative tradition which emphasizes a separation from the rest of society, including dress, the use of modern inventions and new technology. Their religious practices are very similar to the Mennonites, although they often meet in members’ houses rather than in church buildings. Culturally they are still linked to the Mennonites, particularly Old Order, and they often live in the same areas. Their records are also similar. Congregationalist

The term Congregationalist dates from 1642 when it was applied to the followers of Robert Brown, who about 1580 had formulated a new belief in independent groups or congregations governing themselves and following their individual convictions. The tenets and habits were closely allied to the Baptists and Disciples. The sect was never large and came to Canada about 1820. A complete list of churches is available in “The Congregational Church in Canada: a historical and statistical summary,” by Douglas Walkington (unpublished thesis, 1979, available at the United Church of Canada archives in Toronto). Infant baptism was practiced but was not obligatory; there was open communion for believers. In 1907 the Congregationalists in Canada joined with the United Brethren in Christ, and in 1925 they all amalgamated with the United Church of Canada. Any surviving former Congregational churches will now be United, and there may be information or registers at the appropriate United Church Archives. Baptist

The Baptist denomination has its roots in the Anabaptist movement which placed emphasis on a personal profession of faith by adults or persons at an age of discretion. Infant baptism was not practiced. The movement had a strong following in the United States and moved to Canada at an early period (before the War of 1812).

Baptist conventions in Atlantic Canada, and Ontario and Québec acted as umbrella organizations, but each congregation had power over its own affairs. Record keeping was never a strong point, except perhaps for minutes and other business records.

There were a great many kinds of Baptists and theological differences throughout the nineteenth century, often drifting across the border from the United States. However, it is unlikely that there was more than one Baptist church in most towns; congregations might change their organizational affiliation and individuals might leave a church over doctrinal differences but they may not have had an alternative place to worship. The large schism in Canadian Baptist history occurred in 1929 when many churches left the Convention of Ontario and Québec and formed the Fellowship Baptist organization.

The largest collection of Baptist archival materials is at:

Canadian Baptist Archives McMaster Divinity College (at McMaster University) 1280 Main Street West Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1 Telephone: (905) 525-9140 ext. 23511

This site gives a good introduction to their collections, including material for Ontario, Québec and western Canada, assorted subsidiary organizations and the Plymouth Brethren.

Material for Atlantic Canada is located at:

Esther Clark Wright Archives or Baptist Historical Collection Vaughan Memorial Library Acadia University P.O. Box 4 Wolfville, Nova Scotia B4P 2R6 Telephone: (902) 585-1001 Email: Notes


Presbyterianism is the National Church of Scotland; it derives from a term indicating the governance of the church by pastors and elders in a collegiate fashion. There were also Presbyterian churches in Germany, for instance, but the term in ordinary usage is associated with the Scottish church. It grew out of the teachings of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, and was greatly affected by the personality of John Knox in Scotland itself.

Beginning in the late 18th century there were great convulsions within the Church of Scotland which came to a head in the early 1840s when it was rent in twain, the seceders forming the Free Church of Scotland (or Free Kirk). In the decades which followed there were other divisions.

These quarrels were keenly felt in Canada and Scottish settlements usually had both a Church of Scotland Kirk and a Free Church. As other divisions occurred they might have had third or fourth churches also, perhaps bearing allegiance to groups such as the American Presbyterian union, or being independent. The various terms used in the census indicate these differing views, the most common being Church of Scotland, Free Church, Canada Presbyterian, American Presbyterian, United Presbyterian. The term ‘Irish Presbyterian’ indicates someone probably Scots-Irish and from Ulster.

Gradually these groups melded together once more, eventually forming a national church in Canada in 1875, called the Presbyterian Church of Canada. About two-thirds of the Presbyterian churches joined with the Methodists and others in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada; those that remained outside the union are known as the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

For those looking for a denominational history, there are several possibilities:

  • Enduring Witness: a history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, by John S. Moir (1974)
  • A Short History of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, by Neil G. Smith, Allan L. Farris and H. Keith Markell (1966)
  • Yet Not Consumed: a short account of the history and antecedents of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, by Stuart C. Parker (1946)

For those looking for a pre-union history:

  • Short History of the Presbyterian Church in the Dominion of Canada, from the earliest to the present time, by William Gregg (1892).[1]

Researchers do not need to follow the tangled nature of the theological quarrels of the 1840s unless they wish to, but they should remember that these differences affected all Presbyterians in the country somehow, and many people may have changed their church membership from Church of Scotland to Free Church or an independent body, and back again, throughout this period. Searching for relations in Presbyterian records in mid-19th century should mean looking in all the possible registers.

Registers from churches in the Presbyterian Church in Canada may be at the church or at their denominational archives; the archives is a good place to start as they can advise on where to go.

Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives and Record Office
50 Wynford Drive
Toronto, Ontario M3C 1J7
Telephone: (416) 441-1111 or toll-free at 1-800-619-7301
Their website has a button on the homepage for genealogists.

Churches which became United may have their registers at the church or at a suitable church archives; see below under United Church Archives. Many congregations split in 1925, some members going to the United Church and some remaining Presbyterian. The records for these churches, and Presbyterian records from earlier days, may be at the United Church or Presbyterian archives. If they are not at one, ask at the other.


‘Reformed’ is a generic term referring to churches who were part of the Reformation movement; however, in our sense here they refer to denominations who were called Reformed. These included German churches and, most significantly, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.

The German Reformed churches had close ties with the Lutherans and in many places the church is called the ‘Lutheran and Reformed Church.’ Some early Reformed missionaries in Canada founded Lutheran churches and the differences between them did not affect the Canadian church very much. The Reformed Church in America was founded in the Dutch settlements which became New York, and there were Reformed denominations in the Netherlands itself. They did not have a significant impact in Canada until the immigration of numbers of Dutch in the 20th century.

Quakers (Society of Friends)

This group rose in the north of England in the mid-17th century, and marked a departure from usual Christian thought. They had no sacraments or clergy, but looked to each lay person to listen within themselves for the voice of God.

Although they suffered the usual persecution initially, the group was accorded some respect by the British government and, although relatively few in number, they were able to continue the practice of their religion. When one of their number, William Penn, founded a new colony in America, he brought many of their practices there.

Canadian Quakers are relatively well documented, largely because of the Canadian Friends Historical Association. Their archives are at Pickering College in Newmarket, Ontario.

An out-of-date listing for the college can be found in Edward Phelps’ Inventory of the Archives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Canada, (1973).


Methodism was an outgrowth of 18th century Anglicanism. It grew from the teachings and activities of John and Charles Wesley and was a strongly evangelical movement at a time when the Church of England itself was in a somewhat moribund state. It was not the Wesleys’ original intention to form a new denomination but by the 1790s there was no doubt it was one. The Church of England’s attitude continued to be largely hostile to it throughout the nineteenth century, as can be witnessed by one Canadian immigrant’s story that their English landlord had insisted that the family’s children should attend the Church of England Sunday School, not the Methodist one. This was in the 1860s. The parents of the family were strongly Methodist and resisted, and the landlord’s reaction was a contributing factor to their emigration.

The opening of the new land provided the Methodists with opportunities for their evangelism which they grasped eagerly. In the 1830s and 1840s they consciously decided to send as many missionaries as possible to Canada, with the hope of converting the pioneers to their views, and establishing churches in advance of the Church of England. Having won the settlers’ allegiance, they foresaw considerable growth for their movement.

This foresight changed the face of Canadian religion, for there were many Methodist churches to choose from at a time when settlers had to make do with what was available. Many families who had been Church of England in the old country effortlessly changed to Methodist in Canada. The result was that the Methodist church was large and, when the various amalgamations of the 20th century occurred, became the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

In addition, evangelism in the form of camp meetings and revivals was both important and a staple of popular culture. The Methodists were very strong in this area and this also added to their numbers and influence. A useful glimpse of the nature of a camp meeting can be seen in Susanna Moodie’s Life in the Clearings and a scholarly account of evangelism in the chapter “Mass Evangelism before 1860,” in Neil Semple’s The Lord’s Dominion (1996). The nineteenth century was a time of religious controversy, however, and the Methodists suffered their own share of schisms. Various groups broke off from the central stem, which was eventually known as the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

The Bible Christians, Primitive Methodists, New Connexion Methodists and Methodist Episcopal Church all had their adherents, and at times a great many churches, often small and far from financially viable.[2]

As with the Scottish churches, the differences in England were imported to Canada. As an example, the Bible Christians were founded by William O’Bryan, a Wesleyan minister expelled by the Methodists in 1810. His central area of power, in north Devon and Cornwall, provided a great many immigrants who settled in Huron and Durham counties in Ontario. In both these areas the Bible Christians had considerable influence until they began to dwindle after 1870. One difficulty with Bible Christians is that they often appear in the census as ‘Christian’, a term which might lead us to think they are Disciples.

Throughout the third quarter of the century, these various groups began to rejoin the Wesleyans until 1884, when there was once more only one group, the Methodist Church of Canada. A helpful flowchart showing this series of unions has been produced by the United Church and has been published in several places. The most accessible now is in the Guide to family history research in the archival repositories of the United Church of Canada where it forms the central page.

In 1925 the Methodists joined the Congregationalists and most of the Presbyterians to form the United Church of Canada. Later the Evangelical United Brethren would join them also.

The definitive history of Methodism in Canada is Neil Semple’s The Lord’s Dominion (1996), mentioned earlier.

A few Methodist churches did not join the United Church; they are known as The Free Methodist Church in Canada. Website


Although many churches were ‘evangelical’ in nature and perhaps also in name, the use of this epithet in the form ‘Evangelical Association’ and ‘Evangelical Union’ as we see in the census, refers to the work of Jacob Albright, an revivalist in Pennsylvania who founded the union in 1807. His work was largely among Pennsylvania Germans and their Methodist ideas and structures led to these groups sometimes being referred to as ‘German Methodists’ (but see under Brethren below). From the 1830s the group held revivals in Canada.

In 1863 the established churches in Ontario withdrew from their American association and formed their own. They continued to evangelize on the frontiers of Canada. In 1946 the association united with the United Brethren in Christ (the US group) to form the Evangelical United Brethren. Most of the Canadian EUB churches joined the United Church of Canada in 1968, at the time when the American part of their group joined the United Methodist Church in the USA.

The history of the group, A Century in Canada: the Canada conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church (1964), contains photos and brief histories of all the EUB churches at that time.

Records of these churches should be sought at the church concerned or at the United Church Archives. Records of the Evangelical Association itself, and its mission activities, are said to be at Zion United Church in Kitchener, considered the ‘mother church’ of the Evangelical Association in Canada. However, their records are not well organized and it is difficult to tell exactly what is there.

United Brethren in Christ

This American group, founded in 1789 by Philip William Otterbein, had a Canadian counterpart. The congregations were very independent and their record-keeping was often haphazard.

The group joined with the Congregationalists in 1907, and thus with the United Church in 1925. Some independent congregations may still be found.

Disciples (Church of God)

The Disciples of Christ were founded in the 1820s in the United States, and came to Canada in the 1830s through extensive revival meetings. The teachings of the church were close to the Baptists in nature, and were originally welcomed by Scottish Baptists in Wellington County, Ontario. The denomination was never large but had many adherents in mid-19th century Ontario.

The members of the group may be listed in the census under Disciples, Church of Christ or Christian . The record-keeping of congregations was not good, and when an individual church disappeared, any records they had tended to disappear also.

  • An excellent history of the Disciples was published in 1949: History of the Disciples of Christ in Canada since 1830, by Reuben Butchart. See also the Reuben Butchart Fonds at Emmanuel College Library.

Brethren and Tunkers

The term ‘Brethren’ has been part of the name of a number of groups in the United States and Canada, which can be confusing for researchers. The current Brethren in Christ group, based in Illinois, is an evangelical group whose origins lie with German Baptist groups. It may be that people listed as ‘Brethren’ or ‘Christian Brethren’ in the Canadian census have connections with German Baptists, but any researcher who finds these vague terms associated with their relations would be advised to do some local searching about what churches existed in their area at the time, and then make an educated deduction about what churches might be involved.[3] One group now associated with the Brethren in Christ which had congregations in Canada were the Tunkers (also Tunkards, Dunkers, Dunkards). Members of this group are often found in the same areas as Mennonites and have Anabaptist beliefs, and may be confused with them. They have also been referred to as ‘German Methodists’ although this no longer seems to be at all accurate. A good short introduction to Tunker beliefs and practices can be found in:

  • Mary C. Shantz’s “Discovering the Tunkers,” in the Waterloo Historical Society’s annual volume for 1984[4]
  • “The early years of the Tunkers in Upper Canada”, by E. Morris Sider (Ontario History, v. 51, no. 2 Spring 1959)
  • A historical sketch of the Brethren in Christ Church: known as Tunkers in Canada, by George Cober (1953)[5]


The Moravian church grew out of the German Pietist movement of the 17th century, and began in Bohemia. Initially their practices were Lutheran but they evolved their own litany, while continuing to subscribe to many more conventional Christian beliefs, including both the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds. Their emphasis on missions brought them to America, where they had considerable settlements in Pennsylvania and later at Salem, North Carolina. Their missions to aboriginal peoples brought them to Canada.

Their ideas had considerable influence on other religious groups. For background, look at The Moravian Church in Canada, by John R. Weinlick (1966) and The Founding of the Moravian Church in Western Canada and the Andreas Lilge Story, by Kurt H. Vitt (1983).


This very small group followed the teachings of Edward Irving (1792-1834), initially a Presbyterian minister. He had apocalyptic visions and his teachings included that the Second Coming would occur in 1864. His movement was later known as the Catholic Apostolic Church.

There was a group of his followers in Lambton County, Ontario and there may have been others among Scots and Presbyterians in eastern Canada. A general history is Rowland A. Davenport’s Albury Apostles: the story of the body known as the Catholic Apostolic Church (sometimes called 'The Irvingites') (1970, revised edition 1974).

Plymouth Brethren

Very small in number, the Plymouth Brethren were founded in 1831 by an Anglican priest, but their beliefs were evangelical and fundamentalist in nature. Congregations are self-governing and most practiced believers’ baptism. Plymouth Brethren records for Canada are at the Baptist Historical Archives at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.


Adventism grew up in the United States in the 19th century, and had some adherents in Ontario by 1851 although the church was not officially organized until 1871. The Seventh-day Adventists, the largest group, hold services on the 7th day (Saturday), not the 1st as most Christian churches do, and believe in the Second Coming as an expected event. Questions about their history should be directed to them.

Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada
1148 King Street
East Oshawa, Ontario L1H 1H8
Telephone: (905) 433-0011


Jewish Records of synagogues may be found at the synagogue itself, or it could be that the records were viewed as belonging personally to the rabbi and hence left with him when he went to a new posting. You may find birth records, bat-mitzvah and bar-mitzvah records, other services performed by the rabbi, which will include burials and weddings, tombstone dedications and records of memorial services.[6] In brief, if the rabbi was to conduct the service, he may have kept a record. There may also be mohel records which record circumcisions.

As well as strictly religious synagogue records, there are a vast array of other materials which record Jewish life and which can be used by researchers. These cannot be viewed as religious records as they are more social or business in nature, but they should not be neglected. Shem tov, the newsletter of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Canada (Toronto), is a good source, and the JGSC also holds educational workshops.

A great many biographical sources exist for Jewish organisations, such as the Canadian Jewish Year Book. There are also published genealogies in books such as Family Who’s Who (v. 1, 1969), published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and including family histories of contributors to the endowment fund; volumes 1 and 2 are Canadian.

Canada Jewish Year Book example.jpg

United Church of Canada Archives

The size and complexity of the United Church of Canada’s archives warrants a section of its own. In fact, a module of its own could profitably be devoted to this subject.

First, anyone planning on working in the UCC archives should consult the Guide to Family History Research in the Archival Repositories of the United Church of Canada compiled by the Committee on Archives and History, United Church of Canada (1996). The book provides an historical background for each of the four major components of the United Church (Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, EUB), a description of the archival arrangements, advice on conducting genealogical research in the United Church repositories and then a listing of the ten archives, their locations, hours and collections. United Church Website.

There are some published works which will help you. For example:

  • A Guide to the Archives of the United Church of Canada: Alberta and Northwest Conference, by Lorraine Mychajlunow and Keith Stotyn (1991) gives an overall picture of this collection
  • Guide to the Local Church Records, Montréal/Ottawa Conference, United Church of Canada, Susan Stanley, general editor (1986) focuses on genealogical materials.
  • A Record of Service: a guide to holdings of the Central Archives of the United Church of Canada, project coordinator Ruth Dyck Wilson (1992, also available on 7 microfiche) may seem at first glance to be just what the family historian ordered, but in fact it concerns the non-BDM records. It does contain a great deal of information and material which will be of use to the more advanced researcher who is looking for more than the registers to work with.

The policy of the United Church now is that any church registers or other record books belong to the overall denomination and should be in the archives if not kept at the local church. Some archivists can be quite determined on this subject and it is advisable not to become involved in discussions on the matter, or in any situations where records are located elsewhere. While it may be possible to find United Church records outside their archives, it is becoming increasingly rare.

A most important step forward for genealogists is that the Archives have placed the Archives database of church record collections on their website as well as a Graphics database.


  1. His earlier History of the Presbyterian Church in the Dominion of Canada: from the earliest times to 1824 (1885) is extensively available but does not cover the period of the schisms which will be important for most researchers in this area.
  2. As an example, in the 1870s the township of Peel, in Wellington County, Ontario, had more Methodist churches than there were concessions in the township: at least one church for every road. Most of them were very small, little more than one-room log cabins with a tiny congregation and no resident clergyman. Many of them were part of a Primitive Methodist circuit based in Drayton. Almost all of them disappeared within a few years and left few records behind; the only notice of some of them may be in mission reports in the yearbooks of the various associations.
  3. The designation ‘Christian’ in the census can be confusing, because it may refer to members of this sect, to members of the Bible Christian Church, a kind of Methodist, or may simply be the individual’s insistence that they are Christian but belong to no denomination. In the last case, modern researchers have no way of knowing this state of mind of their ancestor.
  4. This item does not have a title, but is referred to as given. The 1984 volume (v. 72) is published by the society based at the Kitchener Public Library, Kitchener, Ontario, and is widely available in libraries.
  5. Researchers wanting more extensive information should consult History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church; embracing the Church of the Brethren, the Tunkers, the Seventh-Day German Baptist Church, the German Baptist Church, the Old German Baptists and the Brethren Church, including their origin, doctrine, biography and literature, by H. R. Holsinger (originally published 1901, later editions in 1962 and 1977).
  6. Many synagogues have annual memorials on Yom Kippur which may include a programme listing death anniversaries for the year (for mourning purposes); some print these programmes annually.


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