Sunday, September 22, 2013

You mean it isn't like the ad?

I came across this comment at the end of a plea for assistance in a Facebook group related to Canadian genealogy, "I have looked on and and I have found nothing." I just shook my head and thought that yet another person has fallen victim to the TV ads put out by Ancestry. You know the ad ... just put in your name and the names of your parents and the records will just automagically appear.

Unfortunately, that is just not the case for many people. For this poor soul he was looking for records that would give the date of birth of someone that was born before the days of civil registration. This usually means some serious finger work needs to be done.

So where do you start when you have a situation like the above? You've checked Ancestry and FamilySearch and you have nothing. All you know is the name, approximate year of birth, the forenames of the parents, and province and township the person lived in. Since there are many possible places to look let us start with reexamining the records online ...

First of all find the person in the earliest census record that you can. In the Canadian census records one of the questions asked is what religion are they. When looking for records in the pre-civil registration period that answer is one of the key clues. Depending on the census and if the family had land you might also have access to the agricultural schedule. That may give you the lot and concession (if living in Ontario) where they lived. If they were farmers, then check out the Canadian County Atlas Project for maps of the various townships. Sometimes the maps will indicate the nearby churches. If they lived in town then local histories might give a clue as to the churches in the area.

You now know where they lived, their religion, and the nearest churches. The next step is to do a search (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to find out where the various parish records might be. A search for the name of the church and township might even reveal that the parish is still in existence. Reach out by telephone or e-mail to the parish or diocesan archive. Of course you may just run into the problem where the records have been lost in time. For some strange reason older churches have a tendency to get struck by lightning and then burn to the ground. Something to do with putting a big metal object on a tall wooden steeple if think.

Whatever you do don't give up if the first avenue of research results in nothing. Where else might the birth be recorded? Newspapers? Grave markers? (Although that can cause other issues. See my post titled "Zombie in the census?") Military enlistment records? Family bible? The diary of the minister who baptized the person? The diary of the mother? (I've used that one to confirm details.)


  1. Welcome to Geneabloggers! And good advise in this post - Ancestry commercials do make it look so easy to find all your ancestors - I wish it were that easy.

  2. Welcome to Geneabloggers! Enjoying your posts and will be following.