Discover your inside story with AncestryDNA®

June 24, 2015

Why You Can't Find Great-Grandpa's Death Registration

Why You Can't Find Great-Grandpa's Death Registration
How many times have you looked for a Vital Registration in Ontario and come up empty? But you know Great-Grandpa Harvey's death date and location. You know it was after Vital Registration began in 1869. You've tried using wildcards to pick up variations in his surname. You've searched just under his first name. You've tried every trick in the book but there is nothing found. 

I've done it too. I have several people whose deaths or marriages or births are simply not showing up in the online Registrations. My most recent failed attempt was in searching for a murder victim and the woman who was executed for the crime. It was a very famous case in Ontario (James Workman the victim, beaten to death in 1872 and his wife Elizabeth Workman, the last woman hung in Ontario in 1873) and is still written about today as a miscarriage of justice. I wanted to see their death registrations for research I am doing on this family. But nothing was found. After several frustrating hours of creative searching, I wrote to the Ontario Archives and asked where the Death Certification of murder victims and the murderer were kept.

To my surprise I was told that they are filed with all deaths and registered with Ontario Vital Statistics so they should be found. Then the Archivist added that perhaps the families had not paid to have the deaths registered. This was news to me! So I wrote back and asked for clarification as to whether all individuals had to pay to register a vital event. The answer was YES. Here's the explanation below:

People were required to pay (either directly or via family members, hospital, clergy or funeral home) for Ontario vital statistics registrations.  The cost to register a marriage was about .10 cents prior to WWII then the cost went up to about .25 cents after WWII.

Now I know why I can't find some of my ancestors and collateral branches' births, marriages or deaths. No doubt the family didn't have the money or thought it was a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

So if you have been hunting and unable to find a Vital Registration Event, consider the possibility that perhaps it was never registered. That doesn't mean you should give up after the first try! Use wildcards, they are your friend. For example Ancestry allows the use of * to represent more than one letter and ? to represent one letter.  If your surname of interest is Madden, try searching M*d*n to pick up Maden, Maiden, Maddin, etc.

Be creative in how many details you put in the search engine. In other words, loosen your search, make it less restrictive. Search just by a first name or just by a location and date (no name at all) 

If all your searches are in vain, you might want to try church records. Even if the event was not registered at the Provincial level, odds are good that it made the local church.


Leah A. said...

Thank you so much for this information! I have several events that I know occurred in Ontario which I have spent years looking for vital records for. Not surprisingly, all of the people involved were rather poor. I think this explains why all my searches have come up empty.

Mary Sanphilipo Ward said...

This happened in the United States as well. I have relatives in West Virginia who would have had to take a day off of work (with no pay), take the rain to the state capital (round trip fare) and then pay to register the child's birth. They were coal miners who literally could not afford to register the births even though it was required by law.

Izzy Lou said...

I have never heard of anyone having to travel to any state capital to register a birth. Those were done locally at town or county level. However they would usually send a copy to the state. Has anyone else ever heard of being required to the capital of a state to register??

Mary Sanphilipo Ward said...

I think in my case the state capital and county seat were the same thing. I mispoke when I said state instead of county. Thanks for catching that.

Miriam J. Robbins said...

Sorry, but that is not true about West Virginia. The Revised Statutes of West Virginia (1879) state that the county assessor was to collect information regarding births and deaths in a household from the head of that household when he did his annual rounds to assess property for taxation. You can see this on pages 769 and 770 in that book at Google Books here.

Flossie b said...

same here Miriam, never heard of that and they are still only recorded in the county you were born in. In Michigan to get a birth certificate you go to the county you were born in. Here is an article on Vital Record for the United States: