Ontario began civil registration as of July 1, 1869. From that time on, all Ontario vital records had to be registered with the government.
Prior to that date, there was no requirement to record these events; if recorded at all, they were recorded by churches.
Ontario’s Privacy Laws
Under Ontario’s privacy laws, records cannot be released which are of a private and sensitive nature for specified periods of time after their occurrence.
Birth records are available to the public 95 years after they occur; marriages are available 80 years later; and death records, 70 years later. They are transferred to the Ontario Archives in the year in which that "anniversary" date is reached. They then have to be microfilmed before they can be made available to the public.
At the current time (i.e., in 2011), the Ontario vital records available to the public at the Archives of Ontario are as follows:
Any records of births from 1915 to the present, marriages from 1929 to the present, and deaths from 1939 to the present, are held at the Office of the Registrar General in Thunder Bay, Ontario. They are not available to the public, and can only be accessed by specified persons. See their website at http://www.ontario.ca/en/services_for_residents/121591.html for more details.
From 1763, when Upper and Lower Canada came under British rule, to the 1790s, the only recognized church in what is now Ontario was the Church of England (the Anglican church). The local Anglican church therefore may be a good starting place, if you are looking for Ontario vital records – especially for christenings and marriages - during that time period, as marriages were only recognized if they were performed by an Anglican clergyman.
Starting in 1793, laws were passed to allow military officers and magistrates to conduct marriages, provided there was no Anglican church within a specified distance from where the fiancés lived. This later was expanded to include Justices of the Peace. Ministers from a number of other religions were allowed to perform marriages starting in 1798, if they met certain requirements, and those from a larger number of religions in 1831.
From 1793 to 1858, District Marriage Records were used to record marriages. Couples who paid a fee could have their marriage recorded in these records. Although technically they began to be used in 1793, very few records were entered in these books in the early years. Perhaps this is why the Archives of Ontario records begin in 1801, rather than 1793. After 1831, any marriages not performed in an Anglican or Catholic church had to be entered in these District Marriage Records.
County Marriage Records replaced District Marriage Records in 1858. All marriages, regardless of where they were performed, were to be included in these registers.
The Archives of Ontario has records for marriages from 1801 to June 30, 1869. However, what was recorded can be quite sparse, at times including only the names of the spouses, the clergyman and the denomination in which the service was conducted, and the date and location of the marriage. Others may contain much more information. It depended on the individual clergyman and how much he felt it was necessary to record.
These Ontario vital records most likely would be found in the church at which the christening or burial occurred. Some detective work may be involved in determining which church has the records. Census schedules generally asked questions regarding religion, so that may give some clues to where to start looking, at least for the more recent Ontario vital records.
Check with local family history societies to find out what churches existed during the time period that is of interest to you, and ask where you would find the records for those churches.
A few things to keep in mind with respect to Ontario vital records:
Births registered after July 1, 1869 included the following information:
Records of marriages after July 1, 1869 contain much more information, due to the registration requirements. Most, if not all, of the following information should be included:
Death registrations were to include specific information. However, the required information was not always supplied; sometimes the person providing the information (the informant) may not have known the answers, or may have provided incorrect information. The following information may be provided:
Death registrations after 1907 may also include the following:
As indicated above, some Ontario vital records are available on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario. You can visit the Archives, which is located on the property of York University, just north of Finch Ave. on Keele Street. The address is 134 Ian Macdonald Boulevard, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M7A 2C5.
You can also order microfilms from the Archives through your local library. The maximum you can order at any one time is 3 reels per researcher.
The other alternative is to order them delivered to your local Family History Center for viewing, from the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) in Utah.
Ontario vital records prior to July 1, 1869 (1793 for marriages) are not in a central location, and are most likely in a church or a church archive somewhere in the Province.
Ancestry’s Canadian version, at www.ancestry.ca, has a number of databases containing Ontario vital records. Among them are the following:
Likely the most complete collection of free resources with respect to Ontario vital records is the Ontario Gen Web project. To use this website effectively, you will need to know the county and approximate year in which your ancestors lived, as it is not, as yet, a searchable database.
You can browse through the pages for a county and year to see if your ancestors are listed. I found page after page of Ontario vital records for my ancestors and their offspring in one of the counties, to the point where I recall saying to my husband, “Why did my ancestors have to have so many children!” It took a long time to enter them all in my family tree database!
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