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Ontario GenWeb Project: Court Records
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Court Records

Please note: The information presented below on Court Records is a brief overview - if you are familiar with Ontario Court Records and can provide more detailed information on using them in genealogical research, please help us out.

What Is It

Court records actually cover many different types of records. Some are profiled below.

At lot of court records came about as a result of a death - did your ancestor leave a will? Did a relative of theirs leave a will and make mention of your ancestor? Did a male ancestor die when his children were under the age of majority? Did your ancestor die as a result of a crime?

Did your ancestor commit a crime? Did they have a crime committed against them? Did they purchase, sell, or transfer land? You won't know if you don't seek out court records!

  • Coroner Records
  • Correctional Records
  • Courts of Quarter Sessions
  • Criminal Justice Records
  • Divorce Records
  • Fire Marshall Records
  • Guardianship Records
  • Supreme Court Records
  • Wills & Estate Files

    How Do I Find It

    Most of these records have been indexed (in both book & microfilm format), and it's easy enough to check the indexes for your ancestor. The problem lies in that some of the court records don't have a province wide index - it's done by district or county (depending upon the year). You'll need to know which district (bef 1858) or county (aft 1858) your ancestor lived in (see research by area). Once you have this information you can start looking.

    How Do I Use It

    As there are many different types of court records they can be used in various ways - to establish family relationships, to give your ancestor a persona (something more than just a name), to give you leads for more research (why did your ancestor sell their land?)

    What Does It Offer

      Coroner Records
        Investigations of suspicious deaths from 1830-1965

      Correctional Records

        Inmate registers (name of inmate, reason for incarceration); Records of those awaiting trial; Those sentenced as adults to two years or less at a provincial correctional facility; Young offenders; Parolees; and those on Probation.

      Courts of Quarter Sessions

        Apprenticeships, Indentures, Tavern Licenses

      Criminal Justice Records

        Investigations undertaken by the Ontario Provincial Police

      Divorce Records

        Prior to 1867 a divorce could only be granted through an Act of Canadian Parliament; from 1867-1931 they were granted by the Federal Parliament and listed in the Canada Gazette (the Canadian government newsletter, archived at the National Archives of Canada); from 1931 divorces were granted by the county or district courthouse where the parties in question lived. Divorce records include the names of both parties, the petition for divorce, date of marriage, and possibly child custody and alimony agreements.

      Fire Marshall Records

        Investigations of suspicious fires

      Guardianship Records: Filed if both parents died before their children were 21, or if a father died before the children were 21

        Began in 1827 with the Guardianship Act - usually filed if children under the age of 21 were left parentless or fatherless (as a mother wasn't considered a 'person' she, or a male relative, would have to file for guardianship of her own minor children if left widowed). These were usually filed with the Surrogate Court.

      Supreme Court Records

        Crown prosecution files including case files and criminal indictments.

      Wills & Estate Files

        From 1793-1858 wills and estate files were filed in two different places. If the estate/property of the deceased was located in one district it was filed with the Surrogate Court, if the estate/property of the deceased was located in more than one district it was filed with the Probate Court. After 1858 all wills and estate files were filed with the Surrogate Court. Wills usually include the name of the deceased, the date the will was written and whomever the deceased dispersed belongings to. Estate files (filed with or without a will) usually included a probate petition, will (if one was written), and an inventory of the deceased's assets. If a person died with assets but without a will a letter of administration was usually filed. In Ontario, wills were usually filed with the Court, but if wills were written solely for the purpose of dispersing land, you will most likely find them filed with land records.

        Wills were generally, but not always, written within five years of a persons demise and filed within one year after a persons death. However, if you don't find the will you are after within a year after a death, check at least five years to see if it was filed late. If a person left a spouse widowed, check the year after the spouse died to see if both wills were filed at the same time. Prior to the 20th century (1900's) women usually did not leave wills, so if you find a female ancestor who left a will chances are she was widowed.

        Wills can be used to make and re-inforce family links. But don't assume that if a child is missing from a will that they were disinherited or deceased. In the case of females, many received their inheritences at the time of marriage so there was no need to name them in the will. Other children may have also received their inheritences before the death of a parent. Also be wary of how relationships were described - "uncle" may refer to a close family friend; "niece" or "nephew" may mean the child of the deceased's sibling, the child of their spouse's sibling, or even the child of a cousin; "step-son" may refer to a son-in-law.

        Be sure to check the wills of cousins, aunts and uncles. You never know whom they left items to, or mentioned in their wills. This information may provide a new lead to a forgotten branch of the family tree.

        In 1859 a central province-wide surname index was created. This makes it very easy to find if, when, and where an ancestor's estate was probated.

    What Does It Look Like

    If you have a scan of an Ontario court record, please consider sending it in to be included as an example.

    Where Can I Find It

    For the most part court records can be found in one of two places - At the Archives of Ontario, or at the local court house where they were filed. Check with the Archives first (a link is provided below to their website that details what records they do and do not have), then check with the local court house (a link is also provided below). Some court records, mostly those prior to 1900, are available on microfilm so check your local LDS Family History Centre.

  • Coroner Records: The Archives of Ontario has records from 1830-1965
  • Correctional Records: The Archives of Ontario has some records from 1832-1986, Adult inmate records 1933-1961 & 1971-1983, Parole & Probation files 1950s-1980s
  • Courts of Quarter Sessions: Available at the Archives of Ontario, but also check local repositories where your ancestor lived
  • Criminal Justice Records: Civil and Criminal records are archived at the Archives of Ontario after 70 years. The Archives does not have files from local police detachments (O.P.P. only)
  • Divorce Records: 1867-1931 published in the Canada Gazette (National Archives); 1931-1978 Archives of Ontario; 1978-onward can be found at the court house where the divorce was filed. An county index is available at the local court house.
  • Fire Marshall Records: 1929-1988 records are available at the Archives of Ontario
  • Guardianship Records: 1827-1921 these records were indexed with the Surrogate Court Records. Available at the Archives of Ontario.
  • Supreme Court Records: At the Archives of Ontario
  • Wills & Estate Files: 1793-20 years ago are archived by the Archives of Ontario. Those that have been microfilmed are also available at LDS Family History Centre's. Wills & Estate Files filed within the past 20 years are available only from the county Surrogate Court. Archives of Ontario has a surname index of surrogate court records filed 1858-1960s.

    Is It Online?

    Finding Ontario court records online is hit or miss. There isn't an organized effort to bring any of these records online. Court records known by OntarioGenWeb to be online are linked below.

    Alternate Resources

  • Adoption Records: After 1921 only
  • Newspaper Records: Local newspapers usually carried information about the goings-on at court.
  • Land Records: Some wills were filed with land records

    Related Material

  • Questions & Answers
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  • Birth Records
        Adoption In Ontario
    Census Records
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        Religion In Ontario
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    Court Records
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        Cemetery Records
        Funeral Records
        Disasters
        Epidemics
    Emigration Records
        To the Red River Valley
        Migration: Out of Ontario
    Immigration Records
        Grosse Île
        Migration: Into Ontario
        Ships Lists
        Petworth Emigration Scheme
        WANTED: Settlers
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        Military Actions
        UE Loyalists: What? Who Were They?
    Miscellany
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        Mental Health Records
        How Gender Influences Work on Wolfe Island, Frontenac Co. Ontario
        Languages In Ontario
        Population
        Newspapers
        Ontario Newspapers: Past and Present
        Ten Ontario Research Tips

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