The Printed Word

Newspapers, Directories, Books , Tax Assessments

While searching the book, keep in mind that spelling of your name almost 1000 years ago  will likely be very different. 

Landowner search

The Domesday Book was commissioned in December 1085 by William the Conqueror  who invaded England in 1066.

The first draft was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties south of the rivers Ribble and Tees (the border with Scotland at the time).


Old newspapers or other publications are the richest source of genealogical information available.  

While government documents such as assessments and censuses tell us where our ancestors lived, the value of their house and what they did for a living, newspapers, diaries, first hand remembrances and historical books bring our family's past to life with detailed stories of their everyday existence.

Much information is available online and more is added everyday. For newspapers in particular, accessing the information will likely involve a trip to the archives or library but that's fun too.  

One could get lost in time reading about the politics of the day, who's who in social columns, the current fashions and the fascinating gadgets in the advertisements of old publications.  

Historical Canadian Newspapers Online  

Great listing of all Canada newspapers accessible online.  SEARCH

Our Ontario Community Newspapers

Over 2.2 million items and collections from libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, community groups, and government ministries.   SEARCH


Many old emigrant letters have been transcribed and are available on line.

Transport yourself back to early times and listen to their voices as they talk about their lives.

These were very different times and often tough choices had to be made. Death was everywhere.

Clearly, our ancestors were strong and determined to succeed or we wouldn't be here today. The letters are a window into the hardships they endured creating this great country. 


The Petworth Emigration Project

The Petworth research study covered the 1830's and was a joint venture with England and Ontario.  Lots of great information as well as personal letters.  Well worth the read.

Sample excerpt From letter William Baker wrote to his mother - 

Dear Mother,

I am very sorry to do, as I have done. When I left Montreal, I left my sister very ill; little thought but I should see her again. Not but what I am satisfied, she was done as well by, as if I was there; for Henry attended to her, both night and day, while we was aboard the ship, and so he did afterwards, to all account...   Wm. Baker

Property Tax Assessment Rolls

Assessment rolls were created for property tax purposes and contain much useful information for your family tree such as name, occupation, salary, religion. It will show the address, value and ownership of the property which helps in other searches such as Land Records.

Archives of Ontario maintains early municipal records on microfilm which qualify for Inter-loan service. See the listing of microfilms and content by District/County here.

Toronto (and amalgamated areas) assessments are available on microfilm at the City of Toronto Archives, at 255 Spadina Road across from the Dupont subway station. 

1853 Assessment Roll Excerpt

Walton Directory 1837

City Of Toronto and Home District Commercial Directory and Registry

Directory and Voter Lists

A county, city or township published directories that included information about the area, sitting government, post office, carriage times and other information vital to the inhabitants daiy-to-day living.

The directory included an alphabetical listing of residents including their name, occupation and sometimes address.  

Directories are useful for solving spelling variations if you are having trouble locating an ancestor on a census document.  

Voters lists will give you a name and location; not really useful except as a secondary evidence perhaps.

Drawback is that sometimes only commercial residents were listed and farmers were excluded.

Historical Directory Sources

The  Directories Chart at the Toronto Branch of the OGS is an easy access tool that takes you directly to the selected online directory.  

DID YOU KNOW... many streets have disappeared or been renamed since our ancestors walked the earth.

In large cities especially, the street names of the 1800's will not appear on today's maps making it more difficult to pin down a specific address.  

In Toronto, for example, Adelaide was Duke, University was College and Simcoe was William.

Still other streets are no longer here.

Try to find old maps that show the street you are interested in and overlay on current map.  Old fire maps are useful as are local libraries.  

It's usually not too difficult to pin down the spot. Just keep in mind that if your search for an address is coming up empty, this is likely why. 

If you're still having trouble finding a Directory, check with the local Genealogy Branch listed on the Maps and Counties page.


Newspapers are a rich source of genealogical information. Day-to-day social announcements such as visits, birthdays, weddings and obituaries offer muchpersonal information on family members and their history.  

Archives Ontario - Newspapers

Archives Ontario has an extensive collection of early Ontario papers on microfilm but lack copies of many of the smaller town papers which are usually stored at the local library.  A quick email to the library will tell you where the microfilms are located. While a library search is free, you will need to visit in person to view the microfilms and it's wise to book an appointment ahead as the smaller libraries have only one microfilm reader available and they limit user time.  

The Archives Guide to Newspaper Holdings lists items also free and can viewed any time during regular Archive hours. 

Newspaper name unknown?

If you do not know the name of the newspaper you need for research, email the local library. They can tell you the name and where the microfilms or hard copy are stored.  Often, if you can provide a date, they will look up an article for you and either email or snail mail. 

Bruce County Museum Online Collections  Find and purchase content.  Adding of content is ongoing 

Our Ontario Newspapers offers a free searchable (and growing) database of over 200 years of Ontario Community Newspapers.

Paper of Record is a searchable archive of old newspapers from around the world.  A paid membership is required to search their database.

Here's a link to Nova Scotia Historical Newspapers available online Search

Online newspapers for Saskatchewan.  Search

Both the Star and Globe are available online in a searchable full page format.  Access online is free but requires a library membership for log-in. If you don't have a library card, both papers can be viewed free at the Toronto Reference Library and other branches.

Ask your local library if they have subscribed to the service. Library cards are free and a great tool for at home comfort while browsing the newspapers of the past.

Historical Books

Stories written by people who actually lived in the day offer a rich account of life in the 1800's.

Published letters, diaries and books make that world come alive.  Whether written by an ancestor or total stranger, the accounts of the day are a fascinating read. 

A wonderful source of personal histories is the Tweedsmuir Collection, a local community history book that captures and preserves life in early times.  

Here's a link to some Tweedsmuir Digital collections.  They are a wonderfully rich source of early history and stories of pioneer times.  Search Women's Institutes of Ontario 

Check here for Women's Institute chapters across Canada   FWIC 

Usually in scrapbook form, the books include hand written remembrances from local residents, family lore, photographs and old newspaper clippings combining to offer rich detail of the town's early days.

Most Ontario communities have a Tweedsmuir History Book. Check the areas local library or Ontario Geological Society Branches.  

Here are two 'Tweedsmuirs' that may be of interest. Note the handwritten stories of family lore and memories.  These scrapbooks offer a rare window to the past and are a true treasure. Check with the local library. For some areas, the books are fully accessible online.

The Yellow Briar


The Yellow Briar by Patrick Slater  (pseudonym of Toronto lawyer  John Wendel Mitchell) 1880 - 1951 is set in the mid 1800's and based on Mitchell's ancestors.

Written in novel form, it is a riveting tale of Irish life in the Canadian countryside (Ontario). The book is available in hardcopy from reference library or Google eBook  where you can preview the book.

Roughing it in the Bush 

Roughing it in the Bush by Susannah Moodie (1803-1885) is a fascinating first handaccount of her life after emigrating from England to Upper Canada  in 1832.  The trials and tribulations of early pioneer life are brought to life with her vivid account of the times.  

These books are chosen for their rich history but there are many, more wonderful first hand accounts of early Upper Canada pioneer life in both print and digital formats.

Check with the library in the area you are researching for publications of local interest.

Many towns and counties undertook special projects for their centennial where old photos and personal accounts have been aggregated.

You may find your family included!