Old publications such as newspapers, tax assessments an city directories are a rich source of genealogical history. Dedicated volunteers around the world are busy digitizing and much information is now available online - free and  both fee-base. Sadly, many records were destroyed both accidently (fire) and intentionally (they could not foresee future interest).  Still lots of amazing reading, though some might require a trip to the archives either physically, or via paid researcher.


Newspapers are a favourite because they let us experience our ancestors daily life and the social norms of the times.  From writing style to what seem like really bad jokes today, newspapers make for a fascinating read and offer a wealth of information in social announcements such as who's visiting town , birthdays, weddings, birthday celebrations etc.   

Assessment Rolls

The annual tax assessment records for the City of Toronto date back to 1834 and contain much useful ancestral information including, name, occupation. salary, religion of the Head of Household as well as details of the property itself (location, value, ownership). The assessments are not available online but microfilm copies can be viewed free of charge at City of Toronto Archives. Visit the City of Toronto Archives site to learn more about what's available and when to visit.  Find Assessment Roll information here.    For areas outside the GTA,  contact your local library. 

Directories and  Voters Lists

Directories and voters lists are similar to a phone book and may include name, occupation and residence of an individual. They are useful as well for spelling of a last name if you are having trouble finding your ancestor on a census document.

Directories are useful for solving spelling variations if you're having trouble finding your ancestor on a census. Voters Lists will confirm name and location and can serve as secondary information to support your find.

Digital Toronto City Directories  Toronto Public Library has digitized all of the Toronto city directories in its collections that were published between 1833 and 1969. 


The Rowsell 1850 Directory covers the City of Toronto and York County but other townships would publish a similar guide.  This Toronto directory is PDF only but it's easy to navigate through the alphabetical list of inhabitant householders in Toronto, Yorkville and the County of York. The list includes the Name, Occupation and Address (sometimes with house number).   It has lots of other useful information including advertising and is an interesting glimpse of life in the mid 19th century.  

The Toronto Reference Library has old published hard copy phonebooks on the shelves for easy access. They are interesting because in the early days, the listing included occupation/place of work.


While searching, keep in mind that many streets have disappeared or been renamed since your ancestor walked the earth. In large cities especially, the street names of the 1800's will not appear on today's city maps making it difficult to pin down exactly where they lived.  In Toronto, for example, Adelaide was Duke, University was College and Simcoe was William. Still other streets are no longer there!  Try to find early local maps of the area (libraries should have them) and compare the area you are interested in to a current map today. Wiki and Google are useful as well. It's usually not too difficult to find the current name. Just something to keep in mind if your search for a street comes up empty. 


This list covers many of the street name changes for Toronto.


British National Archive site offers almost 38 million pages of UK and Ireland newspapers dating back to 1700's. It's a fee based site but prices are reasonable. For about $40 CAD you can search and download 40 pages.  You can search by place, name date etc.  It's a treasure trove of history and well worth the few bucks to explore. 

Our Ontario Newspapers  (now known as Our Digital World) offers view and access to photographs, maps, videos, oral histories, government documents, newspapers and more. It's a good source for finding Community Newspapers by location. That's where the rich day-to-day stuff society stories are found.

Paper of Record is a fee-based (prices are reasonable)  searchable archive of old newspapers from around the world.  Here's a list of newspapers and countries available to date.

Toronto Library Archives - check with your local library if you live outside of Toronto-  offers free access to searchable full-page reproductions of newspapers from the 1800s to the recent past including  The  Globe and Mail 1844 - 2015  and The Toronto Star 1894 - 2016.  Also access on microfilm at the Toronto Reference Library if you don't have a library card.   Both papers are good sources of Social Columns, Obituaries, weddings as well as news.  

Archives Ontario has an extensive microfilmed collection of early Ontario newspapers.  Viewing requires a physical visit but check with them to see if qualifies for inter-loan program.   Ontario Archives Research Guide offers good tips for finding newspapers not in their collection. 

Historical Canadian Newspapers online.    (BGSU University Libraries).  This is a well organized research tool. Includes links to newspapers available online, searchable by province.  Note says the guide is no longer updates as the librarian who maintained has retired.  Seems a shame someone else couldn't take over.

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