Canada Church Records

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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 the "Vital Records" section of this outline.

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. (FHL book 971 E4ca.)

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

Corpus Almanac & Canadian Sourcebook. Don Mills, Ontario: Corpus Information Services, annual. (FHL 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.


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."

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.

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:



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



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 the Quebec Research Outline (31088), 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.)

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:


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. (FHL 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 research outlines 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. (FHL book 971 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. (FHL 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. (FHL 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. (FHL 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. (FHL book 971 K23gh.) This guide covers six dioceses.

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



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. (FHL 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. (FHL book 971 K25y. 1982 edition on FHL 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
Telephone: 416-585-4563
Fax: 416-585-4584

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. (FHL book 971 J54d 1990.)

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

Addresses of church headquarters in Canada are in:

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

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

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

Jacquet, Constant H. Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, annual. (FHL book Ref 970 K2wh.)

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.


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
Telephone: 905-525-9140, extension 23511
Fax: 905-577-4782

(covers all of Canada except the Atlantic Provinces)

Acadia University Archives
50 Acadia Street
Wolfville, NS B0P 1X0
Telephone: 902-585-1412
Fax: 902-542-1748

(Atlantic Baptist Historical Collection)

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
302-393 Portage Avenue
Winnipeg, MB R3B 3H6


Mennonite records are usually gathered into archives.

Mennonite Heritage Centre
600 Shaftesbury Boulevard
Winnipeg, MB R3P 0M4
Telephone: 204-888-6781
Fax: 204-831-5675


See United Church of Canada Central Archives, above.


Presbyterian Church in Canada Archives and Records Office
50 Wynford Drive
North York, ON M3C 1J7
Telephone: 416-441-1111
Fax: 416-441-2825

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
Telephone: 905-895-1700
Fax: 905-895-9076

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. (FHL book 973 K22h 1997. The second (1993) edition of this book is on FHL 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
Telephone: 610-328-8496

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. (FHL 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.