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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Finding an Ancestor from America in Upper Canada (Ontario) before 1850

Lara asked on Jan 19, 2009

Hi , How do I go about locating the parents of an ancestor that was born abt 1820? All I know so far is her name is Azubah ( spelling varies often) married to John CUMMING sometime bef 1836. According to Census she was born abt 1820, one census lists her as being born in US and of dutch origin and others say born in Upper Canada. With help, was able to find out her maiden name was Palmer (her obit was listed under her maiden name not married name). Have not be able to figure out who her parents were and where and when she was born. Any thoughts on where I should look?

My Answer: Hello Lara, It is good that you are questioning the discrepancies you've found as you research your ancestor. It certainly makes our genealogy lives more challenging doesn't it!

As always I like to look at the same records as the person asking me the question. Four eyes are always better than two! And sometimes clues are missed the first time around. Since you sent AskOliveTree a follow up with the details that the family lived in Brighton Ontario, that was all I needed to have a hunt for them in the online Canadian census records (Canada 1851, 1871 index, 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 are all available online)

The 1861 Census gives our first clue

Luckily the 1861 Brighton Census is online on In it we see quite a large family of John born Scotland, farmer, age 52; Azubah listed as born Upper Canada (Ontario), age 43. Next are their children Flora, Alvina, son (name not transcribed), another son (name not transcribed), another son (name transcribed as Duns with a question mark, meaning the transcribing could not read it) and Oscar. All the children are listed in 1861 as being born in Upper Canada. Living with them is Flora Cumming, age 79 born Scotland, a widow. She is quite likely John's mother.

It's important to realize that the 1861 census also has an agricultural section . These Agricultural returns are an overlooked genealogical treasure trove!

If you were to order the microfilm for 1861 census into a Family History Centre you could find out exactly where John and Azubah lived (Lot, Concession) Knowing their land location will allow you to search the Abstract Indexes to Deeds for that piece of property. Important info can be found there!

Back to that 1861 census - since the daughter Flora is listed as age 24, born in Upper Canada, I knew that the family would be in the 1851 census (if their area survived, as many parts of Ontario have not).

The 1851 Census hits a possible bingo!

The 1851 census images (no indexes) are available at Library & Archives Canada (LAC). An index and images are available at A partial transcription, which is then linked to the images on LAC, is available at so you have many choices for searching for ancestors

A search of 1851 census on found the Cumming family in Brighton. John, age 45, a farmer born Scotland, religion Baptist, is found with his wife Azubah, age 37 born Canada and several children: Flora, Jane, Alvina, Cameron, and Joshua. Also with them are Flora, 71 born Scotland (John's mother no doubt) and two Cumming girls who are no doubt John's sisters.

But the terrific find on this 1851 census page is the nearby neighbour who lives just two houses away - Joshua Palmer born USA age 62 and his wife Lucretia also born USA, age 57. Why is it a terrific find? Because very often an individual settled near other family members. My hunch is that your Azubah Cumming, nee Palmer, settled near her parents - none other than Joshua and Lucretia. But of course you can't just accept my hunch as fact, you now have to work to prove or disprove that Joshua and Lucretia are her parents.

A Growing Theory

Let's look at some of the facts and see if they support my theory/hunch:

1. Joshua is born USA and sometimes your Azubah is listed as born USA
2. Joshua and Azubah are both Baptists
3. Joshua is living 2 doors away from Azubah in 1851
4. Azubah names her eldest daughter Flora after her husband's mother. Her eldest son is Cameron (is that John's father's name? More research needed to find out) and her second born son is named Joshua (if she is following traditional naming patterns, Joshua will be her father's name. Bingo!)

Further research on my part found that Lucretia's maiden name was Draper and she was born in New York (from an online Ancestry Family Tree and her death certificate which is found at the Family Search Labs)

Taking the Next Step

The next step, which I leave to you, would be to check earlier tax and assessment records for the family. Does Brighton have an 1842 Census? How about the 1848 census - is there one that has survived for Brighton? You will need to do some research to find out what records exist for Brighton before 1851.

There may be very early tax records, some areas of Upper Canada (Ontario) have them back in the 1820s and earlier.

You can also check local churches for John and Azubah's marriage.

The Importance of Searching Siblings

I would also try to find all the known children of Joshua and Lucretia (Draper) Palmer. Don't overlook researching siblings to see if there is any interaction with a sister Azubah over the years. Perhaps Azubah is mentioned in a sibling's obit. Perhaps she witnessed a baptism or a marriage or was an informant for a death. Perhaps she lived near or next door to a sister or brother in later years.

Land Records - the overlooked genealogy treasure trove

I would also get the land records for Joshua Palmer. The 1851 census says he is a farmer so with any luck he owned land. Find out if there is a will attached to his land records. Check the online Surrogate and Probate Court indexes for Ontario before 1859. If you find his name in the index, you can order the full record. But be cautious because NOT finding his name in the index does not mean he did not file a will. You may have to check microfilm (which is more complete than the online index)

There is also the CLRI (Ontario Land Record Index) and Upper Canada Land Petitions which you should not overlook. These can offer invaluable genealogy treasures!

Good luck and please come back and let us know by using the Comment Form, how your search is progressing.

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