How to Recognize your Canadian Ancestor
- 1 Getting Started
- 2 What You Are Looking For
- 3 Steps
- 4 Background
- 5 Tips
Recognizing a person as your ancestor is one of the true joys of genealogical research. However, there are pitfalls along the way. Sometimes researchers want so much to find a person that they ignore facts and make inaccurate connections.
This guide will help you ask the questions that will help you decide if a person is, in fact, your ancestor.
As you compare what you already know about your ancestor against the new information you find in a record, you can decide whether you have located your ancestor.
What You Are Looking For
You are trying to decide if the person you found in a record is your ancestor.
Once you have found a person in a record who may be your ancestor, the following 5 steps will help you determine if you have, in fact, found your ancestor.
Step 1. Review what you already know about your ancestor.
Do the following to identify your ancestor clearly:
- Make a time line, listing known facts about your ancestor.
- On your time line, include other persons associated with your ancestor.
- Briefly give the source of your information.
- Use an analysis chart to identify and evaluate what you know.
- Evaluate what that information may suggest.
See the following time line for an example of known information:
|Time Line for My Ancestor: Daniel Currie Hill|
|Source: All information is from A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants To Canada Before Confederation, vols. 1 & 2.|
|1807 Apr 2||Daniel Currie Hill born Johnstone, Renfrew, Scotland, son of Alexander Hill and Elizabeth Currie.|
|1821 Apr 28||Daniel sailed with his parents and brothers and sisters on the Earl of Buckinghamshire from Greenock for Canada.|
|1833||Daniel married Elizabeth Bryce.|
|1835||Daniel moved to Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario.|
|1840||Daniel and his extended family moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, United States.|
|1881 Jul 21||Daniel Currie Hill died in Utah, United States.|
For help in making a time line, see Tip 1. For a copy of a time line, click here. ***
Use an analysis chart to help you identify what you already know about your ancestor and to evaluate what that information may suggest. The following chart is a sample:
|MY ANCESTOR Analysis Chart for My Ancestor: Daniel Currie Hill|
|What Do I Know About My Ancestor?||Analysis and Conclusions|
|1. A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants, vols. 1 & 2, lists 6 brothers and sisters of Daniel Hill: Agnes b. 6 Jun 1808; Alexander Jr. b. 1811; Mary b. 1 Jul 1812; John b. 26 Jan 1814; Archibald Newall b. 20 Aug 1816; Elizabeth b. 17 Sep 1818||1. Daniel was the oldest child in a large family. He must have known how to work hard since the family came to a wilderness frontier area.|
|2. Daniel married Elizabeth Bryce in 1833.||2. Daniel Hill and Elizabeth Bryce were probably married in Lanark Co., Ontario.|
|3. A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants, vol. 2. lists 3 Bryce families in Lanark Co., Ontario about this time who emigrated from Scotland. John Bryce, William Bryce, and Robert Bryce.||3. One of these men might be the father of Elizabeth Bryce.|
|4. Daniel, his parents and all his brothers and sisters moved to Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario in 1835 or thereabouts.||4. The land they had in Lanark Co., Ontario must not have met their needs. They must have been able to get better land in Simcoe Co., Ontario.|
|5. A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants, vol. 2 says he moved to Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario in 1835.||5. I need to check the land records in Simcoe Co., Tosorontio Twp. to see when Daniel moved to Simcoe Co., Ontario.|
To print a copy of an analysis chart, click here.
Step 2. Identify what you know about the person who is a possible match
Do the following to identify this person clearly:
- Make a time line of information given in the record of the possible match person. This time line may be quite small but will establish dates and places clearly.
- On your time line, include other persons mentioned in the record who were associated with the possible match.
- Use an analysis chart to identify and evaluate what you know.
- Evaluate what that information may suggest.
|POSSIBLE MATCH One Record Time Line for a Possible Match: Daniel Hill (name)|
|Date||Record: Upper Canada Land Petitions|
|1832 Aug 31||Daniel Hill obtained 100 acres of land in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario from the Canada Company, being the East 1/2 of Lot 9 in the 6th Concession. Registered March 16, 1837.|
|1834 Sep 22||Alexander Hill obtained 100 acres of land in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario from the Clergy Reserve Sale, being the East 1/2 of Lot 8 in the 7th Concession.|
|1837 Jul 26||John Hill obtained 100 acres of land in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario, being the West 1/2 of Lot 8 in the 7th Concession.|
To print a copy of a time line for a specific record, click here.
For helps in making a time line, see Tip 1.
Use an Analysis Chart to help you identify what you know about the possible match person and evaluate what that information may suggest. The following chart is a sample of an analysis chart:
|POSSIBLE MATCH Analysis Chart for a Single Record: Daniel Hill (name of person) Upper Canada Land Petitions (name of record)|
|What Do I Know About the Possible Match?||Analysis and Conclusions|
|1. Daniel Hill obtained 100 acres of land in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario on Aug. 31, 1832.||1. Daniel Hill had moved to Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario by August, 1832 because that is the date of his land document.|
|2. There is no other Daniel Hill mentioned in land records in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario for at least a 10 year period before or after 1832.||2. This land record must be for the Daniel Currie Hill listed in A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants To Canada Before Confederation, vol. 2.|
|3. Alexander Hill obtained 100 acres of land in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario on Sept. 22, 1834.||3. Daniel Hill's father and brother were both named Alexander Hill. The land record found in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario for Alexander Hill dated Sept. 22, 1834 must be for either the father or brother of Daniel Hill, because I did not find another Hill family in this location during this period. Also, A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants To Canada Before Confederation, vols.1 & 2, state that Alexander Hill and Alexander Hill, Jr. both moved to Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario. However, the Dictionary gives the year of removal from Lanark Co., Ontario to Simcoe Co., Ontario as 1835.|
|4. John Hill obtained 100 acres of land in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario on July 26, 1837. This land was next to the land of Alexander Hill.||4. John Hill is listed in A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants To Canada Before Confederation, vol. 2, as a son of Alexander Hill and a brother of Daniel Hill. John was 23 years old at the time he acquired this land. Apparently the whole family was moving to Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario from Lanark Co., Ontario.|
|5. Daniel Hill who obtained land in Tosorontio Twp., Simcoe Co., Ontario on Aug. 31, 1832 appears to be the same person as Daniel Hill who was living in Lanark Twp., Lanark Co., Ontario since 1821.|
|6. Daniel Hill moved from Lanark Twp., Lanark Co., Ontario in 1832, not in 1835 as is stated in A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants To Canada Before Confederation, vol. 2.|
|7. Daniel Hill must have married Elizabeth Bryce in Simcoe Co., Ontario, rather than in Lanark Co., Ontario since he was married in 1833 and he was already in Simcoe Co. at that time. Therefore, I need to search for a marriage record for Daniel Hill and Elizabeth Bryce in Simcoe Co., Ontario.|
|8. Search other land records in Simcoe Co., Ontario for more members of the Hill family, including the married daughters. Also search for the Bryce family, possible parents of Elizabeth Bryce who married Daniel Hill.|
To print a copy of an analysis chart for a specific record to be used with a possible match, click here.
Step 3. Analyze and compare
Analyze and compare what you know about your ancestor with what you know about the possible match.
See Tip 2 for questions to ask yourself, as you compare these two time lines and analysis charts.
Step 4. Make a decision about the possible match.
To decide about the possible match person, do one of the following:
- Confirm the person as your ancestor.
- Suspect that the person may be a relative with the same name.
- Eliminate that person as your possible ancestor.
- Decide that there is not enough information yet to confirm or eliminate this person as your ancestor. In that case, see Tip 3.
Step 5. Write a brief summary of your research findings
After your research, write a brief summary report about your ancestor.
Either you can explain what records proved your ancestor's life events and can document his or her life history, or you can explain what records did not lead you to a definite conclusion.
Either way, you will have made a valuable contribution to your family's genealogical research efforts.
Be sure to include in your paragraph the title, author, and call number of the book or film of all the records you have searched.
Once you find enough information about the person you are researching, you must decide if a possible match person was your ancestor. You can tell by the events of their lives (and by the people they associated with) which of the possible matches was or was not your ancestor.
Too many genealogists find a hopeful individual with the right name and then try to establish a connection between that person and their known ancestors. Almost always, such attempts end up with erroneous connections.
Correct connections must be built by working back from known information to the unknown, by building your ancestor's identity based on the events and people in their lives.
It is very important to develop the skill of analyzing carefully, and thus being able to come to good conclusions.
Tip 1. How do I make a time line?
To help you single out your ancestor, include on a time line:
- Events in date order (the same order they happened in your ancestor's life).
- Birth, marriage, and death information for each family member.
- Dates of other events and the persons associated with these events, such as a neighbor purchasing land from your ancestor, or a witness to the will of your ancestor.
- Information on events that are not yet proved but may help identify your ancestor.
A word processor is a useful tool when making a time line, because you can easily insert new information between dates. To print a copy of a time line, click here.
You can also do a time line for just one specific record to help you see clearly the contents and value of that record. To print a working copy of a time line for a specific record, click here.
Tip 2. Is this my ancestor?
To answer this question, ask yourself:
Q1. Is the possible match person living in the right place to be my ancestor?
Q2. Is this event in the right time period to be within the lifetime of my ancestor?
- Is the possible match person too young or too old to have been my ancestor?
- Are names of children associated with the possible match consistent with what I already know about the children of my ancestor?
- Do the ages of the children seem logical, or are they too young or too old to be my ancestor's children?
Q3. Is this the right spouse? To verify the name of a wife, check marriage records, birth records of her children, land records, cemetery records, church records, and probate records.
Q4. Are the economic conditions of this person consistent with the known family history? It is highly unusual for a wealthy person to suddenly be farming in a poor section of the county on a small rented acreage, or a poor person to suddenly be a noted county official, living in a mansion. The following records give a good indication of the economic condition of the family.
- Census records: see the column listing property values.
- Tax lists: see property tax and personal property taxed.
- Land records: see acreage of lands owned, and number of properties owned.
Q5. Do the relatives and associates of your ancestor appear in records with the possible match?
- Check land records of the possible match person for neighbors and witnesses of deeds to see if their names are the same people you know associated with your ancestor.
- Check marriage records of the possible match person and his children to see if the bondsmen and witnesses are persons who you know associated with your ancestor.
- Check church records of the possible match person, to see if the names of members in the congregation were also associates of your ancestor.
- Check other records to see what the possible match person did after this record was made. Migration can be a good clue:
Q6. Is the possible match person affiliated with the church you know your ancestor belonged to?
- Does the possible match person appear in Presbyterian church records, but you know your ancestor was a Quaker?
- Is there evidence that the possible match person changed religions, such as from Quaker to Presbyterian? Was he or she a Quaker originally, but then married out of the faith and was disowned?
Q7. Could the possible match person, living in a neighboring county, be my ancestor?
County and electoral district boundaries changed over the years. One of the purposes of the census was to determine the population and redefine the boundaries of electoral districts.
- The eastern provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) had distinct county and township boundaries.
- Electoral and census districts were usually named after existing counties and townships, and roughly followed their boundaries.
- The prairie and western provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories) were organized by administrative districts, towns, and municipalities.
- Electoral and census districts and boundaries may not correspond with the names and boundaries of existing towns.
For more information about how census boundaries and county or district boundaries may be different, see How Canadian National Censuses Are Organized.
Q8. Why is the name of the possible match person spelled differently from my ancestor's name? The name of a person was commonly spelled differently in different documents. For more information, see Name Variations.
Tip 3. If I am still not sure I have found my ancestor, what should I do next?
Choose another record which has a possible match person, and repeat the first 4 steps in this guide.
Other major records available in most places in Canada include:
- Census records, both federal and provincial.
- Birth, marriage, and death records - known as Vital Records (or Civil Registration in Quebec).
- Cemetery records.
- Church records.
- Land records.
- Probate records (wills, administrations, inventories).
See the Canada Records Selection Table to help you decide which records to search.
To locate these records:
- Search the Internet as an increasing number of indexes—many with links to images—are added daily.
- Use the Family History Libary Catalog. Remember to check town, county, province, and national records.
- Contact local and provincial libraries, societies, and archives.