Back to School

A one room school house at Westfield Heritage Village.

A one room schoolhouse at Westfield Heritage Village in Rockton, Ontario.

Ever wonder how smart your ancestors were? Were they good students? How far did they go in school? Or did they teach?

Now that September is here and it’s back to school time, I got wondering about what school records were available for family historians.

The Archives of Ontario offers a research guide to accessing “Teacher and Student Records”.

The Saskatchewan One Room School Project is a great example of a unique genealogy find! If you know where your relatives lived in Saskatchewan, it provides a list of one room schools and their geographical area. It speaks to the history, plus how war and the depression affected education. They also provide a number of links to one room schoolhouse resources in other parts of Canada.

"Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today" ― Malcolm XA Virtual Schoolhouse is an interesting history lesson on education in Canada. It takes you as far back as the 1840s, up to the early 1900s. It’s hard to imagine a time when not everyone went to school or were fortunate enough to learn how to read and write.

I didn’t find too much on actual school records and report cards, but there are some interesting school-related sources out there. These sites help to put a bit of context and history into a time when our ancestors may have been students in school.

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A Look at Church Records

This spring my daughter celebrated her First Holy Communion. It got me thinking about church records.

Hands in prayerLocal churches can contain a lot of valuable genealogical information. Some parish registries may contain baptism and marriage certificates, in addition to death and cemetery records.

If you are fortunate enough to track your family tree back several generations, you may find there are limited official documents available.

Many birth, marriage and death records before 1867 (when Canada officially became a country) can only be found in the documents kept by church officials, according to’s research on Canadian Church Records.

According to the wiki, Canadian provinces began recording vital records as early as the 1860s, and as late as the 1920s. Taking into account where your ancestors lived, you can find out how early their province began keeping track of birth, marriage and death information. Plus, the wiki offers a provincial link to tell you what records are available, and if they can be accessed on-line.

Bible and rosaryThe article “The Three R’s of Researching Roman Catholic Church Records” gives some helpful, detailed advice. And the Ontario Genealogical Society offers a number of links to various religious resources.

If you’re not sure what parish or faith your ancestors may have belonged, Church Records: Genealogical Clues offers interesting historical information that explains what religion people from certain ethnicities tended to belong.

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Libraries: Keepers of Local History

I recently attended a family history workshop at my local library. I was amazed at all of the resources that are available there. Many genealogy resources are being digitized and are only a click away on your home computer, but libraries preserve countless valuable historical documents that are not yet available electronically.

Libraries contain a wealth of information

A library is the delivery room for the birth of ideas, a place where history comes to life. Norman CousinsLibraries may offer unique documents that could provide some clues to help fill in your family tree, or give you a better understanding of the area where your ancestors lived.

The main branch of the Hamilton Public Library has a “Local History and Archives” department that offers historical records and photos including:

  • Local newspaper archives
  • Old city maps (with land owner names)
  • Local city directories – includes names, occupation and home street address, as well as businesses and organizations
  • Vital statistics from Archives of Ontario and some original vital statistics from local townships
  • Newspaper announcements (for birth, marriage and death notices) and even a church’s baptismal records
  • Census records for Ontario from 1871, 1881 and 1901
  • Old tax assessment records (to date buildings and find an original owner)
  • Funeral home records
  • Cemetery records and maps (including tombstone transcription with names and dates, and plot location)
  • Newspaper clippings (even organized by a person’s name or a category such as ‘murder’)
  • Old photos of streets and houses
  • Limited military records
  • Some of the Hamilton Chapter of the Ontario Genealogical Society’s resources and research

At the library they even let you access the library edition for free!

Consider looking up the nearest library close to where your family lived, especially if they lived in one place for a long time and owned property in the area.

Libraries have always seemed magical to me. You walk into a library and suddenly you have access to the greatest thoughts and words from every period of human history. Hours of discovery await you.  Anne MackinLook online where the main branch is located, and see if they have a local historical department. Before heading out, call and find out how their process works, hours, parking, fees for photocopying, etc. Also see if anyone is available to help access the records. They are probably too busy to do the research for you, but would be helpful in searching through the available resources, or pointing you in the right direction.

Although larger libraries may offer a full local history department, smaller rural libraries may also house the area’s local history.

Even if you cannot uncover specific details on your own ancestors, your research may reveal details about the community and what it was like when your ancestors lived there. The local histories can provide you with a good sense of what the area was like, how affluent it was, what kinds of businesses operated there, and even fill you in on the news of the day.

Quotes found at: BrainyQuote and Library Quotes.


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In the Blink of an Eye

Kids, they literally grow up right before your eyes.

My daughter when she turned one year old.

My daughter when she turned one year old.

Babies especially grow and develop in such a short time. It’s really incredible how much they change. In those few short months and years they are constantly growing, and start to reveal their own personalities.

Today my oldest daughter celebrates her 8th birthday.

When I look back at the past eight years I am amazed that she is now becoming an independent girl. She is sweet, smart, considerate and thoughtful. I have been very fortunate that she has always been a good kid.

Of course she has her moments, and as she gets older many “little” things become a “big” deal; but for all the drama there are many proud moments.

She is full of optimism, energy and hope. Her innocence reminds me that the world is full of possibilities:

Children quote

Happy Birthday Allison!

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Who’s In The Photo?

I think these are my great-grandparents, but the farm does not look familiar. I'll have to talk to my parents about where this photo was taken.

I think these are my great-grandparents, but the farm does not look familiar. I’ll have to ask my parents about where this photo was taken.

I came across a box of my grandpa’s old family photos. Some faces are familiar, but many are not. And most have no date recorded.

My only clues come from inside the faded black and white photos. I can see hints of clothing styles, old-model cars and a different way of life.

What can we do when there are no names or dates on old family photos?

If there is no one around to ask, how do you know who is in the image, where and when it was taken and if it was a special occasion?

Some suggestions include looking at:

  • Familiar faces: Is there anyone you recognize? If so you can try to guess their age based on other photos you may have.
  • Background: Is there anything that can tell you where they are? Old buildings, a familiar house, street corner, or a tourist spot.
  • Body language: Is it a formal portrait, or a fun family get-together? Sometimes personalities come through in images too.
  • Date stamps or writing on the back. If you get lucky you may come across a photo with a month and year stamp, this could help to date others if it was together with similar photos (and the photos seem to be well organized).
  • Is there anyone around that may know who some of these people are? Perhaps relatives or family friends may be able to shed some light.

The article 5 Steps for Identifying People in Old Family Photographs  offers some helpful advice on dating photos – all from looking at the actual type of photo to estimating the decade based on clothing and hair styles.

I came across the article Interpreting Old Family Photos as a Source of Genealogical Information. It offered some advice and suggested making up your own story of what may be happening in the photo. By looking at mannerisms and body language you can make some guesses, one is if people are related or married.

The fact is that we may never really know who’s actually in the photos.

I think the lesson for us is to try and keep our own photos in order for future generations!


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Map It Out

Maps, we can’t find our destination without them. But they can also be helpful when figuring out where our ancestors lived.

Maps Assist With Genealogy Research

Maps can provide clues as to the size of town our ancestors lived, the county name and the surrounding communities. Knowing the right county can help in your search for local records.

This Atlas of Canada map compares how “Canada” as a country changed its boundaries between 1763-1949. Contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada.

This Atlas of Canada map compares how “Canada” as a country changed its boundaries between 1763-1949. Also available as a PDF file. Contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence – Canada.

Try to find historical maps from the era of your ancestors – this will show you what the different boundaries looked like at the time. Municipal and territorial lines change, so older maps could provide clues on where to find other family records.

British Isles physical map. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

British Isles physical map shows elevated areas, forests, swamps and even coalfields. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Maps can also show the terrain. Take into account the physical features of the area – mountains, rivers, lakes. Plus maps often illustrate where churches, cemeteries and schools are located. Looking at these landmarks in context of where ancestors lived may reveal other nearby towns that could store important family documents.

There are even historical land ownership maps that can show the parcel of land and who owned it. If you are fortunate enough to come across one, be sure to look around at the other names too because families may have lived close to one another. I came across an old survey map from before my grandparents owned the family farm – it contained many familiar last names from in the community.

Central Europe in 1812. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Central Europe in 1812 – a very different landscape. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.



I have come across many map resources on different government and library websites. Try doing a Google search on the area you are interested in. Try searching for the city’s archive or library – they may have old records and maps available.

Here’s some more information to get you started:


Using Maps in Genealogical Research is an informative article about how to use maps and what kind of information you can discover.

Canadian Map Resources:

Ontario Map Resources:

World & European Maps

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Five Short Years

My youngest daughter turns five today.

She has been counting down the days for a week, and has been telling every person she meets that her birthday is coming up. Now, the day is finally here.

Birthday’s as a kid are so exciting – an entire day to celebrate you!

My daughter was born five years ago today. It's amazing how much they grow and change in five short years!

My daughter was born five years ago today – she has grown and changed so much in five short years!

Cake, presents, streamers and balloons – little things to show her she’s special and to mark the day she was born.

As a child you can’t wait to grow up. The days and months seem to take forever to go by. Then at some point all that changes. As we get older we better understand the concept of time. I think you really notice it when you become a parent; suddenly there never seems to be enough hours in the day, and the days and weeks quickly add up to years.

You stop counting your own age and at times even forget how old you really are! Not for kids, they have it down to the nearest fraction: “I’m seven and a half”.

Birthday’s look very different through the eyes of a child – I’m glad we get to relive these great moments once again through our own children.

Enjoy-the-little-things quote

Happy 5th Birthday Lauren!

Quote found at: The Gypsy Nester and made with Quozio.
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