Every family history contains secrets and mysteries waiting to be discovered or solved. Whether wandering through a cemetery or sifting through records at the local archives or library, you will quickly become an expert sleuth if you follow these simple steps:
- A general rule of thumb is to find a minimum of three records to corroborate any given date. For example, to verify when an ancestor was born, consult the archives or a reference library for birth certificate information, church archives for christening records, cemeteries for dates on tombstones or a family Bible for handwritten inscriptions.
- The Archives of Ontario holds a vast treasury of family history records – from microfiche and microfilm Birth/Marriage/Death records (BMD), to reference texts and directories, to wills and legal documents. Visit them at www.archives.gov.on.ca, or make an appointment to go to their Toronto offices and search through the microfilms yourself.
- Records in the holdings of the Archives of Ontario are restricted until they have been made available on microfilm. Each year, another year of records is added to their collections. The Archives have microfilm available for Births (1869-1908), Marriages (c. 1801-1923, with some gaps in 1869) and Deaths (1869-1933). For more recent registrations, you must contact the Office of the Registrar General in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
- Many cemetery offices have searchable records databases and offer times when the general public can access these records. Otherwise, they may be able to do a manual search for you. Another valuable resource is the online Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid, which contains over two million interments in Ontario. The Ontario Cemetery Locator will also assist you to locate most cemeteries in the province. It is one of the most complete cemetery listings in existence, with updates regularly. The Ontario Cemetery Ancestor Index, also compiled by the OGS, lists over a million names and is growing rapidly. It is based on tombstone/monument transcriptions compiled by OGS Branches over the past 30 years. It will soon contain transcriptions from every tombstone in Ontario.
- Another valuable cache of records about family members can be found in Ontario censuses. Some census documents are more complete than others, containing more information than the previous one. But they can also be frustrating and genealogists must be aware of the human limitations. Census takers often took guesses at who lived in the big house up the steep hill. Or they would ask about a neighbour who was not at home during his census visit. Consequently, information can be incorrect or completely absent. Handwriting of census takers, too, can be challenging to decipher. Transcriptions of census records, too, can contain errors because of handwriting confusion. Despite these limitations, census records remain hugely important documents for family history research. Ask at your library or visit the Archives of Ontario, Ontario Genealogical Society or the Library and Archives Canada (formerly the National Archives of Canada).