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Ontario GenWeb Project: How To Get Past A Roadblock
How To Get Past A Roadblock

Roadblock = "An obstruction or obstacle", or in genealogy terms, "I've tried everything and still can't find my ancestor!"

How to get past an Ontario Roadblock
1) Print this page
2) Turn OFF the computer

While turning off the computer may sound odd in this, the age of the information superhighway, please remember that 99.9% of Ontario's genealogy resources CANNOT BE FOUND (nor searched) ON THE INTERNET!

Roadblocks encountered by OGW visitors. How would you solve these dilemmas?

Where to start:
1) Identify your roadblock. Use the 5 W's --
     1. WHO are you looking for?
     2. WHAT are you looking for? What can't you find?
     3. WHEN are you encountering this roadblock (what year can you not get past? / when was this person born/married/died?)?
     4. WHERE are you encountering this roadblock (where is the last known place you can find this person? / where was this person born/married/died?)?
     5. WHY do you think you're stuck?

2) Check your spelling, or rather, check that you're not confining your search to one spelling. It may be that the 'Smith' you're searching for is listed as 'Smythe' or 'Jung' may listed as 'Young'.
   It's also common for people to be known by more than one name throughout their life. Many people chose to use to switch back and forth from their first and middle names, so try both as well as nicknames. "Maggie", age 8 in 1861 may be listed as "Margaret" in 1871 and "Elizabeth" in 1881.

3) Identify what Ontario resources are available in your LOCAL area. It's a common misconception that if you live outside Ontario you don't have any Ontario resources available locally.

  • Contact your local genealogy society and see if any members also have Ontario roots or research. You can pool your resources and share information about where to find more.
  • Contact your local library and/or archives to see what Ontario resources they have available and if they participate in Inter-Library Loan (sometimes also known as Inter-Institutional Loan). If they do, it's quite likely you can request Ontario related materials from other libraries and archives and have them brought to your locality for a few weeks.
  • Locate the nearest LDS Family History Center. Regardless of where you live in the world, LDS FHC's will request (for a small fee) the materials you need directly from their main archive in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have innumerable Ontario resources available and are well worth the visit. Depending on the "rules" of the LDS you live closest to, they are generally very accommodating for out-of-town visitors if you make an appointment well in advance of your visit (at least 2 weeks advance!)
      If the above fail to yield results, there are still two other options.
      1. Request a lookup (in return offer lookup's from resources in your possession or local area)
      2. Hire a researcher

    4) Use the Ontario Research Check List. Each one of the Ontario resources listed below should be checked BEFORE you decide you have a roadblock.

    • Write To Genealogy Societies and Groups where you are researching. Instead of sending an e-mail write to them the "old-fashioned" way with a query about your roadblock. BE SURE to include a self-addressed stamped envelope if you're in Canada, or a self-addressed envelope and 2 International Reply Coupon's if you're outside of Canada. Be aware that some Genealogy Societies or Groups charge a small fee to do a lookup or offer advice.

    • Check Local Histories for information such as where most of the population lived during the time you're researching. For example, present-day London, Ontario encompasses almost three townships but 100 years ago it encompassed perhaps 6 full city blocks (today's current downtown). Knowing this can narrow your search down considerably (especially when you're researching what is now a large city). Also look for information on groups of immigrants entering or leaving the area, epidemics, disasters, burial grounds, churches and more. Use the information to discover what the town was like during the time period you are researching. And never rely on an index to be accurate! Always browse through each history book page by page.

    • Look through Cemetery Records. Start with the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid (link below) but be sure to read the FAQ that is available before you use OCFA. And also use CanadaGenWeb's Cemetery Project (link below) to learn what cemeteries are in the area of research. If you *know* that someone is buried in a certain cemetery but cannot find them listed in OCFA or a cemetery transcript, contact the cemetery and see if they have information about burials with no headstones. If you cannot locate an address for the cemetery, try surrounding churches, town/city hall, and the local genealogy group or society.

    • Browse Census Records. If you're looking for someone who was living in Ontario between 1851 and 1901, there's a good chance you'll find them in the census. There are censuses prior to 1851 but it depends what area you are researching.

    • Track down Church Records. Of course, to use this resource you need to know the denomination (religion) of the persons you are seeking. If you don't yet have this information, see if you can find a family bible. Or, use census records, cemetery records (some cemeteries were sectioned by religion), funeral home records, newspaper records, and local histories to provide clues. Also take note of family naming patterns. Once denomination is known, contact the Church to find out what your next step is.

    • Check Citizenship / Naturalization Records. Skip this resource if the persons you are seeking were in Canada their entire life, or were British subjects (born in a British colony) who immigrated prior to the 1940's.

    • Browse City Directories. For many, this resource should perhaps be your first stop. Especially if you're researching an ancestor in a large city. These directories can provide vital clues that can help you narrow your search down for the other resources listed on this page. No death date? Check a city directory, the move on to use Newspapers & Wills. No immigration date? Check a city directory, then move on to Citizenship/Naturalization and Immigration/Ships Lists.

    • Peruse Court Records. If your ancestor worked in the legal profession (judge, justice of the peace, police officer, etc) or was a "non-conformist" minister, or was arrested and charged with a crime, or perhaps even if a child was orphaned, you may find useful information in a court record.

    • Consult Funeral Home records. This little used resource can be used to confirm several pieces of information, and to possibly provide new information. This record is especially useful if a death certificate or death registration is unavailable.

    • Go through Ships Lists. If your ancestor immigrated to Canada by ship, there's a good chance you'll find them listed on a ship passenger list. Or if your ancestor immigrated to the USA from Canada (or vice versa) in the 1900's you may find them in border entry records.

    • Locate Land Records & Petitions. Often individuals inherited land and this information was recorded when the land was transferred. If you descend from a UEL, children of Loyalists were permitted to petition for free Crown Land and you may find proof of not only familial relations but proof of "loyalty".

    • Newspapers can often provide valuable clues to the events that shaped the life of your predecessors. And, you may also find your relations mentioned in birth announcements, marriage announcements, obituaries, and the always interesting social column. Read the Obituaries. In the 1800's it was common to devote a column, sometimes two or more, to commemorate the life of a recently passed individual. With this much information you not only get a full life story, but the names of family members, where they live, and more.

    • Military Records can be used if a relation in your family served in the military. Which, in the 1800's, was something every male was required to do.

    • Registration of vital Statistics (Births, Marriages, Deaths) were required starting in 1869. So if someone in your family was born, got married, or died after 1869 it's likely you'll find them here.

    • Where there's a Will... there's sometimes mention of a family member. Or whatever happened to Great Aunt Matilda's rocking chair.

    5) If using the Ontario Research Check List in your area of research failed to yield results, broaden your search and start over! Check the surrounding area. Your search should never be restricted to one place only. People moved around. Borders changed. A starting place is good, but don't carve it in stone.

    Remember: If you haven't checked ALL of the resources mentioned above, you DON'T have a roadblock... yet.

    Related Material

  • Links

  • Finding something on this website
    Ontario genealogy resources
    Finding a place in Ontario
    Overcoming a brick wall
    A question about research
    Posting a query
    Searching outside Ontario, but still in Canada
    Searching outside Canada
    The meaning of a word
    Finding others researching my surname
    How to research a specific area in Ontario
    Genealogy Forms
    OntarioGenWeb Mailing List
    None of the above

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