Wednesday, 31 May 2017

D-I-V-O-R-C-E Part 1 - Before 1968

We all like to think that our ancestors met, fell in love, married, and only parted through death. Truth is, divorce has always been around in Canada, although rare. According to The Canadian Encycolpedia:

"...while most Canadians married, divorce was extremely uncommon until after the Second World War. In fact, until that time, Canada had one of the lowest divorce rates in the Western world..."

Today getting a divorce is a fairly straight forward matter through the provincial courts, though if you've gone through one you may not think so. Up until the late 1960s though, the ability to obtain a divorce was extremely difficult. As a result, you may come across in your tree couples that just stop living together. In some cases they go on to have new families. I have one such example in my own family history.

Before 1968, your ancestor may have only been able to obtain a divorce through a Private Act of the Parliament of Canada. There are some exceptions, which I'll explain later on in the post. According to the Parliament of Canada's website,

"..A private bill could only be introduced by a Senator or a Member who is not a member of Cabinet..."

This was expensive and lengthy. First the petitioner would have to first put a "notice of intent" to petition the government for an Act of Divorce in the Canada Gazette. They also had to put notices in two newspapers local to where they live. This notice had to run for six months.

Then they would petition the government. The petition would have to include the following information:

  • names of the husband and wife
  • place of residence
  • date and place of marriage
  • details of the marriage breakdown
  • if the reason for divorce was adultery or bigamy, then you might find the name of the third person in the love triangle  

If the petition was allowed, then the Parliament would pass an Act of Divorce and nullify the marriage. A transcript of the Act of Divorce would be published in that year's publication of Statutes. The publication changed names several times from 1841- 1868:

  • 1841-1866 Statutes of the Province of Canada and Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada 
  • 1867-1872 Statutes of Canada
  • 1873-1951 Acts of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada (Statutes of Canada)
  • 1952-1963 Acts of the Parliament of Canada (Statutes of Canada)
  • 1963-1968 Journals of the Senate of Canada

As with most other research avenues when searching Canadian records, each province is different. For divorce, the two main questions are WHEN and WHERE.

1949-1968: Required an Act of Divorce
1969 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Prince Edward Island
1867-1946: Required an Act of Divorce
1947 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

New Brunswick
1867 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Nova Scotia
1867 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

1867-1968: Required an Act of Divorce
1969 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

1867-1930: Required an Act of Divorce
1931 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

1867-1919: Required an Act of Divorce
1920 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

1867-1919: Required an Act of Divorce
1920 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

1867-1919: Required an Act of Divorce
1920 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

British Columbia
1867 on wards: Handled by the Provincial Courts

Searching for Acts of Divorce
So, if you're looking for a divorce requiring an Act of Divorce, you should look at newspapers, the Canada Gazette, and either the Statutes of Canada, or  Journals of the Senate of Canada. For newspapers, your ancestor needed to publish in two newspapers in the County or District they resided. If the area only had one newspaper, then check adjoining counties and districts for a notice to fill the required second newspaper.


The Canada Gazette is commonly referred to as "the official newspaper of the Canadian Government". It's a fascinating read all by itself. I may have to devote a whole blog post to this in the future. It contains public notices of every shape and variety. It was published only in print from 1941 to 1998. From 1998 to 2014 there was both a print and online version. From 2014 on wards it is only available digitally. For divorces pre 1968 you'll want to go to Collections Canada's issues from 1841 to 1998. They have a searchable database. I typed "divorce McDonald' in the keyword search and there are 407 results. The earliest was in 1843. Now keep in mind though that the search will look for your search terms on a whole page, not just a specific notice. For instance, one of my page results had a notice for a petition to divorce, but the name "McDonald" had to do with a completely different notice on the same page that had nothing to do with divorce.

Now, if the Act of Divorce was granted, you'll next want to look for a transcript of the Act in the yearly Statutes publications. Thankfully Library and Archives Canada has a searchable index here. I typed in McDonald and got 10 hits. The index gives the following information:
  • Name of Petitioner
  • Name of Spouse
  • Which publication it's in
  • The year published
  • The reference number, or Act number
With this information, you can then get a copy of the Act. Check your local library to see if they have copies in their holdings. The link above to Library and Archives Canada's database also has links to help you find which libraries has copies of the publications. Internet Archive, my new best friend, also has digitized copies here. If you are unable to find it online or in your local library, you can apply to Library and Archives Canada for a copy. Information on reproduction requests can be found here.

Next post we'll take a look at sources from 1968 and later.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Where are the Archives?

Library and Archives Canada

Nowadays, you can go a long way with your research from the comfort of your computer chair. But, remember, not everything is online. Also, not all have an online presence. Eventually, you're going to have to exchange your slippers for outdoor shoes and take a trip to an Archive. How can you find what archive might have the information you're looking for?

You should then turn to the Canadian Archival Information Network. This great resource lets you search for material by subject, by institution, or by place. I clicked on the search tab, then browse by place and their came a listing of over 21,000 different place names indexed. You can further narrow by the search box at the top. I scrolled through randomly and clicked on "Bell Island, Conception Bay NL". I got 9 different record sets that related directly to Bell Island. The first was a collection about the Anglican Parish of Bell Island. Along with the religious ceremony registers, there's also financial records and Minutes of meetings. They are held by the Archdeacon Buckle Memorial Archive in St. John's NL.
The second hit was the John Job photograph collection at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

When I clicked on browse by institution, There are 773 archives listed across Canada. You can further narrow down by location and institution type. When I narrowed by Saskatchewan, there are 44 results of archival institutions in the database.

Back on the main page beside the search tab is a tab called "Networks". This will take to the portal websites of individual provincial archive networks. I clicked on the link for New Brunswick. It took me to the Council Archives of New Brunswick's website. There are 27 institutions listed with the council.

Beside the Networks tab is one for virtual exhibits. There are links to online exhibits across Canada. I clicked on one with the interesting title "Claude and Mary Tidd: A Yukon Romance". It's a telling of the lives of  Claude and Mary in the Yukon, told by the Yukon Archives. It gives a snapshot of life in the Yukon between the end of the Gold Rush and the building of the Alaska Highway. If Claude and Mary were in your family tree, what a goldmine of information on them!

Next to virtual exhibits is the links tab. There are 724 links to various repositories. You can also find links to guides, bibliographies, transcriptions of records, and genealogical societies. Take note that this is a work in progress, and not all of the links work.

Next is the About Us tab is I think is rather self explanatory and needs no explanation.

Last is the Canadian Council of Archives tab. This one is more for those who have my dream job of working in an archival setting. Still some interesting reading.

Now this website is by no means a complete listing of Archives across Canada. But when you've already looked at the big Archives, this is a good start to finding the smaller ones.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Skeletons in the Closet


This week's post is not about record sources. It's more of an opinion piece. It's been one I've been wanting to write about for awhile.

A few days ago, a genealogy friend and I were discussing the "less than upstanding citizens" in our respective trees. Actually, the conversation was less about the ancestors themselves, and more about our living relatives reactions to our ancestors' misdeeds. It got me to thinking back about some of the episodes of those genealogy shows, when someone is absolutely horrified by some of the things their ancestors have done. They immediately classify them as an evil person. I can sympathize on one level Sometimes reality can be a shock. I am also a little... annoyed as well. That's not quite the right word, but I'll explain.

First and foremost, your ancestor's decisions are not a reflection of YOU. Just as you didn't actually do the heroic deed they did, you didn't perform the "dastardly" deed either. We all remember the brouhaha a couple of years ago when a certain celebrity asked one of the genealogy shows to not air the fact that he had a slave owning ancestor. The show went with a different story from the celebrity's ancestry. Now whether this was because of the celebrity's request, or because they thought that the story they did use was more interesting, I personally do not know. Nor do I want to rehash the incident. I actually thought the one they used was more interesting than if they had gone with the slave owning ancestor, but that's just me. Just to be clear, I am NOT condoning slavery. It's one of the horrible parts of human history. But to shy away from it and pretend it didn't happen doesn't do any good either.

If you do genealogy long enough, you are going to come across an ancestor whose life choices don't measure up to your own code of ethics. Whether you consider them a "grey sheep" or a "black sheep" would depend on your viewpoint I guess. Most genealogists are delighted to find one of these people, as it adds a good story to your family history.

Let me give you some examples from my own family history:

  • The married guy who had two children with his servant girl, and ended up marrying her after his wife died and then had a couple more with her
  • The man who was a confirmed bigamist
  • The woman who was a suspected bigamist
  • The woman who had 3 illegitimate children and never married
  • The woman who was a prostitute for awhile
  • I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure at least one person in my tree might have supplemented their income through less than legal means
On the surface, these people don't look too good. But, do we know the whole story? Divorce has been around for a long time, but it has not always been easy to obtain, or cheap. It might have been easier and more economic for a couple just to go their separate ways, but legally they were still married. Did the woman who was a prostitute feel she had no other options to support herself? We feel sympathy for the medieval man who poached to feed his family. The social safety net that we have today is a relatively new thing, historically speaking. My ancestors with possible "shady dealings" might have been just trying to support their families.

Take a look at some of your relatives that you know personally. We all have that one older relative that has certain ideas and opinions that we don't share. It may be their opinions on gender equality, their views on another skin colour or religion, or sexual orientation. They may use terms that we consider derogatory today, but that people of their generation see nothing wrong with. How about that cousin that made some life choices you disagree with? Do you think these people are absolutely evil? Probably not. You may not like certain aspects about them, but they are not all bad are they?

Now take a look at some of the hard choices you've had to make in your own life. A couple of hundred years from now, your descendants are not going to know all the reasons why you've made that decision. If they only had part of the story, how would you look to them? 

What I'm trying to say is that no one is all good, and no one is all bad. We are all shades of grey. What was considered a social norm in your great grandparents' time may not be now. What is a social norm now may not be in our great grandchildren's time. We wouldn't want our entire life judged by a single action or decision. We should do the same with our ancestors. We only see snapshots into their lives. Unless we know the whole story, we should keep an open mind.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Finding Ancestors with the Federal Voter's Lists


Last post when I was talking about City Directories, I had mentioned about looking at the Federal Voter's Lists for my grandmother's family.

What are the voter's lists? These were directories of all persons eligible to vote, put together by Office of the Electoral Officer for Canada. They were broken down by province or territory, then further broken down alphabetically by electoral district.The federal voter's lists came into being in 1935. Before that municipal voter's lists were used in federal elections.

More rural areas tended to be broken down alphabetically by surname, with their postal address listed after their name. Urban areas were broken down by street address. Every person of voting age was listed at each particular address. Along with their name and address was their occupation. This can come in handy when you are looking at ancestors that tended to reuse the same first names over and over. Ages are not listed on these lists. Knowing that your "John Smith" was a carpenter will come in handy when when trying to figure out which of the 3 John Smiths that lived in that area is the John Smith you're looking for.

Federal Voter's Lists were not compiled on a regular basis. These were only done for election years. There can be a gap as little as 1 year, or as large as 5 years between lists. Publicly available are the following years:

  • 1935
  • 1940
  • 1945
  • 1949
  • 1953
  • 1957
  • 1958
  • 1962
  • 1963
  • 1965
  • 1968
  • 1972
  • 1974
  • 1979
  • 1980

If you are looking for female ancestors, keep in mind that most married women were listed as "Mrs. John Smith" in early directories. For instance, my grandmother Marie Anne Mallais was listed as Mrs. Henry Govereau from 1935 until the 1960's. As a sign of the times, in early directories a woman's marital status is listed, sometimes instead of an occupation. She was listed as either "spinster", "married woman" or "widow". Depending on the district, this went on for a lot of years.

As with any record, use variations on your ancestor's name. My French great grandfather Patrice Mallais is listed as Patrick Malley in the 1935 voter's list. As I had mentioned in my post on City Directories, also check under middle names and even nicknames. My great grandfather John Wellington McDonald was Jack McDonald in 1935, John McDonald in 1945, Jack Wellington McDonald in 1949, and back to John McDonald in 1958.

Here's where to find Federal Voter's Lists:

  • Library and Archives Canada has a great overview on the Federal Voter's Lists and how to determine your ancestor's electoral district. They have the lists available on microfilm. By clicking on each year, you will get a chart that lists Province, electoral district, the page numbers for that district and the microfilm number. As well, they also have microfilms for the federal By-election years 1937-1983. See their guide on inter libray loan if you are not able to access onsite.
  • Ancestry has the Federal Voter's Lists from 1935 to 1980, but not the By-election lists. 1935-1974 have been indexed, and the years 1979 and 1980 are browse only. Keep in mind that the indexed years were done by OCR software, not by a human indexing team, This means that there WILL be errors in spelling, as well as gaps on who has been indexed. In my own research, I've found a wife's name appearing on indexes, but not the husband's. I've also found whole segments of a page not showing up at all, so be prepared to have to use the browse function even for the indexed years.
  • Check your local and/or provincial archives. Since the Federal elections depended on municipal voting lists before 1935, many of these are in the custody of that province. Doing a quick search, I found voter's lists available at The Rooms in Newfoundland, BaNQ in Quebec, the Archives of Ontario, the Archives of Manitoba, and the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Check with them for years and areas available, and how to access the records.

One last tip. Keep in mind that the requirements to vote have changed through the years. If your ancestor does not show up at all, it could be because they did not meet the eligibility requirements for that particular year. In the historical background section on Ancestry of their Federal Voter's Lists collection, they said:

 "By 1935, the year of the earliest voting records in this database, the franchise had been extended to both men and women age 21 and over for federal elections in Canada. The last property qualifications were done away with in 1948, and exclusions for Inuit and Indians living on reserves were eliminated in 1950 and 1960. In 1970, the voting age was lowered to 18 and the franchise reserved for Canadian citizens, though some British subjects retained their right to vote until 1975."

For a more complete history of the vote in Canada take a look at Election Canada's website and at the Canadian Encyclopedia's page "Right to Vote in Canada".

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Getting Lost in City Directories

This post is a little later in the week than normal. That's because I finally broke a major brick wall in my family history research by using city directories.

I took a day trip to the Archives of Ontario on April 19th with members of the Kawartha Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. My purpose was to look at the Toronto City Directories on microfilm to track my great grandparents John W McDonald and Edna Johnson. On a whim I decided to try and look for my grandmother Madelynn Douglas' family. I never met my grandmother, and the only information I had on her was that she had a brother Marshall and a sister Irene. I did not know her parents' names, or even a date of birth. Well, by looking at the directory for 1948 I found her! I took note of the address (600 Roselawn Avenue) and then looked through the rest of the Douglas names in the directory. I found the following people also at that address:

Jas H Douglas
Lawrence J Douglas
Marshall Douglas

By looking at other years I was also able to find an Irene Douglas living at this address as well. Using the information I gleaned from the directories, I've managed to find and track the family through the voter's lists on Ancestry back to 1935. I've determined that James H Douglas and his wife Mary are my great grandparents. Lawrence and Irene are of voting age in the early 1940's, which means they are over 21 (the voting age at the time). This means that they were born before 1921. I managed to find a Douglas family in Toronto in the 1921 census that has a Lawrence and Irene listed as children. They are at a different address than 600 Roselawn. Thanks to inter library loan between the AO and my local library, I've been bringing in a few years of city directories microfilms at a time to track the family back from 1935 to 1921, to try and determine if the 1921 family belongs to me.

If you haven't looked at city directories, then you are missing out. I can't believe I didn't think to go this route before for my Douglas family. They contain a wealth of information on an individual:

  • occupation
  • place of employment
  • home address
  • whether they owned or rented their home
  • others living with them
  • In the Toronto directories I looked at for the WWII years, those in active service had "act ser" next to their names. This gives you another avenue of research for your ancestor. 
The directories are usually broken up into 3 sections. There will be a business directory, a surname directory, and the last is a street directory. The street directory is helpful for you to see who your ancestor's neighbours are, and how the neighbourhood looked. Was there a church close by? Perhaps they worshiped there. Who's their next door neighbour? Perhaps that person was a witness to a marriage or baptism.

In the beginning of the directory are all kinds on information about the area. You can see names and addresses of churches, commuity groups, and government institutions. If your ancestor held public office, then they'll be listed in the front pages. You can lose yourself looking at ads for area businesses. There's also usually statistical data about the area. For instance, in the 1926 Toronto directory:
  • The population of Toronto proper was 650, 055. The surrounding suburbs' population was 95,181. 
  • In 1925 The Toronto Hydro Electric system served 143, 648 customers
  • There were 333 churches
  • There were 167 schools
  • 60% of the population were home owners

I've compiled a list of places to look for city directories:

General Sites

  • Internet Archive has many city directories in their database. These are free to view and free to download. You can download either the whole directory, or just a page by right clicking on the image of the page, and saving as a picture. In the search box, use the key words "City directories" and the name of the area you are looking for to see if it has been uploaded to the site.
  • Ancestry has a database called Canada, City and Area Directories, 1819-1906. They cover various cities across Canada. 
  • Check the local library of the area you are researching. Many libraries have collections of directories, either originals or on microfilm. If you live in a bigger city, check to see if your local library has other cities on microfilm. For instance, the Toronto Public Library system has directories for British Columbia and Quebec as well. 
  • Our Roots have digital images of city directories among their many local histories. Use their search function to see what's available. 
  • Library and Archives Canada has directories from different parts across the country. They come in print, microfilm , and digital forms.
  • FamilySearch has many directories available on microfilm. Check out the wiki for what they have and microfilm numbers.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Prince Edward Island

  • The Island Register has a great chart listing various directories and where to find them. Some have been transcribed on their site.
  • The University of Prince Edward Island's Robertson Library has some city directories in their holdings. They can only be viewed onsite.

Nova Scotia
  • Nova Scotia Archives has the 1907-1908 directory online. Onsite, they have both print and microfilm of various years. Contact the Archives for availability.
  • City of Halifax Archives has directories in their holdings for both Halifax and Dartmouth.
New Brunswick
  • BAnQ has city directories for both Quebec City and Montreal. They cove various years from 1822-2010, and are available online.
  • Don's List has various Montreal directories online. You should also take a look at the Ottawa directories they have. The Ottawa directories also include Hull.
  • The Archives of Ontario has not only Toronto directories on microfilm. They have city and county directories from all over the province, going back to the 1800's. As I mentioned above, they do inter library loan if you aren't able to look at them onsite.
  • Queen's University has some directories in their holdings. Contact them for rules of access.
British Columbia
The Territories

A few final reminders when researching city directories:
  • Always read the front few pages to see who's been included. For instance, in the 1926 Toronto directory, these people weren't included:
  1. Maids, domestic servants, and employed young girls under the age of 18
  2. Married women and female relatives over 18 that are unemployed
  3. Young girls living at home and not employed
  4. Students in all levels of schooling, including colleges and universities
  5. Office and messenger boys, and boys working in factories under 18 years of age
  6. Children under school age
  7. Inmates of hospitals, asylums, convents, orphan's homes, and institutions
  8. "Foreigners" from China, Russia, Balkans, and Central Europe. 
  9. Transients living in hotels, boarding houses, and rooming houses
  • Also check for the index to abbreviations. Checking this can save you a lot of grief trying to figure out what that occupation is supposed to be, or what an asterisk beside their name means.
  • Due to printing deadlines, the information may not be the most current. If your ancestor moved to the area in 1921, then they may not show up until 1922.
  • A lot of directories have an "Addendum". This is an alphabetical list of people and businesses that were added too late to be inserted into the regular directory. 
  • As with census records, check variations for your ancestor's name. In my recent research, Madelynn Douglas was listed as "Madeline". Also check under middle names. Through researching voter's lists later, I realized that though Madelynn's brother was listed as "Marshall Douglas" in city directories, in voter's lists he is "George M Douglas". Even her father switched between "James H" and "Henry J"in the directories.

Well, back down the rabbit hole for me. I have more searching to do in directories.....