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Renfrew County and District
Aboriginal Friendship Centre

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Pembroke, Ontario    K8A 4S8
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Researching Your Family History

You are about to embark on one of the most fascinating of pastimes.  You will become something of a historian, certainly a logical and deductive thinker, and a person anxious to reveal the role played by previous generations in shaping the world today.

 As an amateur genealogist you will become a type of historical detective delving into facts and figures until a true picture of your ancestor emerges.

 You are joining thousands who are taking part in what is said to be the world’s third most popular hobby.  Rapidly growing in popularity, genealogy is only exceeded in participants as a pastime by coin and stamp collecting.

 Libraries, archives, genealogical societies and historical groups world-wide have experienced a tremendous demand recently for information for those searching out their family trees.  In Canada, local genealogical societies are expanding and the Public Archives in Ottawa is handling an unprecedented number of requests, while in the U.S. the pastime has created such interest that the Boy Scouts of America has added basic genealogy to its list of merit badges and more than 1,500 scouts earn the award each month.

 So, despite the fact that you are generally on your own in discovering your particular family tree there are many other researchers doing the same thing and consequently a growing number of specialized aids are being developed to make your search successful.

Why Make the Search

Reasons for searching out a family tree vary considerably.  They range from attempts to link up the family with a long lost inheritance, to discover family relationships with important historical figures, to prepare material for an authentic family history, or merely to fulfill the urge to discover something of the hundreds of forebears that have resulted in your family line and created the unique individual that you are today.

Getting Started

 Civil registration of births, marriages and deaths started at different times in each Canadian province.  For Ontario 1869 was the official starting point, while British Columbia’s official registration commenced in 1872.  There are earlier records in many provinces though, with some in Quebec’s churches going back to 1621.

 Civil registration records may generally be obtained by contacting: The Recorder, Division of Vital Statistics, Department of Health and Social Development, or, in some cases, The Registrar General, Department of Health in the provincial capital.  (See the listing at the end of this section.)

 For a Canadian-born searcher who knows little of the family background, this then is the starting point in tracing a family tree.  A birth certificate yields the name of your parents, your mother’s maiden name, and the family residence at the time and often some additional helpful information.

 The next step is to obtain a copy of your parents’ marriage certificate, for these states their age at the time of their marriage.  This also states the names of your two grandfathers.

 You are now on the trail of your eight great-grandparents, sixteen great, and great-grandparents and so on until the family line leaves Canada for some other area.

Armed with the birth and marriage certificates and additional information you have gleaned from the family Bible, old newspaper clippings and diaries, and the memories of relatives, you can now start completing the basic genealogical form.  (The Family Group Record)

Completing the Sheet

 If you are married, place your full name, not initials, on the line marked “Husband” or “Wife”.  Complete the necessary birth and marriage place and dates and add the names of your father and mother.  The details of your spouse should be similarly completed.

 Women should use their maiden surname on genealogical forms, as these will be the main family names they will be following.

 The line “Christened” (Chr.) will not generally be used until a period prior to the keeping of civil records.

 You should now add the names of your children, their sex, birth dates and other details.  Throughout all sheets relating to the family tree, dates should be recorded as day, month, year, ex. 5 July, 1873.

 With the completion of the column for “Information Sources” your first family group record should be ready.

 The next step is to list yourself as a child on another family group record sheet along with your brothers and sisters, with your parents heading the sheet.  For the unmarried this is the first sheet.  At this stage you may be able to also list your parents’ father and mother.  Complete a similar form for your husband or wife so that there are now three forms-one showing you as a married couple and two showing each of you as a child in your parent’s family group.

 Your family records may allow you to go one step further without too much additional research-the completion of two sheets where your parents are listed as children.  This is the record of your grandparents and should show your father or mother along with their brothers and sisters (your aunts and uncles).

 If the names and details of your great grandparents are known to you then your pedigree has already expanded at a rapid rate and it is time you were mapping your progress on your pedigree chart.

Charting Your Pedigree

 The Pedigree Chart is a concise guide to your family line and does not carry all the details of a Family Group Record.  It is designed to show the continuing ancestral line for each chart.

 The researcher’s full name (maiden if a woman) is written into line one with if married the name of husband or wife below.  Your father’s name and details should be placed on line two, while your mother’s maiden name should appear on line three.  Your father’s father (your grandfather) should now appear on line four, and your father’s mother (your grandmother) on line five.

 Similarly your mother’s parents will be placed on the lower lines.  Her father should appear on line six and her mother (listing her maiden name) on line seven.  Your Pedigree Chart has now been completed for three generations.

 Now the fourth generation (your great grandparents) can be added to the remainder of the chart.  The basic rule to remember is that the male line takes the top lines eight, ten, twelve, and fourteen, while the female ancestors take the lower lines nine, eleven, thirteen, and fifteen and are listed under their maiden names.

 The Pedigree Chart is now complete for a single person or one member of a married couple.  A similar Pedigree Chart should be completed for the husband or wife.  Both husband and wife of a family tree research team can appear on the same Pedigree Chart if one of their children is used as the first generation on line one.  However, for simplicity, it is often preferable to keep separate charts for each side of the family.

 Provision is made on each chart for index numbers so that the ancestral line can be continued accurately from a four-generation pedigree chart to another, ex. Your great grandfather listed on line eight of the chart number one will be re-listed on line one of a later pedigree chart with the index notation stating the person on line one is the same person as number eight on the chart number one.  In this way you can add to a particular line of your pedigree whenever the information is available, whether it is next week or next year.  It is not uncommon for a well-researched pedigree to extend into twenty or thirty charts.

Solving Problems

 It may be that you have struck a problem or two in discovering some of the necessary details, and then it is time to write a few letters.

 Relatives, especially the older ones who may have access to records, should be contacted; residents and former neighbors in the old hometown may be able to help.  A well-written letter to the editor of a small town newspaper can sometimes start local amateur historians researching for you.  Writing to similar family names found in directories can also be useful.  A visit to the cemetery of the one-time family hometown may also reveal important data on the long forgotten stones.

 If you have access to a library equipped with microfilm readers, copies of early Canadian newspapers can be examined for advertisement and obituaries.  Any local library possessing microfilm readers and participating in the interlibrary loan arrangement can also make available to you much of the holdings of the Public Archives of Canada.

 Census records for many provinces for the years 1851, 1861, and 1871 can greatly assist in finding a complete family unit if a former place of residence is known and a time period estimated.  Land records and county atlases also exist for many provinces and can be used to discover early family locations.

Avoiding Duplication

 Duplication of effort is a common problem with many beginning genealogists.  Unless an accurate recording is kept of the various steps taken to discover forebears, somewhere, sometime in the future, some of the work will be done again.

 Professional genealogists use various types of systems to ensure each step in tracing a family line is recorded along with the results achieved.

 Three forms have been developed to assist the beginning genealogist to set up an easy, efficient record keeping system which serves not only to record moves already made, but those planned in the future.

 Although it is a lengthy and difficult task to establish recognizable, and legal titles to long unclaimed family fortunes.  There are a growing number of individuals who make it a profession to trace rightful heirs to large estates and receive sizable percentages of them for making the heirs aware of their inheritances.  With a number of estates of $100,000 or so going begging each year in Canada, the work of this type of researcher, the forensic genealogist, is growing.

 The names of accredited researchers can usually be obtained from local Genealogical Societies or Branch Genealogical Libraries.

Further Information

 The various books listed, and others you find in local libraries, could be the tools needed to give you the extended study you need to professionalize your research.  Study with your own or borrowed books coupled with actual research is the most effective way to increase your research skills.  However, membership of a Genealogical Society.

 It is not really easy this business of tracing a family tree.  Ancestors can be very elusive, tripping the researchers by naming a child after a brother who died in infancy, changing the spelling of the family surname and sometimes completely disappearing from the record for a time.  However, learning of the life and times of early ancestors can make the search very rewarding.

 The fantastic scope of the search for ancestors and the gaining of formerly unknown relatives in all walks of life become evident when one works out the statistics of even a single family.  Progressive doubling up from the family of today gives two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great, and great-grandparents and so on.

 Simple arithmetic reveals a possible million forebears in a mere twenty generations-plenty of room for a pirate or two, an earl or even a duke.

Where to Search First

Talk with: Old family friends, family doctor, family lawyer, former neighbors, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc.

Search for: Old letters, old certificates, military service records, citizenship papers, legal documents such as wills, old passports, etc.

Locate also: Occupational records such as union registration, apprenticeship papers, membership documents for professional associations, etc.

Check records of: Churches, youth groups, schools, service organizations, etc.

Look for: Old photographs, scrapbooks, diaries and journals, newspaper clippings, etc.

Search also for:  Family histories, biographies, existing genealogical records, etc.

Major Canadian Genealogical Societies

Ottawa:  Ontario Genealogical Society, P.O. Box 8346, Ottawa, ON, K1G 3H8

Toronto:  Ontario Genealogical Society, Box 66, Station Q, Toronto, ON, M4T 2L7

Montreal:  Genealogical Society of Quebec, 335 Place D’Armes, Montreal, PQ,
                  H2Y 3H1

Edmonton:  Genealogical Society of Alberta, P.O. Box 3151, Station A, Edmonton, AB

Vancouver:  Genealogical Society of British Columbia, P.O. Box 94371, Richmond, BC
       V6Y 2A8

Regina:  Genealogical Society of Saskatchewan, P.O. Box 1894, Regina, SK, S4P 3E1

Canadian Civil Registration

Although some vital statistics were recorded as far back as 1621, most civil registrations in Canada commenced in the late 19th century.  The amount of information varies according to the period, but the following data is generally given:

Births:  Name, date and place of birth, parents’ names, ages, residence and occupation.

Deaths:  Name, date and place of birth, date and place of death, occupation name and             residence of the deceased, date and place of burial, cause of death, Parents’ names, place of birth.

Marriages:  Names, date and place of marriage, sometimes age, witnesses, person who performed ceremony, name of parents, residence of couple.

Vital Statistics Starting Dates

Alberta:  Complete records from 1898.  Some births from 1853 and deaths form 1893.

British Columbia:  Official registration from 1872 but serious gaps in early years.

Manitoba:  Complete records from 1882.

New Brunswick:  Complete records exist from 1888 with some earlier births also listed.

Newfoundland:  Civil registration commenced in 1892.

Nova Scotia:  Although civil registration began in 1864, only marriages were recorded
                       for the period 1876-1901.

Ontario:  July 1st 1869 was the stating date.

Prince Edward Island:  Civil records officially date from 1906.  Some marriage records
                                      from 1783.

Quebec:  Civil registration complete from 1926.  Church records go back to 1621.

Saskatchewan:  Incomplete records from 1878.  Complete records from 1920.

Yukon:  Some births recorded from 1895 but complete records began in 1898.

Northwest Territories:  Few records exist prior to 1927.

Where to Write for Vital Statistics


Alberta:  Division of Vital Statistics, Texaco Building, 10130-112th St., Edmonton, AB,
    T5K 2K4

British Columbia:  Division of Vital Statistics, 818 Fort St., Victoria, BC, V8W 1H8

Manitoba:  Division of Vital Statistics, Dept. of Health, 401 York Ave., Winnipeg, MB,
                  R3C 0P8

New Brunswick:  Registrar General of Vital Statistics, Centennial Building, Box 6000,
                             Fredericton, NB, E3B 5H1

Newfoundland:  Division of Vital Statistics, Dept. of Health, P.O. Box 8700, St. Johns,
                           NF, A1B 4J6

Nova Scotia:  Division of Vital Statistics, Dept. of Health, Provincial Building, Box 157,
                       Halifax, NS, B3J 2M9

Ontario:  Office of the Registrar General, Macdonald Block, Queen’s Park, Toronto,
                 ON, M7A 1Y5

Prince Edward Island:  Director of Vital Statistics, Dept. of Health, Box 2000,
                                      Charlottetown, PE, C1A 7N8

Quebec:  Population Registrar, Dept. of Social Affairs, 1279 Boul. Charest Ouest, (3c),
               Quebec, G1N 2C9

Saskatchewan:  Director of Vital Statistics, Dept. of Public Health, 3475 Albert St.,
                          Regina, SK, S4S 6X6

Yukon:  Dept. of Territorial Secretary & Registrar General, Box 2703, Whitehorse, YT,
              Y1A 2C6

Northwest Territories:  Registrar General of Vital Statistics, P.O. Box 1320,
                                         Yellowknife, NT, X0E 1N0


 General Register Office, Postal Applications, Room 9, Smedley Hydro,
                       Trafalgar Rd., Southport, Merseyside, England PR8 2HH


 General Register Office, New Register House, Edinburgh, Scotland,
                         EH1 3YT


 Registrar General’s Office, Custom House, Dublin

Canadian Census Records

Canadian population records are valuable sources of family records.  Although not all have been preserved, those listed are generally available from the Public Archives, Ottawa, or any library equipped with microfilm readers and operating an inter-library loan system with the Public Archives of Canada.

ONTARIO:  1842, 1848, and 1850 returns list heads of families only.  1848 and 1850 records are incomplete.
1851, 1861, and 1871 returns enumerate complete families with some information concerning age, country of birth, religion, occupation, marital status and racial origin.
1796, 1806, 1813, 1823, and 1824 censuses for Augusta Township (HF) are also on microfilm.

QUEBEC:  1666, 1667, 1681, 1851, 1861, and 1871 returns cover complete families with varying information as to age, country of birth, religion, occupation, marital status, racial origin and education.  1825, 1831, and 1842 returns list heads of families only.

Canadian census returns for 1881 also have recently been released for public use.

PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND:  1798 census (HF) has not yet been microfilmed but is published in Duncan Campbell’s “History of Prince Edward Island.”
1841 and 1861 returns list heads of families.

NOVA SCOTIA:  1770, 1773, 1775, and 1787 returns list heads of families only (not microfilmed); are located in the Nova Scotia Archives.
1817 (incomplete), 1827, 1838 and 1861 censuses list heads of families only.  1871 lists all persons.  On microfilm also are Cape Breton returns, 1811 and 1818; City of Halifax, Halifax County and King’s County, 1851; City of Halifax only, 1858.

NEWFOUNDLAND:  1691 and 1693 returns list each individual and some information regarding age, sex, country of birth, etc.  1704 census lists heads of families only.
Census records for Plaisance only are available for the years of 1671, 1673, (all persons), 1698, 1706 and 1711 (HF).

NEW BRUNSWICK: 1851, 1861 and 1871 census returns list each individual along with age, sex, country of birth, religion, racial origin, occupation, and marital status.

MANITOBA:  1832, 1834, 1835, 1840, 1843, 1846 and 1849 enumeration lists heads of families with some details of size of family ad occupation.  1870 census lists each individual, sex, age, country or province of birth, religion, occupation, racial origin, marital status, etc.  1856 census is incomplete and has not been microfilmed.

ACADIA:  1671, 1686, 1693, 1698, 1701 and 1714 census return enumerates every person.  1703, 1707 and 1739 censuses indicate heads of families only and provide some details of family size.
1730, 1734 and 1735 returns (heads of families) are recorded for llE St. Jean only.  1734 and 1753 (HF), 1741750 (all persons) are microfilmed for llE Royal.  1741 Louisburg census lists landholders only.  1717 and 1722 records for Port Toulouse lists heads of families, while the 1717 and 1719 census of Port Dauphin lists principal settlers only.  1739 census of Riviere S. Jean records the heads of the families and 1761 enumeration of Gaspe to Baie Verte (incomplete) covers inhabitants generally


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