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Contents

Introduction

Church records (registres paroissiaux) are excellent sources for accurate names, dates, and places of births, marriages, and deaths. Many people who lived in Canada were recorded in church records. (In this section, French translations are included for the most common terms used in church records.)

Records of births, marriages, and deaths are commonly called "civil registration" because they record critical events in a person’s life. Church records are vital records made by church officials. They are often called parish registers or churchbooks. Roman Catholic Church records are sometimes called sacramental records.

Canada is a country of religious diversity, even though three-fourths of all Canadians claim affiliation with one of four churches: the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, The United Church of Canada, or the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The United Church of Canada was formed in 1925 by a union of most Methodist and Congregationalist groups and 70 percent of the Presbyterians.

Church records are crucial for pre-Confederation research. Since civil authorities did not begin registering vital statistics in most provinces until after 1867, church records are the major information source before this date. Church records continued after civil registration began in the 1860s or later but often are not as accessible after that date. For civil registration of birth, death, and marriage records See Canadian Vital Records (KP).

For more information about records, see Canadian Religious Records (National Institute).

General Historical Background

Church records began in Canada in the 1620s in Quebec with French Catholic records. These early records were kept according to a 16th-century French law. English-language church records begin in 1749 in Nova Scotia with Church of England records. Canada was dominated by the French until 1763, so most Protestant records begin much later.

The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church (also called Church of England or Protestant Episcopal Church) had government preference in early times.

Until 1793, the British colonial government in the Canadas (present-day Ontario and Quebec) recognized only marriages performed by clergy of the Catholic and Anglican faiths. This law was gradually relaxed to permit marriages by civil authorities and by ministers of other major religions and was finally abolished in 1858.

Baptists and Congregationalists from New England were in Nova Scotia by 1760.

Methodists from Yorkshire came to Nova Scotia in the 1770s, and many of the American Loyalists and "late Loyalists" who came to Canada beginning in the 1780s were Methodists.

Some Baptists also came with the Loyalist migration.

There were Lutheran congregations in Nova Scotia by 1772 and in Upper Canada (Ontario) by 1784.

By the early 19th century the Church of Scotland had come to Canada, along with some "secessionist" offshoots. Those branches of Presbyterianism merged in 1875 to form the original Presbyterian Church in Canada. At the 1891 census, the Presbyterian Church in Canada was the largest Protestant denomination. It remained so until the 1925 United Church merger.

For more information about major churches in Canada, look in:

Canadian Almanac and Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (Family History Library book 971 E4ca.)

Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ontario: Southam Inc., annual. (Family History Library book 971 B5c.) Editions before 1998 were called:

Corpus Almanac & Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ontario: Corpus Information Services, annual. (Family History Library book 971 B5c.)

Record-keeping Practices

The Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church kept more detailed records than some other religions. Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and other groups, especially those that did not baptize infants, often did not keep church registers unless required by law. You can find a person’s religious affiliation in Canadian censuses beginning in 1851.

Records

Baptisms (baptêmes)

Children were generally christened within a few days of birth. Christening registers usually give the infant’s and parents’ names, names of godparents or witnesses, and the christening date. You may also find the child’s birth date, father’s occupation, and the family’s place of residence. Death information has sometimes been added as a note.

Illegitimate children are listed in French Catholic baptismal records as children of parents inconnus, "parents unknown" and in Anglican records as filius populi or filia populi, a "child of the people."

For additional information, see Canada Baptismal Records (National Institute)

Marriages (mariages)

Marriage registers may give:

  • Date of marriage.
  • Names of the bride and groom.
  • Notes if the bride or groom were single or widowed.
  • Names of witnesses.
  • The bride’s and groom’s ages, residences, occupations, names of parents, and birthplaces.
  • Names of previous marriage partners.
  • A note whether a parent or other party gave permission for the marriage.

Marriage registers sometimes give the two or three dates on which the marriage intentions were announced in addition to the marriage date. These announcements, called banns, gave opportunity for anyone to come forward who knew any reasons why the couple shouldn’t be married.

Early French Catholic records are usually quite detailed, but Protestant marriage records and civil records often give little information about the parents of the couple until mid-19th century. In Upper Canada the names of the bride’s and the groom’s parents began to be recorded in the county marriage registers in 1858.

Burials (sépultures)

Burials were recorded in the church record of the parish where the person was buried. The burial was usually a day or two after the death in the parish where the person died. However, many burials were not conducted by clergy and were not recorded by the church.

Church burial registers give:

  • Name of the deceased.
  • Date and place of death and burial.
  • (Often) the age, place of residence, and cause of death.
  • Names of survivors.
  • (Occasionally) date and place of birth of deceased.

Items in a burial record may not be accurate if the person giving the information did not have complete information.

There may be burial records for persons born before births and marriages were recorded. However, in some parishes, burial records may start later than the christening and marriage records of that parish.

Locating Church Records

Church records were kept at the local parish of the church. A parish is a local congregation that may include many villages. Your ancestor may have lived in a village and belonged to a parish in a nearby larger town.

To find church records, you must know your ancestor’s religion and the town where he lived. You must determine which parish your ancestor’s town belonged to so you know which parish registers to search.

The town where the church building was located is considered the parish headquarters. In the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog, you will usually find the microfilm numbers for church records under the city, town, or municipality where the parish had its headquarters.

Small villages which did not have their own church were designated as belonging to a particular parish. Over time, some villages, chapelries, or "missions" may have belonged to several parishes as jurisdictions changed.

Church records are stored in places decided by authorities of each denomination and sometimes by the individual congregation. Practices vary widely.

Also see Finding Canadian Church Records (National Institute)

Records at the Family History Library

The Family History Library has many church records from Canada on microfilm. This collection continues to grow as new records are microfilmed. It includes a few records from most provinces plus records from:

  • Most Roman Catholic parishes in Quebec, from the beginning of record keeping through 1899.
  • Many Catholic parishes of Ontario through 1910.
  • Many Protestant records from Quebec through about 1880.
  • Some New Brunswick Catholic parishes.
  • Some Baptist churches in Ontario.

Look in the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the town where the parish or church was, not the town where your ancestor lived. Look under:

[PROVINCE], [COUNTY], [CITY] - CHURCH RECORDS

[PROVINCE], [CITY] - CHURCH RECORDS

Many church records are not cataloged under the city name, but under the province or county. See also:

[PROVINCE] - CHURCH RECORDS

[PROVINCE], [COUNTY] - CHURCH RECORDS

Locating Records Not at the Family History Library

As Canada has no single repository of church records, the location of records depends on the religion and the location of the church.

A few early church records of various denominations have been microfilmed and are available from the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa. Public libraries may request an interlibrary loan. These microfilms are described in:

Campeau, Marielle, and Patricia Birkett. Checklist of Parish Registers, 1986. Ottawa: Manuscript Division, National Archives of Canada, 1987. (Family History Library book 971 K23p 1987.) This source lists the available parish registers by place-name within each province. It also gives the National Archives of Canada film numbers. Public libraries can use these numbers to order the films through interlibrary loan.

Provincial archives have some copies of church registers. See "Archives and Libraries" Wiki articles of the provinces for their addresses.

Anglican or Roman Catholic Records. For Anglican or Roman Catholic records, there is no central Canadian repository. Many, but not all, of their records have been transferred to diocesan archives; some are still at the parishes. These guides are helpful:

Guide sommaire des archives des diocèses catholiques au Canada (Abridged Guide to the Archives of Catholic Dioceses in Canada). In French and English. Ottawa: Centre de Recherche en Histoire Religieuse du Canada, Université Saint-Paul, 1981. (Family History Library  book971 K23g; film 1698288 item 6.)

Annuaire de l’église catholique au Canada (Canadian Catholic Church Directory). In French and English. Montreal: B. M. Advertising, annual. (Family History Library book 971 K24a.) This book lists names, addresses, and telephone numbers of Canadian dioceses and parishes.

The Anglican Church of Canada is publishing a series of guides to church records and where they may be found. Some records remain in the parishes and are not listed in these guides. Records pertaining to a particular locality are listed under the diocese where they are stored. The following guides are available:

Guide to the Holdings of the Archives of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land. Winnipeg: St. John’s College Press, 1986. (Family History Library book 971 A3m.) This guide covers ten dioceses in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and northern Ontario. It lists record types and years covered and includes a place-name index.

Guide to the Holdings of the Archives of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario. Agincourt, Ontario: Generation Press, 1990. (Family History Library book 971.3 K23.) This guide covers seven dioceses.

Guide to the Holdings of the Archives of the Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia and Yukon. (Family History Library book 971 K23gh.) This guide covers six dioceses.

These and other inventories are in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:

CANADA - CHURCH RECORDS - INVENTORIES, REGISTERS [or] CATALOGS

[PROVINCE] - CHURCH RECORDS - INVENTORIES, REGISTERS [or] CATALOGS

Presbyterian Records. Many early records have been transferred with those of other constituent churches to The United Church of Canada Archives in Toronto and to other regional United Church archives. Most of the remaining parish records at the Presbyterian Church Archives have been filmed to 1900 or later. They are at the Family History Library. To find microfilm numbers, check the Author/Title Search of the Family History Library Catalog under PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN CANADA or the Locality Search under the towns of interest to you.

Congregationalist Records. Very few early records are at United Church or Presbyterian archives.

United Church of Canada Records. The system of regional United Church archives is described in:

Committee on Archives and History, The United Church of Canada. Guide to Family History Research in the Archival Repositories of The United Church of Canada. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1996. (Family History Library book 971 J5gf.) This guide lists names, addresses, and telephone and fax numbers of archives; it also contains brief summaries of their services and major holdings. One chapter covers the histories of The United Church of Canada and of the uniting denominations.

Some records remain in local congregations, called "pastoral charges." Addresses are in:

The United Church of Canada Yearbook and Directory. Etobicoke, Ontario: Department of Education and Information of The United Church of Canada, annual. (Family History Library book 971 K25y. 1982 edition on Family History Library microfilm /1320688 items 8 and 9.)

You may wish to visit:

United Church of Canada Central Archives
Victoria University
73 Queen’s Park Crescent East
Toronto, ON M5S 1K7
CANADA
Telephone: 416-585-4563
Fax: 416-585-4584
Internet: http://unitedchurcharchives.vicu.utoronto.ca/

Other Records. Jewish records of births, marriages, and deaths usually remain with synagogues. A few have been transferred to national or provincial archives. Lutheran Church records often remain with local congregations.

Descriptions of selected church archives in Canada are in:

Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists 30, (Summer 1990), Special Issue on Religious Archives. (FHL periodical 971 B2ar.)

Addresses of many regional church archives are in the following guides, listed in "Archives and Libraries":

Directory of Canadian Archives. 5th ed. Ottawa: Association of Canadian Archivists, 1990. (Family History Library book 971 J54d 1990.)

The Official Directory of Canadian Museums and Related Institutions, 1987–1988. Ottawa: Canadian Museums Association, 1987. (Family History Library book 971 J54dc.)

Addresses of church headquarters in Canada are in:

Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ontario: Southam Inc., annual. (Family History Library book 971 B5c.) Editions before 1998 were called:

Corpus Almanac & Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ontario: Corpus Information Services, annual. (Family History Library book 971 B5c.)

Canadian Almanac and Directory. Toronto: Canadian Almanac and Directory Publishing Co., annual. (Family History Library book 971 E4ca.)

Jacquet, Constant H. Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, annual. (Family History Library book  970 K2 wh.)

Addresses of major archives or central headquarters of some denominations are given below. You can write and ask for names and addresses of their regional archives. The staff of most of these archives cannot search their records for you but may be able to furnish names of professional researchers who can. Some require fees for their services; others appreciate a donation. Do not forget to enclose proper postage or international reply coupons when writing.

Baptist

Many Baptist records have been centralized at McMaster University where they have been filmed by the Family History Library. A larger collection is at Acadia University.

Canadian Baptist Archives
McMaster Divinity College
Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1
CANADA
Telephone: 905-525-9140, extension 23511
Fax: 905-577-4782
Internet: http://www.macdiv.ca/students/baptistarchives.php

(covers all of Canada except the Atlantic Provinces)

Acadia University Archives
50 Acadia Street
Wolfville, NS B0P 1X0
CANADA
Telephone: 902-585-1412
Fax: 902-542-1748
Internet: http://library.acadiau.ca/archives/links/

(Atlantic Baptist Historical Collection)

Lutheran
Archivist
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
302-393 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, MB R3B 3H6
CANADA
Internet: http://www.elcic.ca/

Mennonite

Mennonite records are usually gathered into archives.

Mennonite Heritage Centre
600 Shaftesbury Boulevard
Winnipeg, MB R3P 0M4
CANADA
Telephone: 204-888-6781
Fax: 204-831-5675
Internet: http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/programs/archives/

Methodist

See United Church of Canada Central Archives, above.

Presbyterian

Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives and Records Office
50 Wynford Drive
North York, ON M3C 1J7
CANADA
Telephone: 416-441-1111
Fax: 416-441-2825
Internet: http://www.presbyterian.ca/archives/

Society of Friends (Quaker)

These records may be at the central archives or at one of the meetings.

Genealogical Enquiries
The Dorland Room
Pickering College
16945 Bayview Avenue
Newmarket, ON L3Y 4X2
CANADA
Telephone: 905-895-1700
Fax: 905-895-9076
Internet: http://www.quaker.org/

An important guide to Quaker records is:

Hill, Thomas C. Monthly Meetings in North America: A Quaker Index. 4th ed. Cincinnati: Thomas C. Hill, 1997. (Family History Library book 973 K22h 1997. The second (1993) edition of this book is on Family History Library  film 1698282 item 11.) This guide is organized alphabetically by the name of the monthly meeting. It gives the meeting address and sometimes indicates the location of the records. A geographical index lists by province the names of the 50 monthly meetings in Canada.

Very early records of monthly meetings in Canada were sent to the New York Yearly Meeting Archives. These records have now been transferred to:

Friends Historical Library
Swarthmore College
500 College Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081
USA
Telephone: 610-328-8496
Internet: http://www.swarthmore.edu/x7556.xml

Some of these early records have been used to compile this early church census, which lists more than 250 Quaker families in Canada:

Fay, Loren V. Quaker Census of 1828: Members of the New York Yearly Meeting, The Religious Society of Friends at the Time of the [Hicksite] Separation of 1828. Rhinebeck, New York: Kinship, 1989. (Family History Library book 974.7 K2fL.) This book contains the names of adults and the names and sometimes ages of children. A "key number" indicates the monthly meeting to which the family belonged.

Records not on microfilm or at a central archives may be in local parishes. If possible, write in French to French-speaking areas, but a letter in good English is better than one in bad French.

When writing to local Canadian parishes for genealogical information, include the following:

  • Check or money order for the search fee, usually about $15.00.
  • Full name and the sex of the person sought.
  • Names of the parents, if known.
  • Approximate date and place of the event.
  • Your relationship to the person.
  • Reason for the request (family history, medical, and so forth).
  • Request for a complete extract or photocopy of the original record.

International reply coupon, available from your local post office, when writing from outside the country. Within Canada, enclose a self-addressed envelope with proper postage.

If your request is unsuccessful, search for duplicate records in other archives or in civil registration offices.

For more information about record location, see Canada Church Archives (National Institute).

Church Record Indexes

Indexes to church records are valuable tools to locate families in Canada, especially in the absence of census indexes. The Family History Library has indexes to many Roman Catholic and a few Protestant records, listing church marriages of Canadian families who settled on both sides of the United States-Canada border. Many of these indexes are of French Canadian families. The following index, with one million marriages, has the most names and the greatest geographical coverage:

Loiselle, Antonin. Loiselle Card Index to Many Marriages . . . (225 rolls of film beginning with 543721.) This source usually lists the names of the bride and groom, their parents’ names, and the date and place of their marriage. The index is arranged roughly in alphabetical order. To find the portion of the alphabet covered by each film, consult Quebec Civil Registration, or see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under QUEBEC - CHURCH RECORDS - INDEXES.

A supplement to the Loiselle index adds many more marriages and covers the Ottawa River valley area of Ontario and Quebec (51 rolls of microfilm beginning with 1571024.)

Drouin Collection Index of French Canadian records 1621-1967
This collection has over 15 million entries for French Canadian genealogical and vital records. It includes Quebec notarial, vital, and church records, Acadian Catholic records, Ontario French Catholic records, early French Catholic records in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, and Wisconsin.

For indexes or repertories of French Canadian Catholic marriages in cities and counties in Quebec and Ontario and parishes in some New England towns, see the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under appropriate jurisdictions and record categories, such as:

[STATE], [COUNTY], [CITY] - CHURCH RECORDS

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

Early, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church records for Canadian Wards and Branches can be found on film and are located at the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The film numbers, for each ward, can be locate through the Family History Library Catalog. Or by refering to Jaussi, Laureen R., and Gloria D. Chaston. Register of Genealogical Society Call Numbers. 2 vols. Provo, Utah: Genealogy Tree, 1982. (FHL book 979.2258 A3j; fiche 6031507). These volumes contain the film numbers for many (but not all) membership and temple record films.

Research Strategies

Step 1. Identify where your ancestor was living at a given time.

Identify the town where your ancestor was living at a given time, such as when he or she was born, was a child, was married, had children, or died. Your ancestor probably attended a church in a town or city where the family lived.

For help in identifying the town of residence of your ancestor at a given time, see How To Locate Your Ancestor in Canada.

Step 2. Determine which denomination your ancestor attended during that time.

To determine which denomination your ancestor belonged to, consider:

  • Family traditions and artifacts.
  • Which country your ancestor came from.
  • Family histories.

For the relationship between national origin and religious denomination, see Tip 1.

For further suggestions on how to determine which church your ancestor attended, see Tip 2.

Step 3. Find the records of your ancestor's church.

For records available at the Family History Library, search the Family History Library Catalog. Many church records have been assigned to the town level in the Catalog. To find town records:

  • Click on the Town tab.
  • Select the town of your ancestor.

If you do not find church records for the town, check for church records for the county (if the Province has counties) by clicking the County tab. You may also need to check for records for the province.

Step 4. Search the church records.

Look at a few pages to determine how the church records are organized. Church records may be organized by:

  • Date
  • Event and then by date
  • Event and then in alphabetical order by surname

Once you determine how the records are organized, search the records for your ancestor and for other people in your ancestor's life. See Your Ancestor Had A FAN Club for an explanation of this research principle.

Step 5. Copy the information from the record.

Make a photocopy of the page(s) with the information about your ancestor. By copying the entire page(s), you can study the record in depth and save it for future reference. You can analyze the handwriting and note other details you may have missed when you first looked at the record. You may find other relatives of your ancestor.

Be sure to document the source of the information by writing the title, author, book or film number, and page number on the copy, or photocopy the title page at the front of the book or film. Also write the name of the library, archive, etc., where you found the church records.

Step 6. Analyze the information you found.

Study the document. Compare the information to what you already knew about your ancestor.

  • What new information did you find about your ancestors or their in-laws?
  • Notice the names of witnesses and bondsmen, since they were often relatives or close friends. See Your Ancestor Had A FAN Club for information on this research principle.
  • Did the records mention the church where they formerly lived or moved to?
  • Does the information fit with what you already know about the family?
Use a Timeline to compare what you already knew about your ancestor with the information you found.

For more help on comparing new information with what you already knew about your ancestor, see How to Recognize your Canadian Ancestor.

Tips

Tip 1. The country of origin may help learn the church they attended

Persons from France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and the Latin American countries were often Roman Catholic and usually attended that church. If your ancestors were from one of these countries and were Protestant, sometimes they were very loyal to their denomination. Other times they may have attended the Protestant church closest to their home.

  • French Huguenots were Protestant.
  • Persons from the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) were generally Lutheran, because the Lutheran church was the state religion in Scandinavia. Immigrants from Scandinavia very likely attended the Lutheran church in Canada.
  • Scottish ancestors very likely attended the Presbyterian church in Canada. The Church of Scotland was the state church in Scotland. It is known in Canada as the Presbyterian church.
  • English ancestors may have attended the Church of England. Also, many ancestors from England belonged to one of the dissenting groups, such as the Quakers.

Tip 2. How can I determine the denomination of my ancestor?

Consider the following, and relate the information to what you know about your ancestor:

  • Some communities only had one church, so most residents would have attended that church.
  • Sometimes an ancestor preferred to attend a church close to his or her home and was not so concerned about what denomination he or she attended.
  • Sometimes an ancestor was strict about which denomination he belonged to and may have traveled some distance to attend his church. Check where persons of that denomination met.
  • In large cities there may have been many churches of an ancestor's denomination. Use city directories together with maps, inventories, and directories of churches to identify which churches of your ancestor's denomination were in your ancestor's neighborhood.
  • It may be necessary to look at the records of all the churches near your ancestor's home to locate your ancestor's church records.

See also Determining an Ancestor's Church in Canada (National Institute)

Canada Previous Research, Part 1 may give you further suggestions on how to identify the denomination of your ancestor.

Tip 3. Finding where church records are kept now?

Sometimes church records were kept in the church and sometimes in the home of the minister. The records may still be at the church, with the present minister, at a local historical or genealogical society, or they may have been deposited in an archive of the denomination.

A wiki article describing this collection is found at:


 

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