Ontario Civil Registration (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in April 2013. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Vital Statistic Records - Part 1  by Sharon L. Murphy. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Civil Registration - July 1, 1869[edit | edit source]

Ontario’s first mandatory civil registration began in 1869. Many laws and statutes changed with Confederation in 1867. With the new government established, Canada West was now the province of Ontario and new rules and requirements were put in place in the hopes of providing a better way.

There were to be five Registration or Vital Statistics Acts (1869, 1875, 1896, 1908 and 1919) that would evolve to accomplish this.

The 1869 Act brought the beginning of a new method of registration that was to be province wide and include the registration of all births, marriages and deaths. According to the Facts of Life: The Social Construction of Vital Statistics, Ontario 1869-1952, by George N. Emery, (McGill-Queens University Press, 1993) “the registrar-general estimated that registrations for 1870 captured only a fifth of the province’s deaths, a third of its births, and two-thirds of its marriages.” He felt this was due to the lack of support by the clergy and the medical profession.

It also became apparent that the local clerk did not want to institute legal proceedings against his neighbours. The Clerks were paid a “just sum” for their work but it was not enough for them to give registration much of a priority.

The registrations were to be submitted annually and often errors were never corrected and some information was never received.

The local registrar for Brant County complained that some registrations came “by post” and could have easily been forged or could also even be a joke. “Is it on such testimony as some of these returns furnished that the legality of Marriages and the legitimacy of children are to be proven?”

He suggested “a registration form for deaths that required the name of the attending physician, names of persons present at the time of death, name of undertaker, location of burial plot, name and residence of the officiating minister, the names, residences and occupations of two bearers, names of siblings living and dead, and the signatures of a physician, two bearers, and a witness.”

Don’t we wish it were so. How wonderful it would be to learn all the above information when a death registration was found. Unfortunately, this was not exactly the case.

1875 Registration Act[edit | edit source]

The 1875 Act took effect 1 January 1876 and changed the rules regarding the registration of a death. It was now to be done prior to interment, in return for which a certificate of death was to be issued. If a clergyman buried a body without seeing a death certificate, he was obliged to report the death within ten days. The Clerks were now getting ten cents per registration and were to forward their returns semi-annually, not annually as before.

This act also abolished the position of county registrar, thereby placing municipal registrars in direct communication with the provincial office and trimming $3,750 from the Branch’s budget.

The death was to be reported by the medical practitioner in the municipality where the death took place to remove the possibility of double registration of one death. Only one person had to make the return, so either the medical doctor or the head of the family but not both.

Death registrations during the first year increased over those for 1875 by 95 percent. Although this was a significant increase it was still not perfect. As time went on the number of registrations decreased.

1896 Registration Act[edit | edit source]

The third Act “forbade clergy, undertakers, and keepers of cemeteries to bury a body without first obtaining a death certificate. It also obliged cemetery keepers to submit semi-annual returns of burials to the registrar of the division in which the burial ground is situate.”

It also required physicians to report births and deaths they attended and to submit a death certificate to the registrar in whose municipality the death had occurred. The clergymen were to report marriages they had celebrated within thirty days from the date of the marriages, (not within 90 as previously required).

The inspector of vital statistics, not the local registrar was now responsible for initiating legal proceedings. The municipal registrars were to retain the original registrations and send copies to the provincial office. And the fee was increased from ten to twenty cents per registration. The registrar-general was to be a member of Cabinet, but not necessarily the provincial secretary. This Act took effect 1 July 1896 and was implemented 1st August. A resource that may be overlooked are the marriage registers of some clergy for the years 1897 and onwards. A complete listing by location and date of these marriage registers can be found in the Archives of Ontario.

1908 Vital Statistics Act[edit | edit source]

The 1908 Act made the attendant liable to penalty for not reporting a birth. Another important change made was the frequency of submissions. Municipal registrars were to submit their returns quarterly, not semi-annually as before.

1919 Vital Statistics Act[edit | edit source]

This act was passed to prepare Ontario for entry into a national statistics system. As of 1 January 1920 a physician was to report a birth within forty-eight hours and the cause of death within twenty-four hours instead of “forthwith”.

It also required the municipal registrars to submit their returns monthly, not quarterly. Keepers of cemeteries were now to submit monthly records of burials to the registrar of the municipality in which the burial ground was situated.

As you can see, the governing bodies felt the recording of vital statistic records very important and were putting the systems in place to ensure compliance.

Vital Statistics Indexes - Ontario - Page 1

Vital Statistics Indexes for Ontario.jpg

Vital Statistics Indexes - Ontario - Page 2

VitalStats Indexes for Ontario - Part 2 .jpg

Delayed Registrations[edit | edit source]

Other factors, such as old age pensions, automobile driver’s licenses and other requirements of proof of age and naturalization caused changes to the birth registration process. Delayed registrations of birth indicated that there were thousands of births not registered and therefore these people applied for late registration. The requirement for the registration was a declaration of the event from a parent or sibling or someone who was at the birth or a baptismal certificate. Delayed registrations can also include marriages and deaths. Similar requirements exist.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Vital Statistic Records - Part 1 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.