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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 Ryan Talor, revised by Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, CGL. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Denominational Background (Continued)
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 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
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
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.
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.
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
P.O. Box 4
Wolfville, Nova Scotia B4P 2R6
Telephone: (902) 585-1001
- ↑ Great care should be taken with geographical terms when dealing with church names, especially in the Church of England. The ecclesiastical province of Ontario does not coincide with the geographical province (the diocese of Keewatin, in northwestern Ontario, belongs to Rupert’s Land) and there is also a diocese of Ontario, based in Kingston and covering only a small proportion of the geographical province.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Religious Records 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 email@example.com
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