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Overheard in GenForum: Ontario Records
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

July 8, 1999
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: How can I get births, deaths and census for Toronto? -- Bernice

A: Ontario is one of the better Canadian provinces when it comes to record availability. Many of the records that you are interested in are available on microfilm in a number of places. For those in Toronto, the Archives of Ontario may be the best place to begin your research of such records. The Reading Room is located at 77 Grenville Street in Toronto. Their hours are 8:15 am - 10:30 pm Monday through Friday and 10:00 am - 8:00 pm on Saturdays. For those who do not live in Toronto (or nearby), the best source for these microfilmed records will be the local Family History Center (branches of the Family History Library).

Each year the Archives of Ontario receives an additional years worth of records which the Archives then microfilms. Once they have been microfilmed, then they are added to the holdings of the Reading Room. It is important to note that while you are free to use the microfilms, you cannot write to the Archives and request a lookup.

The vital records for Ontario have been indexed for each year. These indexes have been microfilmed. The microfilmed indexes are of the computerized printouts that are generated in the Registrar General's office.

The Microfilmed vital records of births, marriages, and deaths can be found in archives and libraries.

What Is Available?

The indexes may seem a little strange when you first begin to use them. They are not all encompassing A-Z for the complete years. Currently there are indexes for:

  • Births (1869-1902)
  • Marriages (1801-1917)
  • Deaths (1869-1927)

Deciphering the Index

As I mentioned above, the indexes are not all encompassing. The indexes were compiled by first putting them together by first letter of the surname. Then the records were organized by year of the event. Finally within each year the records were organized by complete surname.

What this means to you is that when you are looking for your surname, is that you will need to first determine which microfilm or films contains the first letter of the surname you are interested in. So, if we were looking for DOLLAR, we would first have to determine which films would have that on it. Then we could start by finding DOLLAR in the first year we were interested in. We would then need to crank ahead on the film to the next year and locate the DOLLAR surname again. You would then need to repeat this until you had extracted all the DOLLARs that were either in the index or were for the years you were interested.

The index will then tell you the

  • Full name
  • Date of the event
  • Place of the event
  • Registration Number
  • Registration Year
  • Control Codes

Armed with the information found in the index, you can then turn to the microfilmed vital records. It is essential that you record the registration number and the registration year to locate the correct microfilm.

Census Records

There are bits and pieces of census records existing for the censuses taken in

  • 1796
  • 1806
  • 1813
  • 1823
  • 1824
  • 1842
  • 1848
  • 1850

The 1851 and 1861 censuses are only missing a few sections. Unlike the earlier censuses that were head of household only, these were every name censuses.

Microfilmed copies of the census records are available through your local Family History Center.

For those interested in the 1871 census for Ontario, you can search the database by visiting the National Archives of Canada - Index to the 1871 Census of Ontario.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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