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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in December 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Canadian Ancestors by Doris Bourrie, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Ontario Provincial Records
The first non-native travellers in the area of Ontario came searching for furs. Outposts of the fur traders later became the Ontario centers of Kingston, Toronto, Niagara, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay. Even Detroit was a major outpost of the French-Canadian upper country of the Great Lakes. After the Peace of Paris in 1763, the defeated colony of New France became the British province of Québec, which stretched from the Gaspé to just west of the Ottawa River.
The Great Lakes region, including most of Ontario was known as “Indian Territory.” The American War of Independence resulted in an influx of British refugees moving away from the Thirteen colonies into British-held territory. It is generally said that these British Loyalists, both refugees and disbanded troops, are the founding fathers of the province. These loyalists wished to live under the type of English institutions they were familiar with, and were not comfortable under French civil law and seignorial land tenures which had been established by the Québec Act. Consequently the British government divided the province of Québec into Lower Canada (Québec) and Upper Canada (Ontario).
The Archives website now has three new databases to assist researchers with records at the Archives of Ontario. These databases are not linked to each other, so you may wish to do a search in each database. They are a “work in progress” and do not completely replace the finding aids at the Archives.
- BIBLiON is a catalogue of library holdings at the Archives. It presently covers items listed as “pamphlets” and material acquired since 1990.
- The VISUAL DATABASE includes about 5,000 images which include a variety of photos, maps, architectural drawings, etc.
- The ARCHIVES DESCRIPTIVE DATABASE (ADD) provides a brief description of fonds available at the Archives of Ontario, providing Archival Reference Codes, or direct you to the record group Finding Aid available in the Archives Reading Room. The information provided for inter-library loan of Archives of Ontario microfilm is useful to determine what records are available, and a brief description of these records, and the proper reel number. This information covers those films available through inter-library loan only, and so will not cover all records available at the Archives of Ontario.
There are also links to take you to other websites of interest.
Ontario was separated from Québec in 1791, and joined Confederation in 1867. Some early census records (Heads of Family only) exist for various areas of the Province. Nominal census records were taken decennially from 1851 to 1901. Some portions of the 1851 census have not survived. The Ontario Genealogical Society, through its many branches, has produced a number of published census transcriptions.
The Ontario Genealogical Society also undertook the task of creating an Index to the 1871 census for the entire province. This index lists the head of the family as well as any stray in the household. A stray was described as anyone living in the household with a different surname from that of the head of the household. This index is available in a searchable database on the Library and Archives Canada website, and is an excellent tool for locating a specific surname within the province at the time of the 1871 census. The index indicates the exact page within the census records so that the entire entry may be easily accessed on the appropriate reel of microfilm.
Civil registration in Ontario began in 1869, and registrations and indexes from the Office of the Registrar General (RG 80) are available at the Archives of Ontario. Each year an additional year’s records are microfilmed and added to the collection. At present the following records are open to public research:
- Births 1869-1916
- Marriages 1869-1921
- Deaths 1869-1931
There are some gaps in the early years, as registration was not compulsory. There are separate indexes for each category, divided alphabetically by each year. The information collected by the Registrar General varied, depending on the regulations applicable at the time.
The Registrar General did not create a central index to marriages for the period 1869-1874, only an index at the beginning of each volume. However, Ontario Indexing Services, Waterloo has produced 6 volumes of indexes for these years. These are available at the Archives of Ontario.
Records after this time period are only available from the Registrar General. To obtain an application, and information regarding fees, applicable restrictions, etc., contact:
Office of the Registrar General
P.O. Box 4600
Thunder Bay, Ontario P7B 6L8
There are 2 major collections of marriage returns prior to 1869. These consist of marriage returns made by the clergy to the District Clerks of the Peace (up to 1857) and to the County Clerks of the Peace (1858-1869). Returns were made yearly by the individual clergy. Remember, these returns were copies of the original record, forwarded by the clergy to the Clerks of the Peace, and then copied by the Clerks into the record. They are therefore subject to errors and omissions. Not all clergy made returns as required. Specifically the collection contains very few Anglican or Roman Catholic returns, or Quaker records. Various indexes to these collections have been published to assist researchers. If you cannot locate the marriage you require in these returns, it would be wise to check the available church records for the location and time period involved.
Some Roman Catholic returns available at the Archives of Ontario have been indexed by R. Rumpel, Roman Catholic Marriage Registers 1828-1870. The Société franco-ontarienne d’histoire et de généalogie have produced Mariage Répertoires for various Roman Catholic churches in areas of Ontario that have a large French population.
Some additional early vital statistics records may be found in some Court Records (RG 22) as well as some Municipal records. The Archives of Ontario can provide a list of those available.
The Ontario Genealogical Society has an ongoing program of transcriptions for all cemetery stones in Ontario. Publications are available from individual OGS branches, and copies of these transcriptions are microfilmed as they become available by the Archives of Ontario. The Archives of Ontario holds copies of these microfilmed records from the Library and Archives Canada. The Upper Canada Marriage Bonds for the years 1803-1834 have been transcribed and indexed in Thomas B. Wilson, Marriage Bonds of Ontario, 1803-1834, Lambertville, New Jersey, Hunterden House, 1985 and may be available through larger libraries. See WorldCat catalog.
As in other provinces, Ontario land records may be divided into two separate categories:
- Crown Land Records
- Land Registry records
Crown Land included all the land of the province until it was alienated from the Crown’s possession by the grant of Letters Patent to an individual. Once the original grant was made to an individual, any disposition of the property from that point on came under the Land Registry system, and documentation of land sales, mortgages granted and discharged, transfer of ownership by will, etc. was recorded for each specific lot within a township.
The earliest Ontario Crown Land grants were awarded to Loyalists who remained loyal to the Crown after the American Revolution. Specific regulations governed the amount of land awarded to officers and privates of Loyalist regiments. Private citizens who remained loyal to the crown also received Crown grants. Regulations provided that sons and daughters of Loyalists were eligible for Crown Land grants in the amount of 200 acres each, upon reaching full age, or in the case of daughters, upon reaching full age or upon their marriage. See specialized ethnic records for more details on Loyalist research.
The Ontario Land Records Index ca. 1780-ca. 1920 is an index by surname as well as by township of individuals who obtained permission to live on a specific piece of Crown Land. This index also includes those Irish settlers sponsored by Peter Robinson, as well as those obtaining land from the Canada Company. It is an excellent guide to the original settler on a specific lot, but does not include any information on later sales or disposal of the property. The index is available on microfiche at the Archives of Ontario, and at various libraries around the Province.
Land records after the initial Crown Patent was issued are the responsibility of the appropriate County Land Registry Office. The main entry to these records is the Township Abstract Index Book, which contains a page for each lot in the township, and records all changes in ownership, mortgages, grants, etc. to that particular lot, or portion of the lot. Most of the earlier Abstract Index Books are available at the provincial Archives on microfilm. Microfilms of all Abstract Index Books are also available at the appropriate County Registry Office. In addition to the Abstract Index Books, the Archives also holds microfilmed copies of many of the early Copy Books, which included transcriptions of mortgages, sale agreements, wills, etc. registered on a specific lot.
Wills and Estate Records
Jurisdiction over wills and estate records was the responsibility of the Province from 1792. The Court of Probate (1793-1858) handled probate records for an individual who owned property in two or more districts. The Surrogate Court (1793-1990) originally handled probate records for an individual who owned property in one district. After the Surrogate Courts Act of 1858 the Court of Probate was abolished, and each County Surrogate Court handled records for that county. A central office (Surrogate Clerk for Ontario) was set up to maintain a province-wide index for all estates, to ensure that there were no duplication of grants of probate, and this office assigned one grant of probate for each estate to the appropriate county. The Archives of Ontario holds all estate files older than 40 years. The earlier records are available on microfilm, while later records which have not yet been microfilmed must be ordered in from offsite storage, and normally take 48 hours for transfer.
Estate records that have not yet been turned over to the jurisdiction of the Archives may be requested through the appropriate County Surrogate Court. Addresses for the various County courts may be obtained from the Archives of Ontario, or from the Ontario government website.
In Ontario, especially in the earlier years, if an estate consisted only of real estate, basically a farm, the will might not have been probated, but may have been registered with the local Land Registry Office to transfer title of the property to the heir or heirs.
Naturalization and Citizenship Records
The Provincial government has some records for immigrants settling in Ontario between 1867 and 1902 (RG 11). They also have some copies of Federal Immigration Branch records, including the Registry of British children immigrating to Canada 1878-1920. In 1828 an Act to Secure and Confer Upon Certain Inhabitants of this Province the Civil and Political Rights of Natural Born British Subjects ordered the keeping of a naturalization register for each county in Upper Canada. This was in effect until 1850. These naturalization registers are available at the Provincial Archives, as well as at the Library and Archives Canada.
Military and Militia Records
The Provincial Archives holds some muster rolls for Militia units, which were organized on a county basis. From 1793 to 1855 all able-bodied citizens between the ages of 16 and 50 were required to enroll in the militia, and serve in case of war. Men of Upper Canada: militia nominal rolls, 1828-1829, published in Toronto by the Ontario Genealogical Society, 1995, reproduces the province’s muster rolls for these years. The province also holds copies of various military records of the Library and Archives Canada that apply to Ontario residents.
Maps, Atlases and Directories
The Provincial Archives holds early maps and atlases, including surveyor’s maps and town, township and city planning maps for various areas and dates. A useful guide to Ontario maps is Mapping Upper Canada, 1780-1867: an annotated bibliography of manuscript and printed maps, by Joan Winearl, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. This is available in most large libraries, and describes the early maps of Ontario available at the Archives and at other repositories. There is a collection of Historical County atlases, published mainly in the late 1800s. These county atlases generally contain histories of the area, maps of the townships, showing lots, and sometimes lot owners. They may contain biographies of prominent county residents, and early directories for the area. Many of these Historical County atlases were republished in the 1970s by Ross Cumming, Port Elgin, Ontario. At this time additional information was added to the original atlas, which might include later directories and maps. The Cummings Reprints of the Historical County atlases are available in many libraries of the province.
Some records for local school boards across Ontario are held by the Archives of Ontario. In general these may include information on teachers and students. Some restrictions may apply to records less than 100 years old that contain personal information. Check with the provincial archives for a description of their holdings and any restrictions.
One of the most prominent groups of specialized records concern United Empire Loyalist records. Various lists of loyalists were compiled for use by the Executive Council, the Surveyor General’s office, and the Inspector General’s Office. There are a large number of published sources to UEL records, many by branches of the United Empire Loyalist Society in the province.
Other specialized record groups included records concerning Quakers, Mennonites, and German settlers as well as Aboriginal records.
Divorce and Adoption Records
From 1867 to 1931 Ontario divorces were granted by the Federal Parliament. In 1927 the Supreme Court of Ontario was given the power to annul marriages, and to grant divorce in 1931. The Archives of Ontario holds files for divorce actions from 1931-1978. For divorces after 1978 one must contact the county or district courthouse in which the divorce was filed. See the Archives Handout No. 10: Finding Divorce Files in Ontario. From 1827 (Guardianship Act) until 1921 (Adoption Act) custody of children (guardianship) was handled by the local Surrogate Court. Records will be located in the Courts and related offices records, Inventory 22. After 1921 adoptions could be handled by a local society, such as a local Children’s Aid Society, through various private agencies, or by private adoption that did not involve a government agency.
Access to these files is limited, and one should contact:
Ministry of Community and Social Services
880 Bay Street, 5th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1Z8
Ontario Genealogical Society
Their website provides addresses and links to all branches of the Society, as well as links to other sites providing Ontario genealogical information. Under the What’s New button is a searchable engine for the Society’s large catalogue of genealogical material. Search under the categories of Books/Periodicals/Cemeteries/Family Charts.
In partnership with the Archives of Ontario, the Society now offers the microfilms of the Ontario Vital Statistics Records for sale. By using their Finding Aid for these records you may determine the reel number that would cover births, marriages or deaths for specific years and locations. Reel numbers for the Archives of Ontario and for the Genealogical Society of Utah [LDS film numbers] are included.
The Ontario Genealogical Society
40 Orchard View Boulevard, Suite 102
Toronto, Ontario M4R 1B9
Telephone: (416) 489-0734
The website also provides a searchable database called OGSPI (Ontario Genealogical Society Provincial Index). This large index was started in 1997, and additional information is constantly being added. It is recommended that you take the time to read the introduction to this Index in order to understand the abbreviations used, and the information which has been included so far in the index. Remember, if you do not find your family in this Index it does not mean that no records for them exist. It may simply indicate that the records for your area or time period have not yet been included in the Index. This is a very ambitious project and dependent entirely upon volunteers.
Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid
This Cemetery Finding Aid for Ontario provides a search engine to a database of 3 million names taken from the indexes to many of the cemeteries transcribed by the various branches of The Ontario Genealogical Society. Should you identify a name of interest it will provide the name of the cemetery, and the location (City, township or country), as well as the number of the transcription and branch of OGS from which the complete transcription may be ordered. Not all branches of the Society have given permission for indexes to their transcriptions to be included in this database, so it cannot be said to cover all of Ontario cemetery transcriptions. It is notably lacking in records for the Toronto and York County region of Ontario.
For those researching Ontario families of French-Canadian see the Reseau du patrimoine franco-ontarien (RPFO).
- ↑ Jane MacNamara and Kathie Orr. “Three New Internet Databases Now at the AO”. Heritage Legacy, Volume 3, No. 2 (June 2001).
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