Step-by-Step Ontario, Canada Research

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Ontario, Canada Gotoarrow.png Step-by-step research

A suggested approach to genealogy research in Ontario, Canada family history records.

Step-by-step Ontario, Canada Research

Table of Contents

1. Contact living relatives.
2. Online census records.
3. Births, marriages, and deaths online
4. Church records online.
5. Printed local histories or biographies online.
6. Death, obituary and cemetery records online.
7. Study clues.
If Your Family Were Loyalists
8. Loyalists online collections.
9. Land records.
10. Wills and probate.
11. Historical or genealogical societies.
12. Immigration and naturalization records online.

See also, How to use "record hints".[edit | edit source]

Step 1. Find out everything you can from living relatives and their family records.[edit | edit source]

Every good genealogy project starts with finding all the clues you can gather from living relatives — both from their memories and from documents or memorabilia in their homes.

What should you ask?[edit | edit source]

In order to extend your research on your ancestors, you are looking for names, dates, and places. Everything you learn that tells you about when and where a relative lived is a clue to a new record search. Be sure to ask questions that lead to that information, including about their occupations, military service, or associations with others, such as fraternal organizations. See also:

What documents should you look for and ask to copy?[edit | edit source]

  • Announcements of births, weddings,
    and anniversaries
  • Baby and wedding books
  • Certificates
  • Deeds, and property records
  • Family Bibles
  • Family reunion notices and records
  • Fraternal or society records
  • Insurance policies
  • Journals and diaries
  • Letters and cards
  • Licenses (business, marriage,
    fishing, driving)
  • Naturalization documents
  • Newspaper clippings and obituaries
  • Medical records
  • Military service and pension documents
  • Occupational awards
  • Passports
  • Personal histories and biographies
  • Photograph albums
  • Printed Notices and Announcements
  • Programs (graduation, award ceremonies, funerals)
  • School records
  • Scrapbooks
  • Wills and trusts

Step 2. Find your ancestors in every possible census record, 1841-1921, online.[edit | edit source]

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

In your mother's home, you find the death certificate of your grandmother, Oliva May Dykhuisen. You see in this death certificate that your grandmother's maiden would have been Oliva May Layman, and she was the daughter of Caroline Austin and George Henry Layman. You know a lot about your Layman ancestors, but now you want to find out about the Austin side of the family. You see on this death certificate that Caroline Austin Layman was born in "Townsend Twp., Canada." You begin by looking for Oliva May and Caroline Austin Layman in the most recent census (1921) available for Canada.

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  • In 1921, the only Caroline Layman-like entry is for a "Carrie Layman", living in Essex County, Ontario, with two daughters, Della and Florence. It would have been helpful to find "Oliva" living with her, but she may be married an living elsewhere with a husband. We will need to look at earlier census records, so we go to the 1911 census.

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  • In the 1911 census, we find the same Carrie Layman, with daughters Della and Florence, in Essex County. This time they are living in the home of David and Olivia Boughner. Carrie is listed as the mother-in-law of David Boughner, and Della and Florence are listed as his sister-in-laws. Now we have enough different facts to believe this could be our family. We might suspect that Olivia first married David Boughner but has a second marriage to John B. Dykhuizen.

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  • We keep looking at the earlier census, every ten years back in time. In 1901, we find Carry Layman in Kingsville, Essex County, Ontario, Canada, a widow with her three daughters. Notice that all three of the census records give the month and year of birth for each member of the family.

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  • In 1891, we have another lucky find. Carrie Layman now has her parents, Lewis T. and Lidya Austin, living in her home.

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  • As we work back every ten years, 1881, 1871, 1861, and 1851, we see that the family lives in Townsend, Norfolk County, Ontario. We are able to identify the children of Lewis T. and Lydia Austin:
    • Calista, born about 1845
    • Matilda,born about 1847
    • Moses, born about 1849
    • Mary, born about 1851
    • Robert, born about 1853
    • William, born about 1855
    • Twins, Angeline and Caroline, born about 1858
    • Peter, born about 1860
    • Lizann, born about 1863
    • Nathaniel, born about 1865

1881 census of Townsend, Norfolk County, Ontario
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1871 census of Townsend, Norfolk County, Ontario
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Quick Outline of Information You Can Find in Ontario Census Records[edit | edit source]

Here you will find typed census forms showing the information that can be found in each Canadian census:

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Now Use These Links to Find Your Own Ancestors in Census Records[edit | edit source]

Step 3: Find birth, marriage, and death certificates for your ancestors and their children.[edit | edit source]

Birth, marriage, and death records from 1869 to the early 1900s are available online through If you don't have a membership, you can search these records without cast at a Family History Center near you. More recent birth, marriage, and death records can be requested through the mail. The address and instructions are found below. Here are the records we were able to find online for the family members of LewisT. and Lydia Austin.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

Death records found:

The death records of Caroline Austin and her husband, George Henry Layman. Notice that Caroline's parents are listed as Lewis Austin and Lydia Shaw, which is stronger proof than the census of her parentage. We also now know that Lydia's maiden name was Shaw.

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Lewis Austin's death entry:

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Lydia Austin's death record
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Death records of some of the children of Lewis T. and Lydia Austin.

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Marriage records found:

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Birth records found:

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Use These Links to Help Find Birth (1869-1910), Marriage (1800-1928), and Death Records for Your Ancestors (1869-1947)[edit | edit source]

Vital Records

Send for Birth (1911-present), Marriage (1929-present), and Death (1948-present) Records[edit | edit source]

Because of privacy restrictions, cut-off dates for online records make it necessary to order more recent records by mail:

These records are located at:
Office of the Registrar General
189 Red River Road
P.O. Box 4600
Thunder Bay, Ontario
P7B 6L8 Canada
Phone: 416-325-8305
Toll-free in Ontario: 1-800-461-2156

Step 4: Search available church records for baptisms, marriages, and burials.[edit | edit source]

Since civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths began in 1869, we look to church records as our next hopeful source of vital events. Religions who baptized infants and recorded the date provide substitute birth information for children. Most marriages were performed by ministers and recorded in church records. Ministers presiding over funerals provide burial records, which affirm death dates. Any such records may, in addition to the event recorded, mention other details such as parents' names, birthplace or residence, etc.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

In the church record, Wesleyan Methodist Baptismal Register, we find these baptism records. Although these were adult baptisms, they list birth dates and parents' names.We now learn that Lewis T, Austin's full name was Lewis Thomas Austin, and that his parents were Moses and Mary Austin. We are now able to begin searching the next generation back.

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Online Church Records[edit | edit source]

Writing for Church Records[edit | edit source]

Most church records are not yet online.

Step 5: Search for a printed local history or biography online.[edit | edit source]

It is popular for local histories to give biographical information about early pioneers, and brief genealogical details of their descendants living at the time the history was published.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

In Pioneer sketches of Long Point settlement; or, Norfolk's foundation builders and their family genealogies, by E.A. Owen., a biography of Solomon Austin gives a list of his children, including Moses Austin, and the children on Moses, including Lewis Austin. (The actual account is much longer, only excerpts are here.) These histories often have colorful details about the families and "flesh out" the simple details of names and dates.

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Locating Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Histories are most frequently found on the county level, but occasionally on the town level. Really prominent ancestors may appear in state histories, so search all three levels.

Step 6: Try to find additional details about your ancestors in obituaries and cemetery records online.[edit | edit source]

Cemetery and obituaries are an important source because deaths took place usually when records were more detailed than at the time of the person's birth 60-80 years earlier.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

Here are examples of FindAGrave records for Moses Austin, son of Lewis Thomas Austin, and his sister Anne, who married Alanson Lemon. Notice that Anne's record gives the full name of her mother, Mary Catherine Misener.
Tip Tip1.jpg It is important to look for records of siblings, because they may be more detailed that records for your direct ancestor.

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Ontario Cemetery Links[edit | edit source]

Now, search these collections for records of your Ontario ancestors:

Ontario Obituary Links[edit | edit source]

Step 7: Study each new record for other possible searches.[edit | edit source]

Cycle icon.jpg As you gather clues about new generations of your family, realize that they would also have been listed in the census records, birth marriage, and death records, church records, and cemetery and obituary records you have already searched. You will need to go back to the earlier steps in this article, applying them to the new names you have discovered.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

Now that we know the father of Lewis Thomas Austin, Moses Austin, we need to go back to the census records of 1851, 1861, and possibly earlier to find records for Moses and Mary Austin and all their children. Other families to look for in those censuses would be the Austin brothers and married sisters of Moses, the other children of Solomon Austin who may have survived until then. Here are just a few of the records you would discover:

  • The 1851 census of Moses and Mary Austin:

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  • The 1861 census of Mary Austin, widow of Moses:

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  • Here is the FindAGrave record for Moses Austin, father of Lewis Thomas Austin. (Only his children buried in the same cemetery are listed, so Lewis does not appear here.)

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Step 8: If your ancestors were Loyalists, search Loyalist collections online.[edit | edit source]

Many of the early pioneers of Canada were United Empire Loyalists. During the American Revolution, they took the side of the British. They suffered atrocities and lost property, most of their lands being seized through official confiscation laws after the war. As compensation, they were offered free land in Canada and left the new United States to start a new life. You can frequently find stories of their involvement in the war. Their children were given land also, and this source can be helpful in identifying all their family members.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

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Source: The united empire loyalist settlement at Long Point, Lake Erie [electronic resource] / by L.H. Tasker. Published 1900

Locating U.E. Loyalist Records[edit | edit source]

Step 9: Find land records.[edit | edit source]

Land records can mention relatives, former residence before moving to Ontario, new residence when leaving Ontario, and other helpful clues. Loyalists and their children were granted land in compensation for their losses in the Revolution.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

These entries in the index all lead to land grants that state that these are the children of Solomon Austin, plus the names of his daughters' husbands. This is just an index. The entry below shows an example of the full detail received from the archives after writing requesting more information, based on the index.

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Esther Austin Potts
Petition of Esther Potts, wife of Reynard Potts, petitioning for 200 acres of land as the daughter of Solomon Ausyin, a U.E. Loyalist. Petition granted for 200 acres (RG 1, 1.3, vol. 402A, Bundle 9, No. 72, 3 pages microfilm reel C-2490).

Online Land Indexes[edit | edit source]

Step 10: Write to a county for wills and probate packets.[edit | edit source]

Wills are useful, if they exist, for proving the relationships of heirs, usually a wife and children. Married daughters might show up, providing their husbands' last names and sometimes full name. While online records might show the will only, there are a variety of other documents preserved in a "probate packet", which can be worth writing for. This [Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy will help you write a letter requesting one of these probate packets.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

This index entry for Moses Austin can lead to finding a probate packet with many more details.

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Archives of Ontario[edit | edit source]

Writing to County Offices[edit | edit source]

Not all wills are listed in these online indexes. Individual courthouses will have wills from more recent times.

Step 11: Contact a county historical or genealogical society.[edit | edit source]

Local societies can have additional helpful records found nowhere else. They may have records submitted by family members, printed family histories, files of historical tidbits by surname, and connections to other genealogists studying the same family.

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

For example, this *Norfolk Genealogy historical society has a collection of gleanings from newspapers and other publications. The clip below shows just a few of the Austin entries. Norfolk Ontario siciety.png

Addresses for Ontario Societies[edit | edit source]

Step 12: If your ancestor was an immigrant, search immigration and naturalization records online.[edit | edit source]

Case Study:[edit | edit source]

The card index of people crossing from Canada to the U.S. has an entry created when Carrie Layman went to Detroit to visit a friend, Useful information found here includes her birthplace and residence.
The record for Hiram Austin is for an unrelated person, but the records helps us determine that records for Hiram Austin found in the census to not belong to our family.
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Online Emigration and Immigration Indexes[edit | edit source]