Ontario Ancestors: Roman Catholic Church Records on Family Search

Those of us with Catholic ancestors in Canada may not always appreciate how lucky we are when it comes to online research. Compared with other religious sects, there\’s an amazing amount of church records already online. If your Catholic ancestors came from Quebec and the Maritimes, then you are no doubt very familiar with the Drouin collection. This huge collection of digitized church records are easily accessible through several different providers. However, Catholics from Ontario are somewhat left out of the party. The records for Ontario are usually scattered among Quebec records, or behind pay walls of subscription sites. But Family Search has a browse only collection on their site. Because it is a browse only collection, it does not appear in searches. As such, if you were unaware of it, you would be missing a great resource. The collection, Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923, contains over 125,000 images. Each parish has varying years within the title\’s time frame.

The collection is very easy to navigate. First, select a County:
  • Algoma
  • Brant
  • Cardwell
  • Carleton
  • Carleton, Lanark
  • Cochrane
  • Dufferin
  • Dundas
  • Durham
  • Elgin
  • Essex
  • Frontenac
  • Grenville
  • Haldimand
  • Hastings
  • Huron
  • Kenora
  • Kent
  • Lambton
  • Lanark
  • Leeds
  • Lennox and Addington
  • Lincoln
  • Manitoulin
  • Middlesex
  • Muskoka
  • Nipissing
  • Norfolk
  • Northumberland
  • Ontario
  • Oxford
  • Parry Sound
  • Peel
  • Perth
  • Peterborough
  • Prescott
  • Prescott and Russell
  • Rainy River
  • Renfrew
  • Russell
  • Simcoe
  • Sudbury
  • Thunder Bay
  • Timiskaming
  • Victoria
  • Welland
  • York
If you\’re having trouble knowing which County your ancestor came from, then the Canadian County Atlas Digital Project through McGill University can help you to pinpoint which Counties to look at.
Next, pick a City or Town. Here\’s a screen shot of Frontenac County
After that, pick a parish. This is what comes up for Toronto in York County
Finally, pick a section. This is St. Francis of Sales parish in Smith\’s Falls, Lanark County
So, what information can you find from Catholic Church records?
  • Date of baptism
  • Date of birth
  • Child\’s name
  • Parents\’ names
  • Residence
  • Father\’s occupation
  • Godparents/Sponsors\’ names

Here\’s an example  of baptisms from St. Peter\’s Cathedral in London, Middlesex County dated for May and June 1843

  • Bride and Groom\’s names
  • Groom\’s occupation
  • Bride and Groom\’s marital status
  • Parents\’ names
  • Residences and/or Birthplaces
  • Ages
  • Witnesses
  • Date of Marriage
Here\’s an example of a marriage from St. Jacques in Embrun, in Prescott and Russell
  • Date of death
  • Date of Burial
  • Residence
  • Age
  • Cemetery
  • Names of immediate family
  • Witnesses
Here\’s an example of an interesting entry from 1909. It was from the registers of St. Mary\’s in Woodstock, Oxford County.
Sometimes in an entry for one event, you\’ll get a bonus notation about a subsequent event. Here\’s an example of a baptism entry that also has a notation of her subsequent marriage in another parish.
Some things to keep in mind when looking at the records:
  1. The language can be in English, French, Latin, or any combination of the three. 
  2. Take notes of witnesses and sponsors. These could lead to extended family relationships.
  3. A baptism may not have occurred immediately after birth, though this was the Catholic custom. Sometimes circumstances, such as extremely large parish boundaries, meant that the baptism could take place months or even years after the birth. A good indicator of this reason is multiple children getting baptized on the same day.
  4. As with baptisms, burial services sometimes did not happen immediately after death. A good example of this is deaths that took place in winter. Sometimes it wasn\’t until the following spring that burial took place.
  5. Make sure you are looking at the first pages in the microfilm. Many of the parishes I looked at had indexes at the start of the microfilm roll. This could save you a lot of time if you look through the index first.
The Family Search Viewer lets you manipulate the images in several ways for maximum viewing. You can download the whole page to your computer as a image, and also print the entire page off. I like to download a page, and then use photo editing to zoom in on a specific entry. I then save that image as a separate file.

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