Finding Religious Records for Your Ancestor

Posted in: Alan Campbell's Blog | 0

Researchers have enjoyed access to vital statistics records for the Province of Ontario via microfilm, the website and the website:
The 1869-1912 births, 1869-1927 marriages and 1869-1937 deaths are available on the Family Search website. hosts the above mentioned records plus the 1933-1936 marriages and 1943-1946 deaths. A researcher can use the general search on the website or use the catalogue search with terms like,
Ontario births, Ontario marriages and Ontario deaths.

What do you do when you can’t find your ancestor’s record on one of these websites? I am fortunate that microfilms of the records [excluding some of the latest releases which are not available on microfilm] are in an archives collection close to me. Occasionally a record which had a piece of tape across it did not appear to be digitized or did not digitize well. I can also quickly scan the microfilmed index for births, deaths and marriages for alternate spellings. It helps if you have a year of birth, marriage or death or a close approximation of it.

Be aware that although provincial government record keeping started in 1869 that does not mean that your ancestors registered births, marriages and deaths. I researched some Catholic ancestors on my wife’s side of the family who did not start to register events until the early 1900s. Fortunately they did register these events with the Catholic church that they attended. Both and have collections of Catholic records.

What becomes problematic is finding records for other religions especially those of churches which were not the “official” church of the era. Some Branches of The Ontario Genealogical Society have compiled indexes of local church bodies’ records. I have made use of the Primitive Methodist indexes created by Halton-Peel Branch of The OGS. As well as digitizing the records of at least one local church, Lambton County Branch of The OGS has published snippets of church records in its newsletter, Lambton Lifeline. Do check with the Branch that “covers” the geographical area in which you are seeking records.

When I am researching in libraries and archives I tend to check published religious records indexes in the hope that my ancestors are included. Often I wander the shelves of a library or archives after my primary research is done and check broad coverage indexes or contiguous county indexes. Twice this process has been invaluable for me. The Index to Niagara Conference Methodist Episcopal Church Baptismal Register 1849-1886 compiled by Louise I. Hope and published by The OGS provided me with birth and baptismal information for my grandfather John William Edward Campbell and one of his sisters, Rebecca Jane Campbell.1 What is interesting is that the Campbell family was living in Bosanquet Township, Lambton County at the time. This Niagara Conference had a long reach- probably via “saddle bag preachers”. I did make the trip to the United Church Archives in Toronto, Ontario, to get a photocopy of the original entries.

My second serendipitous find was a burial record created by Reverend James Oates, New Connexion Methodist Minister giving the following information about my 2x great grandmother Mary Bolton – “Mary Bolton, wife of William Bolton, of Osborne [sic], died 17 November 1853, age 26.”2 This supported an entry in the Brett family Bible noting that Mary Bolton died 17 November 1853 at Usburn [sic], lot 4, concession 11.3 I found this index, Perth County Marriage, Baptism and Burial Register, in the local history room at London Public Library, London, Ontario.

As I noted earlier, check with OGS Branches, local libraries, local archives and church archives such as the United Church Archives in your search for religious records.

Alan Campbell
Lambton Lifeline
Lambton County Branch of The OGS
(c) 2018

1. Louise I. Hope BHSc, Index to Niagara Conference Methodist Episcopal Church Baptismal Register 1849-1886, Part 1: A to K, A Guide for Genealogists (Toronto, Ontario: The Ontario Genealogical Society, 1994), p. 23.

2. Marriages, Baptisms and Burials by Reverend Joseph Oates, Perth County Marriage, Baptism and Burial Register, 1852-1859 (Milton, Ontario: Global Heritage Press), p. 10. Osborne is likely Usborne Township, Huron County since the other items recorded by Rev. Oates took place in Blanchard Township, a contiguous township in Perth County.

3. Colour photograph of this entry from the Brett family Bible held by the author.