Friday 6 February 2015

Marriage Sunday: Using Marriage Records to Find Your Ancestors

Cardinal McGuigan at the 1947 wedding of his sister Alice
at St. Michael's Cathedral.
PH 09F.18P
This weekend, February 7th -8th 2015, the Archdiocese of Toronto will celebrate Marriage Sunday.

Here in the archives, one of our jobs is to help people find their Catholic ancestors, so when we think of marriage we think of genealogy. In Ontario, civil marriage records before 1869 were kept by county governments. Before 1858, they were kept by district. Since Catholics are traditionally great record keepers, one way for genealogists to complement civil records is to search Church marriage registers.

One of the earliest marriage records held by ARCAT is from 1830:

"1830 M.1. John S. Kelly to Catherine Shaughnessy - September 27th were married, after three publications of Banns, John S Kelly and Catherine Shaughnessy residing in the township of Toronto. Witnesses: Charles Doherty, Thomas Shaughnessy, David Baites, By me Edward Gordon."  From the register entitled A Register of the Baptisms performed by The Revd. Edward Gordon, in the Townships above York, now Toronto, during his mission of three years and five months.
The earliest records vary in the amount of detail that was recorded, but here we are able to learn the names of the bride and groom, the date they were married, who the witnesses to their marriage were, and where they were living.

Starting in 1858, after An Act to Amend the Laws relating to the Solemnization of Matrimony in Upper Canada clergy were required to send marriage records to their local county officials.   Marriage registers started looking like this:

St. Michael's Cathedral Marriage Register starting 1858
In the above register, the couples' names, ages, place of residence, place of birth, names of parents (including the mother's maiden name) and witnesses and date of marriage are recorded. All very valuable information to genealogists!

St. Basil's Marriage Register starting 1858
While many registers just list the country of birth, this St. Basil's register goes so far as to list the town where each registered person is born. In this case, the groom was born in Goresbridge, County Kilkenny, Ireland.

ARCAT holds a few original registers, but most are held by individual parishes. Originals are not available to researchers, but there are a few ways to access copies. Check the ARCAT page on the archdiocesan website to find the option that is best for you. We are always available to guide you in your search.

Check here for a history of marriage records and practices in Ontario.

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