Guest blogger and Ancestry Canada Advisory Board Member: Janice Nickerson

Good cooks know that if you choose wisely, recipes based on only a few basic ingredients can yield richly satisfying dishes. In genealogy also, only a few basic “ingredients” can combine to produce an interesting and informative family history. In Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, the basic ingredients are civil registration, census records, and land records.

The Ingredients

Civil registration records are collected by governments to document births, marriages and deaths. In Canada, responsibility for civil registration rests with the provinces and each province began collecting vital statistics information at a different date. Ontario’s records began mid-way through 1869, and are available up to 1917 for births, 1938 for marriages and 1948 for deaths. More recent records are closed due to privacy laws. Almost all of these records are available on Ancestry (except for births 1914-1917).

Census records are lists of people living in a certain place and time. This information is collected to help governments know how many people live in each area, what their ages are, and other information to help them plan things like schools. For genealogists, census records help us see “snapshots” of families, households and communities at particular dates. A complete “every name” census was taken every ten years in most of Canada, from 1851 to the present. The most recently released census was taken in 1921. All of the available records have been digitized and indexed by Ancestry.

Land records record the history of particular pieces of property through legal transactions such as crown grants, deeds, mortgages and wills. For most of our ancestors, land was their most valuable possession, and for farming families, it was also the source of their livelihood. So, tracing these transactions can help us understand the source of their security and prosperity. These records are available on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario.

The Directions

Let me show you how I used these three basic records to tell the story of three generations of my maternal grandfather’s ancestors.

As careful researchers always start with what they know for sure, we’ll start with my maternal grandfather, a man I knew well.

My grandfather, Theodore McKim Chant, was born in 1905 in a tiny northern Ontario town called Webbwood. He was the fifth of ten children in the family of Stanley and Emma Chant. He always signed his name “T.M. Chant”, and was very proud of his middle name. His parents told him that he should use it because it was the name they’d chosen for him, but it wasn’t official because the minister told them they couldn’t use a surname as a middle name. When the birth records for 1905 were released to the public, I was eager to check out this story.

Civil Birth Records

A quick search of the 1905 birth records for Ontario turned up my grandfather’s registration. As his parents had told him, his middle name does not appear in the register. The register tells us that Theodore Chant was born 30 June 1905, in Webbwood, son of Stanley G. Chant and Emma Aylesworth. His father’s occupation is listed as druggist, and he was the person who reported the birth, on July 31st.

Census of 1921

I next searched the 1921 census for my grandfather’s family and found them enumerated in Darlington Township. At this date the family consisted of my grandfather’s parents, Stanley Gladstone and Emma Bell, and eight children: Joseph, Doris, Theodore, Stanley Ella [a mistake – her name was actually Stanley Emma], Christopher, George Gordon, Allen, Mariam [should be Miriam]. His 84-year-old grandfather, Joseph Horatio Chant also lived with them. The entire family, except for the grandfather, were listed as born in Ontario. He was born in England, with an immigration year of 1844. They all belonged to the Methodist church. Stanley’s occupation was listed as “farmer”, his 19-year-old son Joseph was listed as a “farmer’s son”, the other children were “student”.

1921 Canadian Census records for the Chant family.
Census of 1911

Going back in time to the 1911 census, I found my grandfather’s family in Webbwood, as expected. At this date the family consisted of my grandfather’s parents, “S.G.” and Emma, and seven children: Douglas, Beulah, Joseph, Doris, Theodore, Stanley and Christopher. Lodging with them was a 40-year-old widowed police officer named Henry Hodgins. S.G. Chant’s month and year of birth are recorded as January 1874; Emma’s was December 1873. Both were born in Ontario, with English “racial or tribal origin” and Canadian nationality, and belonged to the Methodist church. S.G.’s chief occupation was listed as “merchant”, but he was also employed as a “lumberman”. He worked in an office 52 weeks a year, 60 hours per week, and earned $1,500 in 1910. He had $3,000 in life insurance and $5,000 accident or sickness insurance, which cost him $126 a year. He could read and write English (as could his wife and the three eldest children). The eldest child in the family was 16, so I next went looking for the family in the census of 1901.

Census of 1901

This time, I found Stanley and Emma Chant living in the village of Newburgh, a farming community northwest of Kingston. This census records exact birth dates, so we now learn that Stanley Gladstone Chant was born on January 14, 1874. His wife, Emma Bell, was born December 17, 1873. Their two eldest children are listed with them: Douglas Bristol, age 6, and Beulah Charlotte, age 2. This time, Stanley’s occupation is listed as “commercial traveller”. He worked 12 months of year and earned $600 per year. Both he and Emma could read, write and speak English (but not French), which was their mother tongue.

The “buildings and land” schedule added that the family lived on Main Street in a 15-room house on three town lots with a total of 80 acres of land. This suggests that they were quite prosperous, since of the 50 households recorded on the same page, there was only one house with more rooms (17). Also, the Chant family was one of only 11 households that owned more than 10 acres of land (many owned none, or only a ½ acre).

Land Registry Records – Newburgh Village

With the address of the property on which the Chant family lived in 1901, I turned to the land registry records for the village of Newburgh and searched the pages referring to the east side of Main Street. I found the property, identified as Lot #4 (originally part of Lots 17 and 18, Concession 1, Camden Township).

Volume one of the abstract index book, which summarizes all the transactions for each property from the first grant of the land by the Crown up to the mid-1950s, shows that Stanley G. Chant purchased the lot on June 30th, 1896, for $600. The next day John B. Aylsworth gave him a mortgage on the property. Stanley repaid the mortgage nine years later. A few months after that, Stanley “sold” the property to his wife Emma, for $1. Two years later, in 1908, Emma sold it for exactly the same price Stanley had paid for it 12 years earlier.

Civil Marriage Records

As Stanley and Emma’s eldest child was born in January of 1895, I guessed that they were likely married in 1893 or 1894.

A quick search of the civil marriage records turned up a match in December, 1893. Their marriage registration provided the information that Stanley G. Chant, a druggist, was 20 years old (if his birth date on the census was correct, he was actually only 19), and living in Tamworth, a tiny village about 12 miles north of Newburgh. His parents’ names were Joseph H. Chant and Mary McKim, and he was born in Thomasburgh, Hastings County (about 15 miles to the west). The bride, Emma B. Aylesworth, was 20 years old, born in Newburgh, to parents John B. Aylesworth and Catherine Bristol. Both bride and groom were Methodists, and they were married by Rev. S.J. Shorey on the 20th of December, 1893 at Newburgh. The witnesses were Geo. Anson Aylesworth and Ida Hope Aylesworth.

Census of 1891

I decided to focus on the Aylesworth family, so my next step was to search the 1891 census for Newburgh. The Aylesworth’s were recorded there, as expected. John Aylesworth, a farmer, was 63 years old. He was born in Ontario, as was his father, but his mother was born in United States. His wife Catherine was 59. She was born in Ontario, as was her mother, but her father was born in the United States. Emma B., age 17, was the only child listed in the household, which was not surprising given their advanced age. Also living with them was John’s widowed mother, Anna. She was 85, born in the United States, with parents from Scotland.

Ontario civil death record for Anna McGillivray Aylesworth, who died July 31, 1892 at the age of 87.
Ontario civil death record for Anna McGillivray Aylesworth, who died July 31, 1892 at the age of 87.
Civil Death Records

A search of the death records for Anna Aylesworth turned up a likely match for John’s mother. Ann McGillivray Aylesworth died July 31, 1892 in Newburgh. She was 87 years and 8 months old. Her place of birth was listed as Albany, New York, and her cause of death was “senility and paralysis”. At the time of her death, she was living on lot 17, concession 2, Camden Township. The information was provided by Geo. Anson Aylesworth, of Newburgh.

I also found death records for John and Catherine. Catherine died first, on the 19th of November 1897. She was 66 years old. Her cause of death was “vascular disease of heart”. Her death was reported by her son Geo. Anson. John Bell Aylesworth died on December 27th, 1921 at the age of 93 years, 11 months and 17 days, of “senile decay” (contributory cause “paralysis/ apoplexy”, what is now called a “stroke”). By this time, death records asked for the names of the deceased’s parents, and John’s were recorded as Job Aylesworth (born Ernestown) and Ann McGillivray (born Albany, New York). His death was reported by his son George Anson.

Land Registry Records – Camden Township

With the address of the Aylesworth’s farm, I went back to the land registry records and examined the abstract index for lot 17, concession 2. This record told me that a J.B. Aylsworth purchased 93 acres in the west half of the property (originally measuring a total of 200 acres) in 1838 for $300. This J.B. was clearly not Emma’s father, who was then only 10 years old.  In 1846 he sold 80 acres to Job Aylesworth (price not recorded). In 1860, Job sold 78 of those acres to John B. Aylsworth (again no price recorded – by this date this likely was Emma’s dad). In 1888, Job Aylsworth sold another 80 acres (which he had purchased back in 1839) to John B. Aylsworth. The last entry in the book is for 1913, at which time it appears that John B. Aylesworth was in possession of at total of 158 acres.

Census of 1881

Given that the land records suggested that the Aylesworths had lived on the same property in Camden Township (part of which was in the village of Newburgh), for many years, I began tracing them through the censuses.

In the census of 1881 I found the Aylesworth family in Newburgh. John B. Aylesworth was 53 and his wife Catherine was 48. With them were Emma, age 7, and Anson, age 24. There was also a 23-year-old English dress maker named Hester Burley. Next door were Job Aylesworth, age 81 and Annie, age 76 (who we know were John’s parents).

Civil Death Records

Searching the death records for the period between the censuses of 1881 and 1891 for Job Aylesworth I found that he died August 7, 1888 at the age of 88. He was a farmer, born in Ernestown (just south of Newburgh). He died of a “paralytic stroke”. The informant was J.B. Aylesworth, his son, who also happened to be the local registrar.

Census of 1871

In the Newburgh census of 1871 I found an extended household including: Job, 71; Ann, 65; John B., 42; Allen B., 16; and Anson, 14. Job, Ann and John are all listed as married, but there’s no sign of John’s wife Catherine. Allen and Anson are both recorded as students, but in the comments column for Allen is says “at Toronto University”. All the men are listed as being born in Ontario, of Welch origin. Ann was born in the United States, and she was “Scotch”. Job and John B. were farmers.

Census of 1861

Another ten years brings us to 1861 when the extended family was already living together, in the township of Camden (in which the village of Newburgh was situated): Job, 61; Anna, 56; John B, 34; Catharine, 30; Allen B., 7; Geo A.B., 4; and Archd R., 23. Job and John B. were farmers; Archibald is listed as a medical student, and it is noted that he was absent from the home, attending school. The whole family lived in a 1 ½ story stone and frame house.

The 1861 census has a detailed agricultural schedule, which provides fabulous information about the farm on which this family made its living. The Aylesworths lived on a 160-acre property on concession 2, lot 17. They had 43 acres under crops in 1860 and 52 acres under pasturage – the rest was either wood or wild. The cash value of the farm was $4,000, with another $160 in implements and machinery and $700 in livestock. Their crops in 1860 included: fall wheat, spring wheat, barley, rye, peas, oats, Indian corn, potatoes, turnips, hay and clover seed. They produced 70 lbs of wool, 200 lbs of maple sugar, 400 lbs of butter, 2 barrels of beef and 3 barrels of pork. They owned 1 bull, 12 steers or heifers under 3 years old, 6 milch cows, 4 horses over 3 years old, 2 colts or fillies, 21 sheep and 11 pigs. They had 3 pleasure carriages, with a total value of $200.

Judging by their ages, and the ages of their children, John B. Aylesworth, and his wife Catherine were likely married in the early 1850s. Unfortunately, civil marriage records for Ontario don’t go back that far, so we won’t find a record of their marriage that way.

Census of 1851

Searching one more census, we find the Aylesworths in Camden Township in early 1852. This time the men are all listed first, then the women. So we get: Job, a farmer, 52, married; John B., a laborer, 25, single; William A., a laborer, 16, single, (attending school); Archibald, a laborer, 14, single, (attending school); Anna, 46, married; Catharine, 20, single; and Mary, 18, single. They all lived together in a 1 ½ storey frame house.

This takes us back as far as we can go with these records.

The Family History Dish

Putting all this information together, we can get quite an illuminating picture of the Aylesworth family over time. We have learned that the earliest Aylesworth ancestor (so far) was Job, who was born about 1800 in the territory then called Upper Canada (now Ontario). He was a farmer and a member of the Wesleyan Methodist church, of English or Welsh origin. His wife, Ann McGillivray, was born in Albany, New York, about 1805. Her parents were both born in Scotland.

In 1839, Job purchased 100 acres of land in Camden Township for $300. However, the previous year a “J.B. Aylsworth” had purchased 93 acres of the same lot (lots in this area measured 200 acres in total), and in 1860 he sold 80 of those acres to Job. So Job and J.B. were likely close relatives. Job and his wife lived on this farm the remainder of their long lives. Job lived to 88; Ann 87. Both likely died of stroke.

Job and Anna had three sons, John B., William and Archibald, and two daughters, Catherine and Mary. Job’s family and that of his eldest son John shared a 1 ½ story home in the village of Newburgh, on their Camden Township property. In 1852 the house was a frame one (all wood), by 1861 it had been upgraded to include some stone. The family made its living by farming, but clearly believed in education as Archibald studied medicine and Allen was attending University in Toronto by the age of 16. John also served as the local registrar.

In 1861 the 160-acre farm was worth $4,000 (a substantial sum at the time), they grew a wide variety of crops, made their own wool, butter and maple sugar, and raised cattle, horses, sheep and pigs. Their affluence was attested to by the fact that they had three “pleasure” carriages.

John Bell Aylesworth was born in 1828; his wife Catherine about 1832. She was the daughter of an American father and a Canadian mother. They were married sometime in the early 1850s, and lived on John’s family farm all their married life Catherine dying in 1897 at the age of 66, John living nearly 94 years. She died of heart disease; he of a stroke.

John and Catherine had three children: Allen B. (born about 1854), George Anson (born about 1856), and Emma (born about 1873). Emma married Stanley Gladstone Chant, a druggist from a nearby village. Two years after their marriage, Stanley purchased a town lot on Main Street in Newburgh, probably next door to Emma’s parents’ (and grandparents’) house. Emma’s father gave them the mortgage that allowed the purchase. Stanley repaid the mortgage nine years later, after he and Emma had moved to the tiny northern logging village of Webbwood with their growing family. Shortly thereafter, Stanley transferred the Newburgh property to his wife, who sold it in 1908.

By 1911, Stanley and Emma had a family of seven children, and Stanley was working 60 hours a week as a merchant in an office in Webbwood earning $1,500/year. He had a second “job” as a lumberman, but hadn’t earned any income that way in 1910.

Ten years later, Stanley and Emma were farming in Darlington Township, a long way away from Webbwood. What had happened to make such a drastic change in 10 years? Stanley’s business went bankrupt and the house burned down — but that’s another story, for which a fourth ingredient, oral history, is required.


Janice Nickerson

Janice Nickerson is a professional genealogist with over 30 years of research experience. Her expertise includes Upper Canadian history, criminal justice records, fur trade history, turning bare bones genealogies into full-fledged family histories, and finding fun ways to share family history finds. In addition to helping her private clients discover the richness of their ancestral heritage, Janice does searches for provincial Public Trustees, writes and lectures on a variety of genealogical topics.

Janice is a proud 8th-generation Canadian, with English, German, Irish, Welsh and Aboriginal heritage.


  1. Brenda

    I paid for a world m’ship. When I research I am asked to upgrade my m’ship. I waited almost one hour to speak to a human. The connection dropped. I’m not patient to do that again. I have snail mailed to Ireland re my subscription issue. Still not resolved!!

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