NOTE: The Town of Simcoe is the county seat of Norfolk County and should not be confused with the County of Simcoe, also in the Province of Ontario.
Norfolk County is located on the north shore of Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario, Canada. It is now "a rural city-status single-tier municipality". The county seat and largest community is Simcoe. The population in 2011 was over 63,000.
Surrounding its many small communities is some of the most fertile land in Ontario. With a mild climate and lengthy growing season, the region has long been the centre of the Ontario tobacco belt. However, many farmers have begun the process of diversifying their crop selections to include lavender, ginseng, hazelnuts, and wolfberries as tobacco consumption continues to decrease.
The first settlers to arrive in what was to become Norfolk County were United Empire Loyalists moving north from the newly formed United States who arrived in 1789. Norfolk was one of the original nineteen counties of Upper Canada established as territorial designations in 1792. Judicial matters remained in the hands of districts established to administer judicial needs at the local level. In 1792 Norfolk was established in the Western District which was divided in 1798 putting Norfolk in the London District. In 1837 the Districts were divided again and Norfolk was placed in the Talbot District. The need for more districts occurred as the population of the province increased and disagreements needed to be settled more quickly in more local areas. The districts of Upper Canada (Canada West after 1841) were abolished in 1849-50 when judicial matters previously covered by the districts were given over to the counties and the counties became the local tier of government across the province.
Norfolk's economic history has been closely associated with that of the neighbouring Haldimand County. The two counties remained separate until 1974, when they were united as the Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk.
In 2001, Haldimand and Norfolk were separated again in a second round of municipal restructuring, and their individual municipalities were merged into two single-tier municipalities. The Townships of Delhi and Norfolk (established in the first regional reorganization of 1974), Town of Simcoe, and the western half of the City of Nanticoke were amalgamated to form the Town of Norfolk. The newly formed municipality's first by-law was to change the name back to Norfolk County.
Although both Haldimand and Norfolk now use the name "county" for historical reasons, each is governed as a single municipality with a city type of government, rather than one which would equate with an ordinary county.
Prior to its amalgamation with Haldimand in 1974, Norfolk consisted of eight townships and the independently incorporated town of Simcoe, the county seat. Walsingham was originally one township, but was been split into North and South Walsingham in 1881. Although no longer political entities, archives have retained the names of the historical townships in their filing organization, and they are required to define locations of property.
The map of Norfolk 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 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