Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Top 10 Canadian Genealogy Web Sites for 2014

On July 28th Family Tree Magazine released their top 101 genealogy web sites for 2014. In that list they included only 4 Canadian web sites they considered as "best". Now I don't know what was their criteria in selecting those 4 as their best sites and I realize that they were covering 15 categories but I find myself disagreeing with some of their selections. For my list I've intentionally only included free sites since I know that our "hobby" can be an expensive one when you factor in subscribing to sites like Ancestry, Findmypast, MyHeritage, and Généalogie Québec.

With the hundreds of genealogy related web sites I have in my personal bookmarks to choose from I'm certain I've missed your favourite site. So leave me a message with the URL and why the site I've foolishly omitted is one of the best for Canadian research.

So, in no particular order, here is my top 10 list of Canadian web sites.

Library and Archives Canada
It seems that their web site has been undergoing revisions for so long that their welcome message of "we are currently redesigning our website" has become a permanent fixture but their content, if you can find it, can be invaluable. Regrettably their collections are sometimes hard to navigate but once you do figure it out what they do have is great. Some of their resources include:
  • Free searchable images of the various Canadian censuses from 1825 to 1916
  • Attestation and draft registration papers for the Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel from the Great War of 1914-1918. They are in the process of digitizing the service files and will be making them available for free on their web site. There are also digitized copies of the war diaries for Canadian units that fought in that war.
  • For settlers in what later became Canada the land records collections can help track the migration of our ancestors.

Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB)
This is my go to place for starting any New Brunswick research. The site is a great example of how an archive can freely share the records and history of their province without any fuss. It isn't flashy but as a researcher I don't want a dazzling appearance, I want functionality and I love free. Here you will find:
  • Vital Statistics from Government Records (BMD) with births from 1808-1918 (a little spotty before 1898), marriages from 1847-1964, and deaths from 1815-1964 (like births the records before 1920 can be hit or miss).
  • The birth, marriage, and death announcements transcriptions from New Brunswick newspapers from 1784-1896 created by the late Daniel F. Johnson.
  • Place names of New Brunswick include not just a description of the location but also cadastral maps showing boundaries, lots, and land grantees.
  • They have also created a searchable database from Wallace Hale's book Early New Brunswick Probate, 1785-1835. Another invaluable resource for learning more about those early settlers to what later became Canada.

Peel's Prairie Provinces
Many of our ancestors made it to the Prairie Provinces due to the allure of free bountiful land. The Peel's Prairie Provinces site has helped make the information needed to locate those settlers available to all. They have resources such as Western Canada newspapers, maps, and Henderson's town and city directories.

Olive Tree Genealogy
I don't use it as often as I probably should nowadays but it is still a place where I go when I am stumped and don't know where to look next. Lorine McGinnis Schulze has created a place where you can find over 1,900 page of free genealogy records.

Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections
John D. Reid''s blog is one I consider mandatory reading for not only highlighting what new collections are available but also what is happening in the world of genealogy and family history research.

Canadian Gravemarker Gallery
Sometimes only the dead can speak to you ... or at least only their grave markers. Although sometimes a challenge to search a common name this may be the only place you will find those grave markers pictures from cemeteries that may have been long forgotten.

British Columbia Vital Records
Initially the British Columbia Archives hosted this page but it has now been rolled under the British Columbia Museum. Images for the births (1854-1903), marriages (1872-1934), and deaths (1872-1991) of those in British Columbia can be found here. But if the image for a death registration is not available, don't forget to check out the "British Columbia Death Registrations, 1872-1986" collection on FamilySearch.

Newfoundland's Grand Banks
As Canada's youngest province Newfoundland has also some of the richest history being a colony, a dominion and then a province. This site has created transcriptions of various directories along with census records going back to 1675. If your ancestor came to Newfoundland this is the site you need to use.

Automated Genealogy
When I can't find a person in the 1901 or 1911 censuses of Canada due to possibly messed up transcriptions I come to this site. Here they have transcribed AND linked the people found in the 1901 and 1911 Canadian censuses. They are not just looking at linking census records but they have projects underway to make this place the first stop to locate the other records relating to the person.

Our Roots
When I've exhausted the usual sources of birth (baptism), marriage, death (funeral), census, and directory resources when doing research on Canadians I turn to Our Roots. They have made available searchable books on the histories of local communities within Canada. These local histories also can give an insight into the challenges faced when settling Canada.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Divorce in Canada between 1841-1968

Sometimes the only reason we know that a divorce took place in our family tree is through a "D" in the marital status column of a census or on a marriage registration where one of the parties is not listed as a widow, widower, spinster or bachelor. Even then, due to the stigma at that time of being divorced, the truth might not have been told.
For many years one of the few ways a divorce in Canada could be granted was through an act of the Canadian Parliament. A searchable index of those divorces listed as Private Members bills between 1841 and 1968 that were granted by the Parliament of Canada can be found on the Library and Archives Canada site on the Acts of Divorce, 1841-1968 page. The results will indicate what book, year and citation to consult in order to find the details of the cause for the divorce along with the date it was granted. The Canada Gazette will usually also have mention of the fact that a petition is being brought forward requesting a divorce.

Start by searching on the surname of the petitioner and then, if not found, search on the surname of the spouse. Remember that when searching your initial search should be broad (surname only) and only if there are too many results returned should you add a forename. The search allows for the wildcard symbol,"*", to be used. So Will* will find William and Williams along with other names that start with Will.
However, the provinces could also grant divorces. The Divorce research aid page on the Library and Archives Canada Genealogy site also provides suggestions as where you can find the records held by the provinces. Also, you may sometimes come across mention of the divorce in the local newspaper.
So if you can't find the divorce in the Acts of Divorce by the Parliament of Canada make sure you check out the provincial resources.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Overview of Canadian On-line Civil Vital Records (BMDs)

One of the common questions I see being asked by new researchers is where do they find birth, marriage or death registration for their ancestors. What many fail to realize is that the concept of a civil registration document for the birth, marriage and death of a person is a fairly modern concept so we need to know when the governments started keeping those vital records. Of course, even though the government says they started requiring civil registrations commencing on a given date it may have taken several years (or even a decade or two) before all areas of the province actually started to comply with the law. A researcher also needs to keep in mind the privacy restrictions imposed on the records. Any records after a certain date may only be available to the person named in the document OR their direct next-of-kin.

But all is not lost if an event occurred before the province kept civil vital records. During the time before civil registration we can look for church records (baptisms, marriages and burials), newspaper announcements, military records and family bibles.

Below are some of the various online sources for finding the Canadian civil birth, marriage and death documents for your ancestors. Some sites are just indexes, others have the images available but you can't easily download them, some cost money to access the images, and finally some provinces have made the images available for download for free.

Newfoundland and Labrador - Newfoundland's Grand Banks Vital Statistics
Although vital records for Newfoundland and Labrador have been kept since 1891, a majority of records prior to 1948 were copies of church registers. The Newfoundland's Grand Banks Vital Statistics page has transcriptions from many of those church registers.

Prince Edward Island - Public Archives and Records Office
  • Births: Civil registration didn't start until 1906 and the birth registrations are under a 120 year privacy restriction so birth certificates are not online.
  • Baptisms: up to about 1923
  • Marriages: Licenses 1787-1933 and Marriage Bonds 1849-1902
  • Deaths: prior to 1906

Nova Scotia - Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics
  • Births: 1864-1877, 1908-1913 plus delayed registrations for births between 1830-1913
  • Marriages: bonds from 1763-1864 and registrations 1864-1938 
  • Deaths: 1864-1877, 1908-1963 plus the City of Halifax for between 1890-1908

New Brunswick - Vital Statistics from Government Records
  • Births
    • Late Registration of Births: County Series: 1869-1901
    • Late Registration of Births: 1810-1918
    • County Birth Registers: 1800-1913
    • Provincial Registrations of Births: 1898-1918
  • Marriages: 1847-1964
  • Deaths
    • County Death Registers: 1885-1921 
    • Provincial Returns of Deaths: 1815-1919
    • Death Certificates: 1920-1964
Quebec is unusual in the sense that there was no separation between church and state until fairly recently when it came to registrations. It wasn't until 1994 that the government of Quebec kept separate vital records. Prior to then, the province had the churches send copies of the registers to the government archives. The Drouin collection is the best source for baptisms, marriages and burials. This collection is available on Ancestry in "Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967" or via Institut généalogique Drouin.

Ontario - Ancestry's Ontario, Canada Vital Records: Births, Marriages and Deaths collection
  • Births: 1869-1913
  • Marriages: 1801-1928 (with gaps prior to July 1, 1869)
  • Deaths: 1869-1938, deaths overseas from 1939-1947 

Manitoba - Genealogy Searches for Unrestricted Records
  • Births: 1882-1913
  • Marriages: 1882-1933
  • Deaths: 1882- 1943

Saskatchewan - Genealogy Index Searches
  • Births: 1878-1913
  • Deaths: 1878-1917
Alberta is another special case. Prior to 1905 Alberta was part of the Northwest Territories. Some of these records may be available though the Alberta Family Histories Society Resources page.
British Columbia - BC Archives - Genealogy
  • Births: 1854-1903, baptisms between 1836-1888
  • Marriages: 1872-1934, colonial marriages between 1859-1872
  • Deaths: 1872-1991

Tip: Know when records were started to be kept by governments so you don't search for documents that don't exist.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

War Office files at Library and Archives Canada

Since I have been looking for documentation on several Loyalist lines I decided to see what collections Library and Archives Canada has available on microfilm pertaining to the War Office (WO) files that come from The National Archives in Kew, England.

The first step was to go the Archives search page on the Library and Archives Canada web site. For the keywords I entered War Office and I also restricted the type of material to be Textual material. The first item on the search result list is

War Office fonds [textual record (chiefly microform), cartographic material, graphic material]
Great Britain. War Office. War Office. 1713-1940. Fonds.
MG13-WO, R14028-0-6-E.

If you click on that result you are brought to the page that describes what is in the War Office fonds. So what are in these fonds you ask? (You probably didn't but play along anyways). Click on the "32 lower level description(s)" link and a new search is automagically performed bringing up a list of all the War Office collections available at LAC.

It is important to note that the WO files that are available at LAC may not contain all the reels and documents from the collections housed at The National Archives. You need to read through the descriptions of each of the series to determine what is actually available. For example, the "WO 71. Judge Advocate General's Office. Courts Martial Proceedings" series consists of:
  • Court martial of Henry Procter
  • Court martial of Joseph Corriveaux
  • Court martial of James Glenie
The following is a list of the various WO files:

Some of these collections have been indexed and/or digitized by Ancestry and Findmypast. If the collection you are looking for isn't at Library and Archives Canada then check out my post on "Searching for WO, ADM & AO collections".

Additionally, some of the collections have been digitized as part of the collaboration between and Library and Archives Canada. If you go to the Heritage site on and search for "War Office" (use the quotes) various collections may be found such as "Great Britain. War Office : campaign medals (WO 100)".

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Chatham-Kent Public Library Digitial Collection

Many public libraries are realizing the value to their community of digitizing and making freely available some of their hard to come by genealogy and history related works that give a glimpse into the past of their area. The Chatham-Kent Public Library in Kent County, Ontario, Canada is one of those libraries. They have released over 150 resources all focused on exploring Chatham-Kent’s rich history. These resources include local directories (Wallaceburg and Chatham town directories), almanacs (Soutar Kent County almanacs), municipal documents (annual reports and municipal directories), and books by local authors.

All these resources can be found by visiting the CKPL Local History Digital Collection.

Searching for WO, ADM & AO collections

When doing research on your British ancestors, especially those that served in the military prior to the Great War of 1914-18, you may come across references that point you to documents that start with WO, ADM or AO. These are collections that are held at The National Archives (TNA) at Kew in England. WO stands for "War Office", ADM for "Admiralty" (AKA Navy), and AO is the "Audit Office".

To search the TNA site to find where the reference has come from you need to go to the Discovery Catalogue. From the main TNA web site page click on the "Discovery - our catalogue" button to bring you to the "Discover our collections" page. From there you can type in the reference that you are looking for. For example, maybe you came across an index transcription in the "1861 Worldwide Army Index" on Findmypast that says that the National Archives reference is "WO12/8358". To look for where this index entry came from type in "WO12/8358" (without the quotes) into the search box in the middle of the screen. If everything is working properly the result for that search will be the "78th Foot 1st Battalion". If you click on that link you will find out more about that record set along with whether it has been digitized (and can be downloaded) or not. If it hasn't been digitized you have the option of placing (and paying for) an order to get what you are looking for.

Sometimes these collections are also held in other archives.  For example, the AO12 and AO13 collections pertain to the claims made by the Loyalists in the American War of Independence. They can be found on microfilms at Library and Archives Canada.

Fortunately some of these collections have been indexed and/or digitized and made available through sites such as Findmypast and Ancestry. Some of the collections along with which record set they came from are listed below.


1861 Worldwide Army Index
  • WO10 (Royal Artillery) pay lists
  • WO11 (Royal Engineers) pay lists
  • WO12 (Cavalry, Guards, Infantry and other units) pay lists
British Army Service Records 1760-1915
  • Militia service records 1806-1915 (WO96)
  • Chelsea Pensioners British Army service records 1760-1913 (WO97)
  • Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents 1760-1887 (WO121)
  • Royal Hospital, Chelsea: pensioners' discharge documents, foreign regiments 1816-1817 (WO122)
  • War Office: Imperial Yeomanry, soldiers' documents, South African War 1899-1902 (WO128)
  • Royal Hospital, Chelsea: documents of soldiers awarded deferred pensions 1838-1896 (WO131)


UK, Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Registers of Soldiers Who Served in Canada, 1743-1882
  • Royal Hospital Chelsea Pensioner Registers & Service Records, 1760–1882. WO97
  • Registers of pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1713–1868. WO120
Canada, Pension Applications For Widows and Family of British Military Officers, 1776-1881
  • Officers’ Birth Certificates, Wills and Personal Papers. WO42/52–63
Canada, British Army Regimental Rolls of Non-commissioned Officers and Soldiers, 1806-1892
  • Depot Description Books [1768-1913]. WO67/7–20
Canada, British Army and Canadian Militia Muster Rolls and Pay Lists, 1795-1850
  • Commissary General of Musters Office and successors: General Muster Books and Pay Lists. WO12/11960–11967, 11972, 12018–12033, 13295
Canada, Loyalist Claims, 1776-1835
  • American Loyalist Claims, 1776–1835. AO12 and AO13
Canada, British Navy Ship Muster Rolls and Pay Lists, 1757-1836
  • Navy Board, Ticket Office, and Admiralty, Accountant General’s Department: Ships’ Pay Books. ADM32/254
  • Naval Establishment, Lake Ontario. ADM32/254
  • Royal Navy Ships’ Musters (Series 1). ADM36/15490, 17229
  • Royal Navy Ships’ Musters (Series 2). ADM37/5000–5002, 5631–5632, 5638, 5640–5643, 8602–8605, 8607
  • Royal Navy Ships’ Musters (Series 3). ADM38/2294–2303
  • Yard Pay Books. ADM42/2147–2202, 2233

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Comments about Facebook Comments and Genealogy

[In a sense, this posting was inspired by Lorine McGinnis Schulze's blog post "15 Genealogy Things That Amaze Me" and a comment on Gail Dever's Genealogy à la carte Facebook group.]

One thing I enjoy doing on the various genealogy related Facebook groups is helping others in their own research. However, I have been noticing several things recently in different groups that has really started to annoy me.

The first is that the follow up posters don't bother to even read the comments posted before they answer the original query. These kind-hearted people just jump in with their answers possibly not realizing that the same answer has been posted a dozen times before. I realize that reading through all the posts on a mobile device like a tablet or even a smart phone can be difficult (I know since I use both) but make the effort to do so. If you think a previous poster is correct in their answer then use the Like button to add weight to their comment.

The second issue is not reading the question being asked. We all know that you (not you gentle reader1 but the one posting the comment) can locate the birth and marriage certificate for the person in question but the query was concerning the death. Try not to flood the original query with information that doesn't directly apply to the question. However, what you may want to do is post a comment that you "couldn't find the information asked but I did find X, Y and Z. Do you have that information?" Wait for a response (I know ... waiting is hard in today's fast pace world) before posting that extra information.

Finally, what truly annoys me is the "Here is the answer" with the image provided type of comment. No "this is how I found it" or even posting leading questions to get the original poster to actually look for the information. The answer is posted as a fait accompli.

I realize that the chase is sometimes the really fun part in genealogy research and it can serve as an ego boost when you can find the answer and the original poster can't. But have you actually shared your knowledge as to how you found the information? It is an example of the old adage "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Explain where you found that hidden piece of information, maybe even provide the Google search that you used to find it. Don't do their genealogy for them but let them experience the joys (and possibly happy dance) when then actually find the information for themselves.

What are your feelings on what I've stated? Do you, when helping someone out on Facebook or on a message board, try to also educate the person asking the question?

[1] Thank you Isaac Asimov for introducing me to that phrase.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Hanging Question

It is amazing what can be found when you know where to look. Of course, the problem is knowing where to look in the first place.

But let's start at the beginning. I needed a break from doing some of my own research so I checked in on several of the genealogy related groups on Facebook to see if there might be some easy to answer questions that I might be able to help with. One question in particular got my attention:
James Mack, capital punishment solider, for slitting throat of a corporal, 1866 Montreal....assume he was do I find out who he was? born? where? soldier in what army?
That definitely looked interesting. So where to look for answers concerning the event? I gave a couple of suggestions [edited for this blog]:

  1. Search through the various Montreal newspapers that were published at that time. The Google Newspaper Archive has a number of those newspapers digitized and online. But since no exact date was given and the OCR used by Google is OK but not great that might take some time.
  2. Search the "Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967" collection on Ancestry for a James Mack that was buried in 1866 in Montreal.

As for which army, since it is pre-confederation it would be highly probable that it is the British Army garrisoned in Lower Canada. Looking through the digitized version of the Library and Archives Canada RG 8, C Series collection might give some answers. If you haven't used this collection then I suggest that you read my post "Library and Archives Canada RG 8, C Series How-To" for a walk-through.

I then did what I usually do when dealing with an interesting event (and hangings are definitely interesting events) ... I typed the details into a Google search box.

One problem many people have when searching for information on Google (or any other search engine) is that they over think the query. In this case I just typed in the basic information that was provided:
"james mack" montreal soldier hang
The second entry on the search results page was titled "CANADA.; Execution of a Murderer--Distinguished Visitors ..." and was from the New York Times. A click on that link and up came the headline along with a byline of:
Special Dispatch to the New-York Times.
November 24, 1866

Looks like the right time frame so I clicked on the link for the high-resolution PDF of the article and there he was along with a description of his crime and also the unit he was with. [I'll leave it to you, the reader, to go to the article in question from the New York Times]

What about the Drouin Collection? What kind of search can be used to filter out all the people you don't want to see and hopefully not filter out the person you do want to find? Well, the search criteria I used was as follows:
First Name: James
Last name: Mack
Year of death: 1866
Event: Enterrement [and checked the exact box]
The first result was for a James Mack that was buried in 1866 and recorded at Basilique Notre-Dame in Montreal. I clicked on the image and even with my rusty French I could figure out it was the right person. There he was ... James Mack, a solder with the Royal Artillery, aged 24 years, that was buried on 24 Nov 1866. All these facts matched the article from the New York Times.

So where else could you look? What about a Google search for '"james mack" royal artillery 1866'  One of the search results is for the "The Lower Canada Law Journal - A Monthly Magazine of Jurispridence, volume II, July 1866-June 1867" edited by James Kirby, Advocate, published in Montreal by John Lovell in 1867. In the "December 1866 edition, no. 6", page 122 there is a write up of "THE QUEEN against JAMES MACK" along with some interesting commentary as to the possible reasons as to why Private James Mack committed the crime. There is even a write up in the 24 Nov 1866 edition of the Utica Daily Observer on page 1 where, along with the reporting of the hanging, even another tidbit of information about the crime (such as the victim's forename) could be found.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More LAC Parish Register Microfilms

As part of the partnership between Library and Archives Canada and various microfilms held by Library and Archives Canada have been digitized and placed online on the Hertiage site for all to peruse. See the latest announcement at the LAC blog.

Several of the microfilms that have been digitized contain the parish registers and township books for places across Canada. To see a list of these collections you can search for "parish registers" on the Heritage site. Under each collection set there is a count of the number of microfilms that have been digitized.

To find out what is on each microfilm you need to click the "About" tab after you click on the "Reel ID".

Unfortunately the descriptions of what is on each microfilm is very brief and usually only from the first record set ... and there may be MANY record sets on a single microfilms. Additionally, some of the microfilms are misfiled in the wrong collection which just aggravates the issue. This makes it a challenge to know if the parish register you are looking for is in the collection or not.

For example, on microfilm H-1812 in the Manitoba Parish Registers collection the About tab states, "Holy Ghost Parish fonds [Winnipeg, Man.]". But if you go to the end of that film you will come across "SIMS, Rev. Jabez (1831-1869). Church of England Missionary" which is Shelley Pearen's biographical sketch of Rev. Jabez Sims that includes a hand drawn picture of his family tree.

Hopefully, one day, the Parish Registers finding aid book that is on the shelf on the second floor at the Library and Archives Canada building at 395 Wellington Street will be digitized and the searching will be made just a little bit easier.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Expecting only Deeds and Mortgages? How About a Will?

For those that haven't used the "New Brunswick, County Deed Registry Books, 1780-1930" collection found on for your research into your New Brunswick ancestors I highly recommend taking a look at them. They aren't an index searchable collection but they also aren't that hard to navigate through once you've had some practice.

To actually locate the various documents without having to painfully look at each volume and page you can make use of the indexes that were created by the holders of the deed register books. In some cases the grantees and grantors will have separate books such as the period between 1823-1841in Saint John county. But often the grantees and grantors will be listed in the same book but on alternating pages so you need to pay attention to the column headings.

Let's start with a look at the 1784-1823 index books in Saint John county. Image 47 has a list of people listed as grantees including that of Benedict Arnold (Loyalist, traitor or scoundrel ... you choose). On the proceeding page he is listed as a grantor along with his wife (the "et ux" part). The entries all talk about deeds so it looks like he was acquiring property in Saint John. Now let's take a look at the 1823-1841 grantor index book for Saint John County. If you go to image 7 of that book you come across Benedict Arnold once again. However, this time it is his "Last Will". If you continue to look in the columns to the right you will notice that it can be found in volume C-2 starting on page 414 in that book.

So if you go back to Saint John county and select "Deed book" you can scroll down until you find book C-2 which is the registry book for 1825. Select that book to look through. The page numbers don't match up with the image numbers so you will need to start at image 414 and look in the top corner of the page to find out what page you are on. In this case image 414 displays page 404 of the deed book. Jump ahead another ten images to image 424 and you will see that "414" is written in the top left corner. If you scroll down the page a bit you will see the following:

"New Brunswick, County Deed Registry Books, 1780-1930," images, FamilySearch (,13841702,16160301 : accessed 07 Jul 2014), Saint John > Deed book > 1825 vol C2 > image 424 of 557; citing County Office of Service.
"New Brunswick, County Deed Registry Books, 1780-1930," images, FamilySearch (,13841702,16160301 : accessed 07 Jul 2014), Saint John > Deed book > 1825 vol C2 > image 424 of 557; citing County Office of Service.
Just a second ... a will in a deed registry book? Why?

Any transaction involving land needed to be recorded. Since Benedict Arnold had property to be disposed of that was mentioned in his will a record of this document was used to record the transaction.

You just never know what and who you may find in the deed registry books for the counties your ancestors lived in.