Church records of baptism, marriage and burial are an important source of genealogical information, particularly for years prior to the beginning of civil registration. The religious affiliation of individuals is usually indicated in census records.
Locating Canadian church records is very challenging. Over time, people living in Canada have belonged to a large number of church denominations, which have often re-organized, merged, split or disappeared.
Record-keeping practices have also varied considerably, and many records have been destroyed by fire, flood, mould, mice and other catastrophes. Surviving records may be in the custody of individual churches, church archives, or public archives.
The organization and holdings of church archives vary greatly. Hierarchical denominations, such as Roman Catholic and Anglican, recognize the Pope or Crown as the ultimate authority, and have a structured organization, in which authority carries down to archbishops, bishops, and the individual parish priest. Hierarchical denominations keep excellent and continuous records.
Congregational denominations generally take responsibility for their own activities, and join together in co-operative arrangements (e.g. conferences, synods, councils) to manage affairs that go beyond the small unit. These denominations sometimes split over theological differences. The quality of their records depends on the individual sect, minister or congregation.
While churches generate many kinds of records, those of interest to genealogists are primarily registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials.
For a general guide to researching Canadian church records, see Ryan Taylor's Researching Canadian Religious Records.
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