RC Burial Record and Ontario Civil Registration
If you’re looking for Catholic ancestors, the parish register, if available, will be a very important, and in many cases the most important, source of genealogical information.
Because the RC records typically supply maiden names (of the mother of an infant in the case of a baptism; of both the bride’s and the groom’s mothers in the case of a marriage; and of a married or widowed decedent in the case of a burial), it’s the Catholic parish register that will enable you to most easily and reliably reconstruct your family along both paternal and maternal lines. Moreover, the names of sponsors and witnesses (godparents, marriage witnesses and burial witnesses) can often help shed light on significant (but otherwise poorly document) familial connections. And for Irish Catholic ancestors in the Ottawa Valley area, the marriage records of first- and second-generation emigrants will occasionally supply the name of a county and perhaps even a parish in Ireland (and this even when the priest recording the information was not Irish but French Canadian
All of that said, I think it’s very important to also make use of the civil records, whenever possible. If you’ve found an ancestor’s church burial record, which will typically give you the date of death, the date of burial, the place of burial, and the names of the burial witnesses, don’t assume that you can stop there because you’ve uncovered all relevant information pertaining to that death. If the death took place in Ontario, and after 30 June 1869 (civil registration began 1 July 1869), you should also look for the civil registration (but be aware that it took a good ten to twenty years, if not longer, for anything close to full and complete civil record-keeping). If you have a subscription to ancestry.ca, this search is easily done; and Ontario Deaths, 1869-1947
are now also available free of charge at the LDS FamilySearch Beta site.
For one thing, the civil record will probably (though not always) give you a cause of death, which the Catholic burial record will only rarely do (as best I can tell, the priest might make note of the cause when the death was especially tragic or violent: death by drowning, for example, or death by fire of a young child, or death caused by a particularly dreaded disease such as typhus or smallpox; but notation of the cause of death was by no means required or expected, and not at all according to the standard formula). More broadly, two separate sources of information on the same event (in this case, a death) are always better than one. If you have access to both a church burial record and a civil registration of a death, the one record should be checked against the other, to confirm and perhaps supplement the details.
Hanorah (sometimes “Annie,” sometimes “Nora”) Ryan was born in Ireland (probably Co. Limerick, but this not yet documented) about 1835, the daughter of Michael Ryan and Bridget Lahey (note: this Lahey ancestor, born about 1808 in Carnahalla, Doon, Co. Limerick, is apparently unrelated to my other Lahey ancestors, who emigrated from Ballymacegan, Lorrha, Co. Tipperary to March township, Carleton Co., Ontario [Upper Canada] in the 1820s and 1830s). Hanorah Ryan and her parents and siblings are not found in the 1851 Canadian census, and they don’t show up in the Canadian records until the late 1850s. So they presumably emigrated after 1851, most likely in the early- to mid-1850s, but certainly by 1860.
At some point in the mid-1850s (in Ireland? or in Canada?), Hanorah Ryan married Thomas Benton, who was born about 1831 in Ireland (county as yet unknown, but I’m interested in the civil parish of Doon, which was partly in Co. Limerick, partly in Co. Tipperary). The couple are first found in Pakenham, Co. Lanark, in the 1861 Canadian census, but later (presumably late 1860s) moved to Arnprior, Renfrew Co., where they raised a family of nine children
(eight daughters and one son, with one daughter, Margaret, dying in early childhood).
Hanorah Ryan died 28 January 1879, apparently at the age of 44, and her two death records (Catholic burial record and Ontario civil registration of death) are the only significant records that I am likely to ever find for her (though she is found in the both the 1861 and the 1871 Canadian census returns, as Hanorah Benton, wife of Thomas).
Her Ontario civil death record, somewhat unusually (but understandably, since it was based on the church record), lists her under her maiden name, not her married name. It gives her date of birth as February 1835, but does not provide a place of birth. It does provide a cause of death, though: “Inflammation of the Bowels” (not an especially useful description, admittedly, since it might refer to any number of fatal maladies: colitis? gastroenteritis? something else entirely?). While the occupation of Housewife suggests a married woman, there is no indication of marital status here, and no mention of her married name Benton. Indeed, the death informant was not her husband Thomas Benton, but “A. Chaine — Priest,” who was the parish priest at St. John Chrysostom, Arnprior:
So how do I know that this is my great-great-grandmother Hanorah Ryan, given that Ryan was an extremely common name in Renfrew County, and given that what I’m reading as “Hanorah” in the above record might well be read as “Hannah” (which is how the record is indexed at ancestry)?
The church burial record, from St. John Chrysostom at Arnprior, supplies the missing information which confirms her identity:
Note that the “S” above Hanorah Ryan’s name in the left-hand margin stands for Sépulture, or Burial. The record, in translation from the French, reads as follows:
The thirtieth of January, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-nine, we the undersigned priest of this parish have buried in the cemetery of Arnprior the body of Hanorah Ryan, wife of Thomas Benton, who died the day before yesterday in this parish at the age of forty-four years. Were present Ferdinand Brunet and Thomas Benton, who could not sign. A. Chaine.
By the way, at some point in the early 1880s, Father Alphonse Chaine began a practice that I find interesting, and somewhat charming. Whereas his earlier records were all written in French (his native tongue), he began to switch between English or French, depending on the linguistic background of the parishioner(s) whose baptism, marriage or burial he was recording. For his French Canadian parishioners (roughly half the parish), he continued to use French; for his Irish parishioners (roughly the other half of the parish), he began to use English instead.
In any case, and to recap for emphasis: never be satisfied with just one record when you have access to two (or more, if you’re lucky). In the case of a death/burial, while the civil record was often based on the church record, the two will likely not be identical, and the one may supply details which the other one lacks, and vice versa. This practice of cross checking the records is especially important for female ancestors, of course, given name changes at marriage, not to mention the general paucity of information relating to women pre-twentieth century more broadly.
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