A death record would be a death registration or death certificate.
Death registrations are recorded at, or just after, the time of death by an 'informant'. Historically the informant was usually a family member or doctor.
Death certificates are copies of death registrations issued by the government. For genealogical purposes if you have a death registration you don't necessarily need a copy of the certificate. However, if you do need one, they can be purchased from the Office of the Registrar General (link below). Be sure to order a genealogical certificate as the other certificates are shorter and don't include all the information available on the registration (i.e. they may only offer name, date & place of death).
Below is information on how to obtain a death registration. Death certificates are only available through the Registrar General's Office for a fee.
Where you'll find the death registration you're seeking depends on the year of death...
In the early days of settlement in Upper Canada, deaths weren't registered by the Government. To find a record of death, if there is one to find, you will have to use alternate resources (see below).
1869 – 72 years ago
In 1869 The Vital Statistics Act was passed requiring all deaths, marriages & deaths to be registered with the provincial government*. Even though this Act was enacted in 1869, it wasn't enforced until the 1880's. Therefore, the records for the first twenty or so years of registration are not complete. Unfortunately you won't know if your ancestor was, or wasn't, registered unless you undertake a search of death registrations.
72 years ago - present day
*The provincial government was that of Ontario, not Canada. Therefore, if you're seeking information on vital statistics you would inquire at the provincial (Ontario) level, not at the national (Canada) level.
Under privacy laws all deaths registered within the past 72 years remain in the custody of the Office of the Registrar General. They are not available for public search. (See 'Where Can I Find It?' below for more).
Death registrations from 1869 onward have been indexed. 1869-1895 registrations were indexed at the same time. Therefore, you can look at the "S" microfilm and see an index of all registrations that begin with the letter "S" for the years 1869-1895. This isn't the case for all letters though (the letter "M" is spread out over 7 microfilms with 1880, 1882, and 1883 each indexed on their own!)
Registrations after 1895 were indexed individually. The index to 1896 is one microfilm with all surnames A-Z. The same with 1897, 1898, and so on.
The index will give you the following information:
Name is the name of the deceased
Sex: M (Male) or F (Female)
M: Refers to the month of the death
D: Refers to the day of the death
Y: Refers to the year of the death
REG: Is the registration #
Year: Is the year the death was registered (not always the year of the death)
||Place of Event
|BROWN John Robert
Once you have this information, you would take the Registration # and the year of Registration and locate which microfilm you need to view the actual registration. The Archives of Ontario website will help you with this (see "Finding A Death Registration" in the links below). It also gives an explanation of the indexes and how to use them.
Things to remember:
Death registrations only verify information about the death that took place (Name of deceased, date of death, place of death, etc). They do NOT verify birth or marriage information. Take the age of the deceased as a pointer only (obtain a birth record for proof of birth date) - remember that the deceased was no longer able to provide correct information about themselves!
Spelling! Variations, incorrect spelling, phonetic spelling, etc. Check all possible spelling variations of the name you're seeking. Also keep in mind that some names are out of order (not alphabetical). If you're seeking SMITH, check all the "S" surnames.
Human Error! These indexes were created by people and are subject to human error. A registration may have been accidentally skipped; i.e. just because it's not in the index, doesn't mean there isn't a registration.
Late registration! Not every death was registered immediately. If you don't find the person you're seeking in the year you believe they died, check the index for the next year. The death may have been registered the following year.
If you don't find the registration you're seeking in the year you think it should be, check a ten year period of five years before and five years after.
Name of Deceased - 1869+
Age - 1869+
Birth Date - 1909+
Birth Place - 1869+
Burial Date - 1920+
Burial Place - 1915+
Cause of Death - 1869+
Death Date - 1869+
Death Place - 1869+
Father's Birthplace - 1909+
Father's Name - 1909+
Informant's Name & Residence - 1869+
Informant's Relation to Deceased - 1920+
Marital Status - 1897+
Medical certificate of death - 1909+
Mother's Birthplace - 1909+
Mother's Maiden Name - 1909+
Name of Physician - 1869+
Occupation - 1869+
Race - 1909+
Religion - 1869+
Residence (Address) - 1897+
Residence (Length at) - 1920+
Sex - 1869+
Keep in mind that these registrations are COPIES of the original. At the end of each year any deaths registered would be copied into a book and sent off to the government. This book is what was microfilmed and made available for you to search. So there may be transcription errors.
The examples below show an example of the vital statistics index and different death registrations. By clicking on the examples you will see a larger version with one registration highlighted.
The example from 1870 has six registrations per page.
The example from 1902 has registrations in list form, two pages wide, and had room for twenty-eight registrations per double page (the example on the left is page one, the example on the right is the continuation).
The example from 1923 has three registrations per page.
|1902, Page 1|
|1902, Page 2|
If you have an Ontario death registration that is different from these examples, please consider sending it in to be included as an example.
1869 – 72 years ago, registrations & indexes have been microfilmed and are available for viewing at:
Archives of Ontario
Any institution (i.e. Library) that subscribes to Inter-Institutional Loan (not just in Canada! Ask at your local library or genealogy society)
LDS Family History Centres worldwide
Anyone can apply for a copy of a death record BUT registrations of deaths within the past 72 years are not available unless...
you are next-of-kin (proof is required)
The executor (proof is required)
To apply for a death registration from 1938 or later, you must fill out a form and send it to the Office of the Registrar General (form & address available at this link)
Each year, usually in May or June, the Archives of Ontario releases the death registrations of those who died 72 years ago.
Registrations from 1869-1938 (overseas deaths to 1947) are now online at Ancestry.ca (subscription required). There are also several free access volunteer projects that have transcripts of Ontario death registrations online (see links below), but it's hit or miss.
Church Records (While burial records are rare, church minutes, newsletters, and bulletins also made mention of deaths. Also check minister's journals - did your ancestor receive last rites?)
Coroner's Records (Did your ancestor die in a suspicious or unusual manner?)
Funeral Home Records
Vital Statistics Forms
Questions & Answers