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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Finding an Ancestor in Early Ontario Records Before 1869

Fred wrote to Olive Tree Genealogy with quite a few questions about his ancestors who were in "Canada West" between 1856 and 1863.

I have traced my Winslow family from Dublin, Ireland to the ship "Constantine" on which they sailed and landed in the Port of NY in 1856. The entire family, which consisted of John, his wife Eliza and their children William Thomas, John, Oliva and Jane, were destined for "Canada West" according to the ship's manifest. Only a few other passengers on that voyage stated their destination as Canada West. I believe I was able to trace one of those other passengers (not related to me) to Perth in 1860. 
    The elder John was a carpet cutter and upholsterer and I presume he was seeking a better job in his field.  However, there is no trace of John or any member of his family in the Canadian or US census for 1860.  Also I have reason to believe that Eliza Winslow died in Canada not too long after immigrating there but I can find no trace of her death record.   
    By 1863, the family moved to Connecticut and took up work in the spinning mills there and from that year I have been able to trace them without much difficulty.  Are there large gaps in the Canadian census that are listed on and FamilySearch?  Presuming they were in Canada in 1860, why am I unable to find any trace of them?
Ask Olive Answers: Fred, first things first. Hopefully you looked it up and discovered that "Canada West" is present day Ontario. So you need to find early Ontario records for your family.  Before being called Canada West it was called Upper Canada.

1861 Census Canada West
Example of 1861 Census
Second: There is no 1860 census for Canada. Canada did not exist as a country until Confederation in 1867 and thus the first census for Canada is 1871. The census prior to 1871 was 1861 (not 1860) and consists of records for the 5 provinces of that time.

Unfortunately not all of the 1861 returns survived. For a  list of the missing returns, see Ontario GenWeb Census Project.  As well, many surviving records are badly faded and could not be indexed,  so a search on might not find a name even though a record survived. You would have to do a page by page search of the images in hopes of spotting your ancestors' names.

In the Ontario 1851 and 1861 Census, the agricultural returns are listed by
the name of the head-of-household. 
Agricultural Census returns are often overlooked by genealogists. Agricultural returns provide information such as lot and concession number, acreage, livestock and agricultural products. has the 1861 Agricultural portion of the census online. That's

the good news! You can search for an ancestor in it by including the keyword
"AGRICULTURAL" in the search fields.

The bad news is that only half of each page has been scanned.

Third: You say you cannot find a death record for Eliza "in Canada". Again, you are looking in Ontario and a look at the explanation for Ontario Vital Records on or the Archives of Ontario or other websites (such as Olive Tree Genealogy Ontario section) will reveal that registration did not begin until 1869, well past the date your Winslow family left for USA.

This brings me to an important note for researchers - don't overlook the explanation or description of record sets online. This is where you will learn what the records consist of (what is missing and what is available) and what years the records cover. When you are searching for an ancestor in a place where you are not familiar with the records, you should always consult the local archives or genweb site to find out when records were kept, where they are kept, and what has survived.

It is also important to remember that Ontario was not settled until the time of the American Revolution so these are relatively early records you are seeking. Any hope of finding a death record for Eliza rests on knowing a more precise location where they settled in Ontario. If they owned land you might find them in land records, or petitions. If you know their religion you could search church records. But there are few Ontario-wide databases to search, and that is why you must have a more precise location of a county or preferably a township where your family lived.

You could also check OCFA (Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid) in case Eliza's grave is recorded there. If you get a result you will need to read the website instructions for details on how to obtain the burial information.