Kent County is an historic county in the Canadian province of Ontario.
The county was created in 1792 and named by John Graves Simcoe in honour of the English county of the same name. The county is in an alluvial plain between Lake St. Clair, and Lake Erie, watered by two navigable streams, the Thames River and the Sydenham River. (source: Wikipedia)
NOTE: On January 1, 1998, the county, its townships, towns, and its main city, Chatham, were amalgamated into the single-tier city of Chatham-Kent. However, since most records remain titled "Kent County", all places in the county will be listed here under Kent and not under Chatham-Kent.
The map of Kent County circa 1951 from Ontario Archives locates the individual townships, city, towns and villages of the county. (Click at the bottom of the page to see the map enlarged.)
A sketchmap from Ontario GenWeb provides a simple illustration of the location of the former townships.
The former city of Chatham began as a naval dockyard in the 1790s, as it straddles the Thames River. The town was named after Chatham, Kent, England, which was also developed around a naval dockyard. In England, the name Chatham came from the British root ceto and the Old English ham thus meaning a forest settlement. Following the American Revolution and the Gnadenhutten Massacre, a group of Christian Munsee Indians settled in what is now Moraviantown.
During the 19th century, the area was part of the Underground Railroad. As a result, Chatham-Kent is now part of the African-Canadian Heritage Tour. Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site is a museum of the Dawn Settlement, established in 1841 by Josiah Henson near Dresden as refuge for the many slaves who escaped to Canada from the United States. John Brown, the abolitionist, planned his raid on the Harpers Ferry Virginia Arsenal in Chatham and recruited local men to participate in the raid. The small village of North Buxton, part of the African Canadian Heritage Tour, also played an important role in the Underground Railroad.
Kent County consisted of the townships of Camden, Chatham, Dover, Harwich, Howard, Orford, Raleigh, Romney, Tilbury East and Zone. In some of Canada's earliest post-Confederation censuses, some residences in Kent County were incorrectly reported as being in Bothwell "County", which was a separate electoral district comprising parts of Kent and Lambton counties but not a distinct county in its own right.
Chatham Kent has many historic festivals throughout the year such as the battle of longwoods reenactment, which takes place on Labour Day weekend at Fairfield Museum on Longwoods road.
Chatham Kent is also home to many historic buildings which are part of an annual ghost tour offered each year at Halloween. The participants go on a guided walk of downtown while the guide informs them of various ghost stories tied to the local buildings in which they pass. Chatham Kent plays host to so much paranormal activity, that numerous books have been published on it.
Chatham Kent was a major part of the underground railroad and as such hosts the Buxton Homecoming each September. This celebrates the areas rich black culture and the roots laid by early black settlers in the Buxton area.
For further history see Wikipedia section Chatham-Kent Economy and Industry.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1914 are now available [October 2012]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada. All of the original census (1851-1911) images are online with the exception of that for 1861. Not all of them are indexed. Later censuses are not yet available. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited.
E-books and Books