Canadian records for Genealogists
A foundation for this article was posted to the Guild of One-Name Studies mailing list through
and has been updated here a number of times since.
Civil Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths began in the Province of Ontario, Canada, on 1 July 1869, two years after the Dominion of Canada was created. Registration of vital events is a Provincial matter in Canada, and the dates of commencement differ from Province to Province in this country. Registration records in Ontario are maintained by the provincial Office of the Registrar General.
All civil marriage registration records created after 1 July 1869 up to the Registrar General's cut-off point (currently 31 December 1941) have been transferred to the Archives of Ontario. See http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/tracing/marriage_registrations.aspx for details about what records are accessible, and how to access desired records.
The Archives of Ontario reports that <ancestry.ca> has digital images of all extant Ontario civil marriage records that are known to exist through the end of 1938, however, ancestry details records only through the end of 1937. Access the collection by subscription through https://www.ancestry.ca/search/collections/7921. Ancestry is also now the (free) access point for these records at the Archives of Ontario.
FamilySearch presently has digital images of all extant Ontario civil marriage records through 1927, accessible through https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1784216 (access requires setting up a free account).
Note that there are some significant gaps in the record continuum after 1 July 1869, principally in the 1880s and 1890s, particularly for some areas, perhaps due to failure on the part of officiants to forward records of marriage ceremonies they performed to responsible officials. Records of many marriage registration records simply do not exist from some places and periods, even though a marriage ceremony is known to have taken place.
At the moment (September 2023), civil or provinicial records of Marriage registrations filed in 1939, 1940 & 1941, are inaccessible. Registration records created in 1942 and more recently are accessible only by application to the Office of the Registrar General. The Registrar General places serious restrictions on who may apply for and receive a copy of a marriage record, and who may not. Online application is possible, through https://www.orgforms.gov.on.ca/eForms/start.do. Indexes of marriage registration records created in 1939 and later are also not accessible. It's unknown when civil records of marriage registrations filed in Ontario in 1939, 1940, and 1941 will become accessible (covid mitigation protocols have apparently postponed their release).
Prior to 1 July 1869, some records of marriages registered with District and County officials exist - District records from roughly 1801 to 1858, and County records from roughly 1858 through to the end of June 1869. These earlier records are also held by the Archives of Ontario, and they are also accessible through both <ancestry.ca> (or it's other regional offerings) and <familysearch>, sometimes presented as stand-alone collections of index and/or image sets. Be aware that there are huge gaps in these records. Be aware also that Roman Catholic priests were not obliged to report marriages they performed to either District or later County officials. Nor were Anglican ministers obliged to report, although some did in the County period.
Accessing digital versions of local newspapers may return notices of pending or recently performed ceremonies, and sometimes of 50 year and similar anniversaries.
Prior to 1 July 1869, as well as after, very incomplete ecclesiastical records exist for different places in the Province. The earliest of such records in the Province date from 1784. Most church bodies with congregations in the Province adhere to the Office of the Registrar General's restrictions with respect to access to original records within their organization. Major bodies - Anglicans (Church of England), Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and Methodists (where the congregation joined with Presbyterians to form the United Church of Canada), maintain separate Archives for records they hold, but original records from many congregations of many 'lesser' denominations continue to be held at local churches. Many Presbyterian, Congregational, and Wesleyan Methodist congregations in Canada elected to unify in 1925, and all extant records from churches that made this decision were collected to the United Church Archives in Toronto (but coverage is spotty before about 1894). Many congregations that opted to not unify in 1925 have since collapsed, and any records that were extant are now mostly lost.
There are also random sets of published indexes and transcripts, which cover marriage notices published; lists of licenses and/or bonds which have survived; or marriage register entries; and much more, from many places in the Province, for many periods. The numbers are simply too great to consider listing them here. Web sites of local branches of the Ontario Genealogical Society (now Ontario Ancestors) would be good places to start investigating to see what might be available.
- Bruce D. Murduck
- Category: Records