Canadian Denominational Background Disciples Church of God, Brethren, Tunkers, Moravians, Irvingites, Plymouth Brethren, Adventists, Jewish, The United Church of Canada Archives (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Religious Records  by Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, CGL. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Disciples (Church of God)[edit | edit source]

The Disciples of Christ were founded in the 1820s in the United States, and came to Canada in the 1830s through extensive revival meetings. The teachings of the church were close to the Baptists in nature, and were originally welcomed by Scottish Baptists in Wellington County, Ontario. The denomination was never large but had many adherents in mid-19th century Ontario.

The members of the group may be listed in the census under Disciples, Church of Christ or Christian . The record-keeping of congregations was not good, and when an individual church disappeared, any records they had tended to disappear also.

  • An excellent history of the Disciples was published in 1949: History of the Disciples of Christ in Canada since 1830, by Reuben Butchart. See also the Reuben Butchart Fonds at Emmanuel College Library.

Brethren and Tunkers[edit | edit source]

The term ‘Brethren’ has been part of the name of a number of groups in the United States and Canada, which can be confusing for researchers. The current Brethren in Christ group, based in Illinois, is an evangelical group whose origins lie with German Baptist groups. It may be that people listed as ‘Brethren’ or ‘Christian Brethren’ in the Canadian census have connections with German Baptists, but any researcher who finds these vague terms associated with their relations would be advised to do some local searching about what churches existed in their area at the time, and then make an educated deduction about what churches might be involved.[1] One group now associated with the Brethren in Christ which had congregations in Canada were the Tunkers (also Tunkards, Dunkers, Dunkards). Members of this group are often found in the same areas as Mennonites and have Anabaptist beliefs, and may be confused with them. They have also been referred to as ‘German Methodists’ although this no longer seems to be at all accurate. A good short introduction to Tunker beliefs and practices can be found in:

  • Mary C. Shantz’s “Discovering the Tunkers,” in the Waterloo Historical Society’s annual volume for 1984[2]
  • “The early years of the Tunkers in Upper Canada”, by E. Morris Sider (Ontario History, v. 51, no. 2 Spring 1959)
  • A historical sketch of the Brethren in Christ Church: known as Tunkers in Canada, by George Cober (1953)[3]

Moravians[edit | edit source]

The Moravian church grew out of the German Pietist movement of the 17th century, and began in Bohemia. Initially their practices were Lutheran but they evolved their own litany, while continuing to subscribe to many more conventional Christian beliefs, including both the Nicene and Apostles’ creeds. Their emphasis on missions brought them to America, where they had considerable settlements in Pennsylvania and later at Salem, North Carolina. Their missions to aboriginal peoples brought them to Canada.

Their ideas had considerable influence on other religious groups. For background, look at The Moravian Church in Canada, by John R. Weinlick (1966) and The Founding of the Moravian Church in Western Canada and the Andreas Lilge Story, by Kurt H. Vitt (1983).

Irvingites[edit | edit source]

This very small group followed the teachings of Edward Irving (1792-1834), initially a Presbyterian minister. He had apocalyptic visions and his teachings included that the Second Coming would occur in 1864. His movement was later known as the Catholic Apostolic Church.

There was a group of his followers in Lambton County, Ontario and there may have been others among Scots and Presbyterians in eastern Canada. A general history is Rowland A. Davenport’s Albury Apostles: the story of the body known as the Catholic Apostolic Church (sometimes called 'The Irvingites') (1970, revised edition 1974).

Plymouth Brethren[edit | edit source]

Very small in number, the Plymouth Brethren were founded in 1831 by an Anglican priest, but their beliefs were evangelical and fundamentalist in nature. Congregations are self-governing and most practiced believers’ baptism. Plymouth Brethren records for Canada are at the Baptist Historical Archives at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario.

Adventists[edit | edit source]

Adventism grew up in the United States in the 19th century, and had some adherents in Ontario by 1851 although the church was not officially organized until 1871. The Seventh-day Adventists, the largest group, hold services on the 7th day (Saturday), not the 1st as most Christian churches do, and believe in the Second Coming as an expected event. Questions about their history should be directed to them.

Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada
1148 King Street
East Oshawa, Ontario L1H 1H8
Telephone: (905) 433-0011

Jews[edit | edit source]

Jewish Records of synagogues may be found at the synagogue itself, or it could be that the records were viewed as belonging personally to the rabbi and hence left with him when he went to a new posting. You may find birth records, bat-mitzvah and bar-mitzvah records, other services performed by the rabbi, which will include burials and weddings, tombstone dedications and records of memorial services.[4] In brief, if the rabbi was to conduct the service, he may have kept a record. There may also be mohel records which record circumcisions.

As well as strictly religious synagogue records, there are a vast array of other materials which record Jewish life and which can be used by researchers. These cannot be viewed as religious records as they are more social or business in nature, but they should not be neglected. Shem tov, the newsletter of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Canada (Toronto), is a good source, and the JGSC also holds educational workshops.

A great many biographical sources exist for Jewish organisations, such as the Canadian Jewish Year Book. There are also published genealogies in books such as Family Who’s Who (v. 1, 1969), published by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and including family histories of contributors to the endowment fund; volumes 1 and 2 are Canadian.

Canada Jewish Year Book example.jpg

United Church of Canada Archives[edit | edit source]

The size and complexity of the United Church of Canada’s archives warrants a section of its own. In fact, a module of its own could profitably be devoted to this subject.

First, anyone planning on working in the UCC archives should consult the Guide to Family History Research in the Archival Repositories of the United Church of Canada compiled by the Committee on Archives and History, United Church of Canada (1996). The book provides an historical background for each of the four major components of the United Church (Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, EUB), a description of the archival arrangements, advice on conducting genealogical research in the United Church repositories and then a listing of the ten archives, their locations, hours and collections. United Church Website.

There are some published works which will help you. For example:

  • A Guide to the Archives of the United Church of Canada: Alberta and Northwest Conference, by Lorraine Mychajlunow and Keith Stotyn (1991) gives an overall picture of this collection
  • Guide to the Local Church Records, Montréal/Ottawa Conference, United Church of Canada, Susan Stanley, general editor (1986) focuses on genealogical materials.
  • A Record of Service: a guide to holdings of the Central Archives of the United Church of Canada, project coordinator Ruth Dyck Wilson (1992, also available on 7 microfiche) may seem at first glance to be just what the family historian ordered, but in fact it concerns the non-BDM records. It does contain a great deal of information and material which will be of use to the more advanced researcher who is looking for more than the registers to work with.

The policy of the United Church now is that any church registers or other record books belong to the overall denomination and should be in the archives if not kept at the local church. Some archivists can be quite determined on this subject and it is advisable not to become involved in discussions on the matter, or in any situations where records are located elsewhere. While it may be possible to find United Church records outside their archives, it is becoming increasingly rare.

A most important step forward for genealogists is that the Archives have placed the Archives database of church record collections on their website as well as a Graphics database.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The designation ‘Christian’ in the census can be confusing, because it may refer to members of this sect, to members of the Bible Christian Church, a kind of Methodist, or may simply be the individual’s insistence that they are Christian but belong to no denomination. In the last case, modern researchers have no way of knowing this state of mind of their ancestor.
  2. This item does not have a title, but is referred to as given. The 1984 volume (v. 72) is published by the society based at the Kitchener Public Library, Kitchener, Ontario, and is widely available in libraries.
  3. Researchers wanting more extensive information should consult History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church; embracing the Church of the Brethren, the Tunkers, the Seventh-Day German Baptist Church, the German Baptist Church, the Old German Baptists and the Brethren Church, including their origin, doctrine, biography and literature, by H. R. Holsinger (originally published 1901, later editions in 1962 and 1977).
  4. Many synagogues have annual memorials on Yom Kippur which may include a programme listing death anniversaries for the year (for mourning purposes); some print these programmes annually.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Religious Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.