Catholic Records, Civil Records, Death and Burial

Death and Burial Records: c. 1857-1861 versus 1882

Or: What a Difference Twenty-Some Years Can Make

Death and Burial of Margaret Jamieson

When Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran, died on 12 July 1882, her death generated two records: a Roman Catholic church burial record; 1 and an Ontario civil death registration, based on the RC burial record.2

Burial of Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran.
Burial of Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran. St. Michael’s, Corkery.
Death of Margret Morin (Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran)
Ontario civil death registration of the death of Margret Morin (Margaret Jamieson, widow of James Moran)

Note the spelling variations for both forename and surnames. In the church record we have Margarette, and in the civil record we have Margret, for the first name that I’ve decided to standardize as Margaret.3

And in the Ontario civil death registration, we have Morin for Moran; while in the church burial record, we have Jameson (and perhaps also Jemeson?) for a surname that her descendants most frequently spell as Jamieson.

And btw, and as noted before, that “Jameson alias Moran” does not mean that my 3x-great-grandmother had been travelling under a false identity, nor that she had been caught up in the cloak-and-dagger world of international espionage. By “alias,” the priest (Fr. O’Malley) just meant “otherwise known as.” So: Jameson (or Jamieson, to her descendants), her maiden or family name, but otherwise known as Moran, her married name.

In any case, and as I’ve mentioned many times before, spelling variations in 19th-century documents are common, widespread, and frequent: if you  approach your family history research with the notion of a “true” and “proper” spelling, you are bound to be baffled and disappointed.

When Did James Moran Die?

Rewind some 20 to 25 years earlier, and what do we find for the death of James Moran, husband of Margaret Jamieson? Well, so far: I’ve found nothing. At best, I can narrow down the year of his death to a window of about four years.

In January 1857, James Moran sold “one hundred acres, more or less” of land to his son Alexander Michael Moran, for the sum of 100 pounds.4 And in the 1861 Census of Canada (Canada West [Ontario], Carleton, Huntley Township), Margaret Moren (=Margaret Jamieson, with Moren for Moran) is listed as a widow (living in the household of her bachelor son Thomas). So James Moran died at some point between January 1857 and early 1861.

There is no civil registration of his death, of course, because civil registration did not begin in Ontario until 1 July 1869. Nor have I discovered a church burial record, though I strongly suspect he is buried at St. Michael’s RC Cemetery, in Corkery, Huntley. Certainly, this is where Margaret Jamieson is buried, according to her church burial record. There is no headstone.

For the first decade or two after its introduction, the civil registration of deaths in Ontario was somewhat irregular and patchy. But still, from 1869 on, there’s at least a decent chance that you’ll find a death record for an ancestor who died in Ontario. And by 1900 or so, the lack of a civil death registration would be more the exception than the rule.

And while Catholic parish registers for the Ottawa Valley area date back to the 1820s and 1830s, the earlier RC records are also somewhat irregular. And this is especially the case for burial records.

As I’ve mentioned before, early Catholics in the area were often served by travelling missionary priests, who might visit an area (often called a “mission,” later to be established as a parish) once every month or two or three, to say Mass and to perform the rites of baptism and marriage and burial. But in those early days, priest-officiated burials were a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. So much depended on timing (of the death, and of the next priestly visit). A baptism could wait until the next time the priest came around (though the Catholic imperative was to baptize an infant as soon as possible after birth, which is why an infant was sometimes baptized at home by a layman or laywoman, and then a priest would later perform a conditional baptism); and a marriage, too, could also wait. But a burial? Basically, when someone had died, he or she had to be buried within a few days, in the presence of a priest or not (ideally with a priest, of course, but a burial could not wait until the padre’s next visit).

For many of my Ireland-to-Canada ancestors who died in the 1840s, 1850s, and early 1860s, I have not yet found a church burial record and I do not really expect to find one. For those who died in the 1870s or 1880s or later, on the other hand, I not only expect to find a record, but am surprised when I cannot discover it (which scenario is very much the exception, and not the rule, for deaths occurring in the final quarter of the nineteenth century).

  1. St. Michael (Corkery, Carleton), Baptisms, marriages, burials 1864-1884, Vol. 4, S. Margarette Jameson alias Moran, p. 147: database, ( accessed 28 March 2013), Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923.
  2. Margret Morin, Ontario death registration 1882: microfilm MS 935, reel 30, Archives of Ontario; database, ( accessed 28 March 2013), Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947.
  3. I doubt very much that she herself adhered to a standardized spelling, that she would have insisted on Margaret or Margarette or perhaps Marguerite (this last a spelling which some of her descendants favour).
  4. Why did James Moran sell rather give this land to his son? More on this in a future entry…

One thought on “Death and Burial Records: c. 1857-1861 versus 1882”

  1. Thanks for explaining why burial records can be spotty. I haven’t worked with too many rural areas, and wouldn’t have thought of people having to wait for a travelling priest. That may explain some of my family’s early records in Ireland. I know their chapel in Killowen, Co. Down, was served from a church in Rostrevor fo a while. I need to go back and look at them in that light.

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