Have you ever thought that you would like to know more about your family, where they came from, what they did? You would like to have a family tree but don’t know how to find the information. With the advent of computers, finding your family records can be much faster and easier than it was in the past.
Start with yourself and what you know, your full name, date and place of birth, the full name, date and place of birth of each of your siblings, and write it down. Gather all the information you can learn about your parents. Include the following:
- maiden name of mother
- date and place of birth
- date and place of baptisms - include the names of sponsors and clergyman
- date and place of marriage, witnesses and clergyman
- did they own property, or rent
- date and place of death
- children who may have predeceased them
- whether either person married more than once, and if so, give details
Get all the names, event dates and places that you can. After you have recorded all the information on yourself, your siblings and your parents, move on to your, aunts, uncles, and their families. Continue gathering information in this manner for each generation. Be sure to note the source and date the information is acquired.
Use family group sheets to record the information and a lineage chart to organize what you find. Free forms can be downloaded from the internet.
Begin at home. Here you can find information in family Bibles, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, birth and death certificates, school reports, letters, photo albums, baby books, wedding invitations, etc. A family tree is more interesting if you can include photos, stories, newspaper items and obituaries.
Contact your relatives who may have information, particularly older relatives. Someone in your family may have gathered information about the families you are researching. Take along pictures for identification. These may bring back memories of past events. Each person will have family stories and most will not agree in all details. Write them all down along with the name of the source and date.
Search for distant relatives who may have already done some research. You may find someone on the internet who is already working on your family history.
People can be identified by their names, their dates of birth, where they were living and relationships to others in the records. However, names are not always as they appear, i.e. great-uncle Harry, may actually have been “William Joseph Henry”.
Many family names changed when our ancestors immigrated to this country and spelling variations have resulted in different branches of a family often being shown differently, i.e. the name “Shea” may be found in the records under Shae, Shay, Shey, or as O’Shea, O’Shay. O’Shey or O’Shae. A family with the name of Walsh may also be found under the spelling Welch, Welsh, Walch. Name variations can be researched using Soundex. Roots Web allows you to type in a name and see other related names.
Some names are completely different when translated from one language to another, such as Leblanc/White. As people moved from a French speaking area of the country to an English speaking area, they may have become know by the anglicized version of their name, i.e. Ouellet/Willette. Likewise, English names may be translated in French records, i.e. William to Guilluame, Peter to Pierre, etc. Some church registers are written in both English and French, depending on the priest making the entry.
Our ancestors came from many different countries with different languages and some with different alphabets so we do not always know the original name spelling. The USGenWeb has a page that lists “English Equivalents of Foreign Given Names,” which may be helpful in locating your ancestor.
The people of many countries, such as Britain and Ireland, honoured their elders by naming their children after them. This resulted in the same names being used over and over again and a community often would have many people with the same names. The naming pattern used could sometimes be helpful in placing the birth order of children in a family.
- The first son was named after the father’s father
- The second son was named after the mother’s father
- The third son was named after the father
- The fourth son was named after the father’s eldest brother
- The first daughter was named after the mother’s mother
- The second daughter was named after the father’s mother
- The third daughter was named after the mother
- The fourth daughter after the mother’s eldest sister
If this would result in a duplication, if both the father’s father and the mother’s father had the same name, for instance, they would skip to the next on the list.
When checking birth records, don’t stop when you find the name you are looking for but search through a few more years. In centuries past many children died young. Parents would frequently name another child with the same name as the child that had died.
French families were often known by “dit” names. This was a way of distinguishing families with the same names from one another. The Canadian Genealogy Center has more complete information on “dit” names.
The naming of a child in other countries may be altogether different to that to which we are accustomed. The following link tells of the different customs for some countries around the world: https://www.progenealogists.com/
Census records can be an invaluable source of information. These may include names of persons living in the household, relationship, address, date of birth, age, place of birth, place of birth of parents, religion, and occupation. Some of the earlier Census records include information on land leases or ownership, crops, date of immigration, whether sponsored or passage paid by the immigrant. Start with the latest available census for your area and work backwards.
University libraries usually have microfilm copies available for research.
Census Records for Canada for the years 1881 and 1891, as well as the 1871 Ontario Census can be found at: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/census/Pages/census.aspx.
Census Records for Canada for the years 1901 and 1911, as well as the 1851 Census of New Brunswick, the 1852 Census of Canada and the 1906 Census of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba can be found at: http://automatedgenealogy.com
Links to Census Records for various provinces can be found at: http://islandnet.com/~cghl/
Prince Edward Island Census Records and/or links can be found at: http://www.islandregister.com. These include the early Acadian/French Censuses for Ile. St. Jean and the 1841 and 1848 Prince Edward Island Censuses.
Ancestry.ca is a subscription site, but may be available through a local library. Census records at this site include the 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 Canadian Censuses as well as the 1906 and 1916 censuses for the Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the 1861 Prince Edward Island Census and the 1901 Yale and Cariboo Districts of British Columbia, Rossland Riding.
For those researching in the United States, Census documents are now available up to and including 1940 at: http://www.censusfinder.com/
Some churches have records of important events in the lives of their members but others do not.
Baptisms may include name of child, date of birth, date of baptism, names of parents and godparents. Frequently godparents were relatives of the child.
At least one province, Prince Edward Island, has the Baptismal Index online. This can be found at: http://www.gov.pe.ca/archives/baptismal/
Other church records can be found on Ancestry.ca.
Marriage registers may include names of the parents of each spouse and the relationship to the witnesses. At other times only the names of the contracting parties and witnesses are included. Sometimes Catholic records include dispensations regarding consanguinity (blood relationships) or affinity (relationships through marriage). Marriage dispensations were granted by degree.
Many marriage records include the term “of age,” meaning the person referred to had reached the age of majority. This could vary according to the sex of the person involved and the location.
More information on consanguinity and affinity relationships as well as age of majority is available at: http://www.islandregister.com/consanguinity.html.
Church registers sometimes include burial records, however, in a majority of cases these appear to be missing.
Microfilm of parish registers can be ordered through the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and viewed at the local Family History Library. Their catalogue can be searched and films ordered online. This site also includes many records which can be searched or browsed online at: https://www.familysearch.org
The provinces began requiring that births, marriages and deaths be registered at various times. Information on Vital Statistics can be found at Library and Archives Canada.
Microfilms for the vital statistics for Ontario can be researched at Family History Libraries.
Ancestry.ca also has many of the vital statistics for Canada, including the Drouin fonds online.
Newspapers are a valuable source of information. Newspapers from the area the family resided may include a great deal of unexpected information. It is not uncommon to find guest lists for parties, notices of showers and weddings, including gifts received. Mention is often made of family members visiting from other communities and countries, organizations the family belonged to, births, death notices, court cases and obituaries.
Check to see what is available for research through your local library. Microfilms of Canadian newspapers can sometimes be borrowed from other libraries through interlibrary loan. University libraries can also be a good resource for newspapers.
There are many historical newspapers to be found online. Some sites are:
You may wish to contact a Genealogical Society in the area in which your family resided. They are familiar with the resources available locally and can advise you where to search. They might even have had a member research some of your ancestors.
Links to various Genealogical Societies can be found at:
Genealogical Societies often have transcribed the cemeteries in the area and have publications available.
Many cemeteries are now online. Try searching the web for the particular cemetery you are looking for. Some can be found at the following sites.
Archives can be a useful resource to genealogists. For instance, the City of Greater Sudbury Archives has microfilms of local newspapers, wills and probate records, land registry records, and other unpublished sources. Additional records are constantly being added. Search the City of Greater Sudbury Archives holdings.