Monday, April 22, 2013

Mystery Monday: The Missing Birth Registration

Albert Desgroseilliers about 1955
Albert Desgroseilliers, about 1955
Albert Desgroseilliers

My maternal great-grandfather Albert Desgroseilliers was baptized on 13 February 1879 in Embrun, Russell County, Ontario.1 According to his baptism record, he was born the previous day, presumably in Embrun, where his parents resided and where his father Pierre was a cultivateur (farmer).2

Civil Registration

I knew that registration of births, marriages and deaths began in 1869 in the province of Ontario, and so assumed I’d find Albert’s birth registration in the “Ontario, Canada Births, 1869-1913” database at Knowing that Desgroseilliers is often misspelled in indexes, I kept my search simple and filled in only three fields: Year: 1879; Gender: Male; and County or District: Russell. There were 236 results, but Albert wasn’t among them.3

I wasn’t worried that I hadn’t found Albert on my first try. I decided to look at the images for Russell County for 1879; since there were only 54 images, it would be an easy task. The section for Embrun begins on image 20 of 54, with entry No. 3 on stamped page 553. I knew this spot was the right place among the images, because the informant was “C. Guillaume / PP [parish priest] / Embrun Russell”. (Father Guillaume served as St-Jacques’ curé from 1875 to 1885.)4

Missing birth registration

I looked through the January births and then the February ones, but couldn’t find my great-grandfather. He should have been between entry No. 18 (Hormidas Gagnon) and No. 19 (Joseph St Amour), based on how he appears in St-Jacques’ parish register. I continued to look through the rest of the February and March entries, but Albert was nowhere to be seen.

Next, I checked all the 1879 entries (on images 20 through 30 of 54 images) in the Division of Russell (where Embrun is located) of the Registration District of Russell [County] and made a list of all the individuals whose births were registered by Father Guillaume.

Once the list was complete, I noticed that Father Guillaume submitted three batches of names to the division registrar for 1879: on March 25, on June 30 and on December 31. The first batch (March 25) was of baptisms that took place between January 1 and March 23. (Although Father Guillaume recorded a child’s date of baptism with a mention of when he or she was born in the sacramental register, it’s the child’s date of birth that is required in the (civil) registration book.)

St-Jacques’ sacramental register

I then made a list of the baptismal entries in St-Jacques’ sacramental register for the same time frame as the district registration entries.5 That’s when I realized there were 39 baptismal entries, but only 35 birth registration entries. The following four names were missing:

• Norbert [aka Albert] Degroseillier (B.16),
• Mary Ann O’Burns (B.21),
• Gédéon Moïse (B.29) and
• Edmond Isaïe Brien dit Durocher (B.32).

What happened?

Why didn’t these four individuals make it into the 1879 registration book for Russell County? These names were located within other pages that had names entered in the sacramental register, so it’s not a case of a skipped page. Both the church register’s and the district registration book’s pages are consecutively numbered. Did Father Guillaume neglect to submit these names or did the division registrar William Loux fail to enter them in the registration books?6 Could it be that a missed step resulted in a disconnect between the priest and the division registrar, or between the division registrar and the next level of government?

Wanting to know more about the early history of the Vital Statistics Act (1869), I downloaded (for a fee) an interesting journal article titled “Ontario’s Civil Registration of Vital Statistics, 1869-1926: The Evolution of an Administrative System” by George Emery.7 I learned that division registrars “recorded vital events on forms provided by the Registrar-General”, and that after 1875, “municipal registrars [communicated directly with] the Registrar-General”.8

However, I’m still curious about what procedures were in place in 1879 for getting birth information from a parish church priest to a division registrar, and from that registrar to the Registrar General of Ontario and eventually to microfilmed holdings.

I also recently learned that original handwritten indexes exist for Ontario birth registrations.9 (I already knew that computer-generated index books existed.) I might have to plan a trip one day to Toronto to consult these originals at the Archives of Ontario.


My goal was to find my great-grandfather’s baptism record and his birth registration. I’m happy that I found at least one of these records. I’m also glad that I did a comparison of the religious and secular registers, because I saw that there was more than one birth entry missing from the county registration book and not just Albert’s.

For now, though, it’s a mystery why Albert is missing from the 1879 Ontario birth registration records.


1. St-Jacques (Embrun, Ontario), parish register, 1877-1883, folio 97 (stamped), entry no. B.16, Norbert Degroseiller [sic] baptism, 13 February 1879; St-Jacques parish; digital image, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923”, FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 April 2013). To access these browsable-only images, follow this path from the FamilySearch homepage: Search > Records > Canada > Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923 > [Browse] > Russell > Embrun > St Jacques > Baptisms, marriages, burials 1877-1883.

2. St-Jacques, parish register, 1877-1883, folio 97 (stamped), Norbert Degroseiller [sic] baptism, 13 February 1879.

3. “Ontario, Canada Births, 1869-1913“, database, ( : accessed 20 April 2013).

4. J.-U. Forget and Elie-J. Auclair, Histoire de Saint-Jacques d’Embrun (Ottawa: La Cie d’Imprimerie d’Ottawa, 1910), 44; digital image, Our Roots ( : accessed 21 April 2013). French-born Jacques-Charles Guillaume was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in July 1859 in Ottawa. He was St-Jacques’ fifth parish priest.

5. St-Jacques (Embrun, Ontario), parish register, 1877-1883, folio 89 – folio 105 (stamped); St-Jacques parish; digital images, “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records, 1760-1923”, FamilySearch ( : accessed 20 April 2013).

6. Division Registrar William Loux signed his name (Wm Loux) in each entry and on the last page for Russell County, which he dated December 31st, 1879.

7. George Emery, “Ontario’s Civil Registration of Vital Statistics, 1869-1926: The Evolution of an Administrative System”, Canadian Historical Review 64 (No. 4, 1983); digital images, University of Toronto Press Journals ( : 21 April 2013).

8. Emery, “Ontario’s Civil Registration of Vital Statistics, 1869-1926”, 478-481.

9. “Finding a Birth Registration - A Pathfinder”, Archives of Ontario ( : accessed 21 April 2013).

Copyright © 2013, Yvonne Demoskoff.

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