Uncover Your Family History with Online Genealogy Tools
A bit of honesty at the start: genealogy is not my area of expertise. And when I say “not my area of expertise,” I really mean that my knowledge of genealogical research fits neatly within a single sentence. I know nothing.
This is a chance for us to explore databases and resources together and learn a bit more about where to begin researching our genealogy. Luckily, I already have a good idea where a large section of my family tree begins and that’s with Christian Warner (1754-1833), a distant relative going back many generations.
Using Christian Warner as a starting point, let’s see how easy it is to use these databases to research one’s genealogy.
Ancestry Library Edition
With records from Canada, the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Ancestry Library Edition is the biggest resource you can use for free with a library card. There is one catch: it's only available on library computers.
Knowing the exact name and year of birth for Christian Warner, I’m able to quickly access a full family tree for him, including records, sources and links to other sites with further information. I already learned one thing: Christian’s father was Johannes Wanner, not Warner. This confirms the rumour I had heard about an earlier Germanic origin of the last name.
There are even images of Christian’s grave and a historical plaque. The family tree shows the names of Christian’s children, which I can use to continue this research exercise further. However, Ancestry Library Edition does not allow users to create their own family tree.
This massive collection in Canadiana Héritage has about 40 million digitized primary-source documents from Canada’s large library of historical records. The amazing thing is that you can search for names and find exact pages or documents, which means research can take minutes and not hours or days.
For example, I searched for one of Christian’s daughters, Elizabeth, and found this land grant under her name:
The sibling database to Canadiana Héritage, Canadiana Online, contains government publications, books, periodicals, newspapers and similar sources.
Having a hard time reading the fine print in old newspapers? The documents are searchable by keywords, so that Ctrl+F will be your best friend!
In my continued search for Christian Warner’s children, not much is known about Mary Fox (née Warner). There are a number of results for both names, but nothing in the Niagara area. Did she and her husband move to Quebec or the Maritimes? It would take more time than I currently have to research that question, but it’s one area to investigate further.
Fold3 has access to military records, photos and personal documents starting with the Revolutionary War. Records are available from Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
Using Fold3, I quickly found an enlistment card for a Christian Warner during the Revolutionary War. Christian was born in New York, so perhaps he fought for the Continental Army before deciding to come to Canada as a Loyalist.
Genealogy Quebec - Généalogie Québec
Though focussed on Quebec, Genealogy Quebec - Généalogie Québec also has baptism, marriage and burial records from Acadia, New Brunswick, Ontario and the Northeastern US. The database can be used in English or French.
I’m unaware of any ancestors having moved to Quebec, but this database lets me search for records with Mary Fox and her husband John Fox. Nothing comes up, which at least helps me answer the question of whether Mary moved to Quebec at some point.
Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive
The Globe and Mail newspaper has been archived from 1844 to 2019 and can be searched for articles and full-page reproductions in the Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive.
It doesn’t go far back enough for me to research this small section of my family tree, but it highlights any keywords automatically when you open an article. This is a very handy feature when you’re squinting to try and read the tiny newspaper print.
HeritageQuest has archival records and primary source documents going back to the 1700s. One nice feature is that it isn’t entirely focused on Canada, the US and other Western countries. If you click the “Search” link and then scroll to the bottom of that page, you will find records from around the world.
HeritageQuest is a little light on Canadian records, so it wasn’t very helpful for my research. But Christian Warner had no result in the Revolutionary War pension files, which would make sense if he fought in the war and then left the US.
Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive
The Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive works the same way as the Globe and Mail archive and covers from 1894 to 2020. One minor difference is that it only has full-page reproductions. It’s a wonderful resource for anyone searching for family history around the Toronto area.
Overall, I was really impressed by how easy it was to use these databases, even though I didn’t know what I was looking for in terms of records or sources. It also showed me the appeal of researching one’s genealogy — it’s a bit like being a detective and searching for clues about how someone lived a long time ago. Some of my leads were dead ends, but there was joy in the journey of discovery.
Looking for more ways to research your genealogy? Check out our Local History & Genealogy page for our Digital Archive, research guides and more.
Let us know in the comments if you discover any interesting facts about your family tree using these library resources!