Frequently Asked Questions


  • What is Upper Canada? Canada West?   

  • How can I learn more about what life might have been like for my ancestors in Upper Canada?   

  • I am new to genealogy. How should I start tracing my family tree?   

  • Can I trace my family tree on the internet?   

  • I know my ancestor was born in (or lived in) Upper Canada, Canada West or Ontario, but I have no idea where. How do I find a more specific location?   

  • When should I hire a professional to research my family tree?   

  • What are your qualifications?   

  • Can you guarantee that you will find my ancestors?   

  • Can you find living relatives?   

  • What are your fees and how do you determine them?   

  • What methods of payment do you accept?   

  • Can I pay in installments?   


What is Upper Canada? Canada West?

Upper Canada and Canada West are earlier names for what, generally, is considered the southern half of what we now call the Province of Ontario. The boundaries changed over time as the population expanded, but they were never precisely drawn. Surveying and cartography, while relatively well established disciplines at the time, were neither prevalent nor vital when it came to charting the exact boundaries of what was then dense, inhospitable, and for the majority of settlers unimportant terrain in the northern regions, leaving the exact boundaries up for historical debate.

Formed in 1791, Upper Canada was created as a separate province for the United Empire Loyalists and their families. Previous to 1791 the new settlements west of the Ottawa River were part of the Montreal District of the Province of Quebec. This, however, meant that they were subject to French patterns of land ownership and governance (despite being a British Colony since 1763). As the United Empire Loyalists had a strong preference for British institutions, they argued strongly for a new province of their own.

The legal description of Upper Canada was "all that land lying west of the Ottawa River" (Lower Canada - now Quebec - was "all the land lying east of the Ottawa River"). This was a rather loose description; it extended west only so far as Thunder Bay and did not include the land to the north, then called Rupert's Land, which was governed by the Hudson's Bay Company (Rupert's Land consisted of "all the land draining into the Hudson's Bay"). The designations "Upper" and "Lower" referred to the provinces' respective elevations, with Upper Canada being significantly higher than Lower Canada. The settlements tended to follow and remain close to the water routes, as they were the only reliable means of transportation during these early days.

In 1841 Upper Canada was renamed Canada West, and, along with what was formerly Lower Canada (renamed Canada East) became the United Province of Canada. These names were in place until Canadian Confederation in 1867 when Canada West became the Province of Ontario and Canada East became the Province of Quebec. For a series of excellent maps that help show the evolution of these territories and the northward expansion of their boundaries, please see the following Archives of Ontario webpage.



How can I learn more about what life might have been like for my ancestors in Upper Canada?

First, you can read excerpts from first-hand accounts of life in Upper Canada here.

Next, I have provided a handy reading list of published first-hand accounts that you can take to your local library. Depending on where you live, your local library may have a great deal of material on the history of Ontario, Canada West, and Upper Canada, or very little. Wherever possible, you should also try to read local histories for the area where your ancestors lived, and biographies of people who lived in that place and time. If your local library doesn't have many publications about Ontario, ask about interlibrary loan. Most libraries will borrow books from other libraries for you to use.

Finally, you can learn about life in Upper Canada by visiting museums. There are a great many museums in Ontario, some of which offer "living history" demonstrations. You can find names, addresses and visiting information by searching the Virtual Museum website.



I am new to genealogy. How should I start tracing my family tree?

Always begin with what you know for sure. In some cases, this may mean starting by getting a copy of your own full birth certificate that gives the full names of your parents and where and when you were born. Then you move to your parents. Find out when and where they were married and get a certificate, if you can. Then search for their birth certificates, and so on.

If you are not already the oldest living person in your family, make it a point to visit, or at the very least telephone or write to all of your older relatives, as soon as you can. Ask them to tell you everything they can about your ancestors. Don't push too hard for exact dates, but if they know them, that's great. Ask especially about places your ancestors have lived, occupations, religion, and military service. Make sure you make careful records of who you talked to, when, and what they told you. If you can use a tape recorder, do so. You can transcribe it later, but in the meantime you'll have a permanent record of their voice and story telling!

Ask everyone you can if there are any old documents, papers, letters, diaries, photographs or heirlooms in their possession. If at all possible, arrange to make copies or take photographs of these items for your files.

Next, you should visit your local library and borrow a few genealogy guidebooks. You'll probably want one all purpose guidebook, and one that specializes in each country or region where you may be researching. Read through these guidebooks thoroughly. They will introduce you to all kinds of records and techniques that I can't possibly cover here!

Finally, join your local genealogy society. There you will find lots of like-minded folks who can help you along the way.



Can I trace my family tree on the internet?

The internet is a wonderful medium for sharing information and there are a huge number of genealogy related websites - enough to boggle the mind! Each of these sites probably has something useful to offer, but none of them will have your family tree unless one of your own relatives has put it there!

You may find websites that provide information about your ancestors (either for free or as part of a subscription), but be sure to carefully assess the source of this information before you trust it. It is a good research practice to always keep track of where and when you obtained your information. In internet research, this means keeping the URL (the address at the top of your screen), and the details of who owns the site and where they got the information. As internet information will always be a secondary source, you are well advised to try to examine the original source of the information, if at all possible. For example, if you find a transcript of a census page, see if your local library can borrow the microfilm of the original handwritten manuscript census for you. This way you can make sure that the person who transcribed the records didn't make a mistake, or miss something important!

For a list of quality websites that provide useful resources for research in Upper Canada, please see my links page.

Finally, no matter how much information there is available on the internet, it will never be all that there is. Archives, libraries, churches, court houses and cemeteries will always have vast stores of additional records and information that may help you learn about your ancestors! So don't despair if you can't find it on the internet.



I know my ancestor was born in (or lived in) Upper Canada, Canada West or Ontario, but I have no idea where. How do I find a more specific location?

First, ask all of your living relatives if they have any information or clues that might help. Maybe they will remember a story about someone going to visit a cousin in Toronto, or London or Ottawa. There may be an old newspaper clipping in someone's scrapbook that holds the information you need.

Next, exhaust all the records for your ancestor in the place where he or she lived after moving away from Ontario. Look especially for biographical write-ups in local histories, newspaper obituaries, newspaper marriage announcements, Catholic church records of baptisms (of their children) and marriage, and gravestone inscriptions.

If these efforts fail, then you need to look for province-wide records with indexes. There aren't many of these, but here's a few to start with:



When should I hire a professional to research my family tree?

There are many reasons to hire a professional researcher. Here are just a few:

  • You want to learn about your family history, but you don't want to do it yourself.

  • You're short on time.

  • You live too far away from the relevant library or archive.

  • You don't feel confidant about doing research in this particular location, type of record or time period.

  • You've been researching your family history for a long time, and now you're stuck.

With 25 years of research experience, I can quickly determine which sources are most appropriate for your objective, thus saving you hours of time and frustration. My expertise allows me to accurately interpret difficult records such as those written in old script or "legalese". I have access to many records that are difficult to research from a distance, including my own exclusive indexes. Genealogical research is my passion and every new family tree is an exciting challenge, so solving your puzzle is not just a job for me, it is what I love to do!



What are your qualifications?

  • Over 25 years experience

  • More than 450 clients served

  • Experienced in Canadian, American and British research

  • My own family tree has over 2200 names including 121 direct ancestors (including United Empire Loyalists, Fur Traders, Native Canadians, and English, Irish, German settlers)

  • Regular contributor to Family Chronicle, Internet Genealogy and Your Family Tree magazines

  • Author of the following genealogical studies:

    Women and Property in a Nineteenth Century Ontario County

    Ethnic Identity Among the Nineteenth Century Descendants of Hudson's Bay Company Fur Traders

    The Chant Family History, or descendants of Robert Chant (1758-1836) of Somerset, England

  • Author of the following genealogy how-to guides:

    Money-savings tips for genealogists

    Thirty-one ways to discover your immigrant ancestor's origins

    How to locate an ancestor in Ontario, Canada West or Upper Canada

  • Master of Arts, anthropology

  • Member of the Association of Professional Genealogists

  • Past Chair of the Ontario Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists



Can you guarantee that you will find my ancestors?

No. Unfortunately, the nature of historical research prevents me from being able to guarantee specific results. In order to find records of your ancestors, they first have to have been created (someone had to write it down), then they have to have been preserved (not lost or destroyed), then they have to have been placed in some kind of relevant repository (usually an archives), and finally they have to be open for access (not restricted by the government or some other agency). Amazingly, even with all these potential problems, most people's ancestors can be successfully traced back at least four generations (generally back to 1800).

I can guarantee that I will search diligently and that all of the information I provide will be accurate, thoroughly documented, and fully explained.



Can you find living relatives?

Locating living relatives can be very difficult. Much depends on how common the surname of the family is, whether the family owned property, and whether the descendants you are looking for remained in Ontario. If you are interested in having this kind of research done, please contact me by email with the details of your specific situation, and I'll be happy to provide a free assessment of what I can do for you.



What are your fees and how do you determine them?

My fees are based primarily on the amount of time required to complete the research. This includes time spent analyzing the research problem, developing a research plan, ordering records, scanning/searching/reading microfilms, making photocopies, and preparing reports. My hourly rate is $50. I believe this a very competitive rate for the services and expertise I have to offer.

On my research page, I provide a list of individual record searches that I can do for specific flat rates and descriptions of my three types of research plans. In these cases, the fees are set and include photocopying and mailing costs. If you prefer to pay by the hour, I am happy to work that way, in which case incidental expenses will be billed separately. The research plans are popular because they offer predictability (you know exactly what your total cost will be) and extra value (no time is wasted reviewing previous stages of research and additional elements such as charts, maps and narrative summaries are included).



What methods of payment do you accept?

Either personal check/cheque or money order is fine.



Can I pay in installments?

Yes. If the total fees will be more than $200, you only need to pay 50% up front, as a deposit. You will be sent an invoice for the remainder with your final research report.



Upper Canada Genealogy © 2001-2013   Last Updated 6 October 2013