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Tracing Your Family Tree in Ontario
An Introduction to Genealogy - Land & Property Records
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Pt 1: Vital Records
Pt 2: Census Records
3: Cemetery/Church Records
Pt 5: Local Resources for Genealogical Research

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Where Did My Ancestor Live?
Land or property in Ontario is based on a fairly consistent system of division. The area which is now Ontario was first divided into districts and then counties. The counties were further sub-divided into townships which are usually rectangular in shape, unless bordered by a major lake or river. Townships are divided into bands of land 1 1/4 miles wide called concessions. These strips can run in any direction are are usually divided by a road. Each concession is labeled with either a number (usually a Roman numeral) or a letter (this means the concession doesn't run the length or width of the township due to the interruption of a body of water). Because land doesn't always fit into neat rectangles, there are usually extra sections of land (especially land that goes around a body of water) left over - these are known as gores.
Each concession is further divided into numbered lots. A lot was originally 200 acres, though many have been subdivided into much smaller parcels.

To locate land records for your ancestors, you will need to know the concession number and the lot number. These can be found by several methods:

  • The Ontario Archives Computerized Land Records Index (1780s-1920) indexes homesteaders and first owners of Crown Land by surname and township. It provides information including the petitioner's name and residence, township, concession, lot number, date and type of Grant and the archival source for the original record. This information included in this index is primarily taken from the Crown Lands Papers, the Canada Company Papers, the Locations Registers and the Peter Robinson Papers. The index is available on microfilm through your local FHC and through the Archives of Ontario.

  • The 1871 and 1901 Census are excellent sources for determining where your ancestor lived. The agricultural returns for 1851 and 1861 list lot and concession numbers. 

  • Historical atlases exist for most counties which give the lot and concession numbers for each township.

  • Business Directories will list where a man lived and whether he was a tenant or a landowner.


Types of Land Records
Ontario Land records fall into two basic categories: the early Crown Land records (property owned by the Crown) and later Private Property registrations (property owned by persons or corporations).

  • Crown Land Grants (Crown Land)
    In 1763 the British Crown began to issue grants of land in what is now the province of Ontario. These grants were awarded primarily to attract British settlers to Canada. In order to obtain a grant of land, a settler had to make a formal written application known as a petition. These records, which cover the years 1764-1867, have been microfilmed and are indexed by surname. The microfilm is available through interlibrary loan from the National Archives of Canada and may also be obtained through your local FHC.

  • Land Patents (Crown Land)
    A patent was a confirmation of land ownership granted to a settler after he or she had fulfilled all obligations with respect to the land - clearing the land, putting up buildings, road work, etc. These are also available in the Archives of Ontario on microfilm and are indexed by surname (1795-1825) or township (1826-1850).

  • Land Petitions (Crown Land)
    Free Grant Petitions sent to the Commissioner of Crown Lands of Ontario 1827-1856.

  • Military Land Grants (Crown Land)
    Free Grants offered after 1901 for service during the Fenian Raids (1860s) or South African Campaign (1899-1902).

  • Township Papers (Crown Land)
    Arranged by town/township/concession/lot, these files deal primarily with the original locatees but may contain other Crown Land records. They consist of letters written to the government by settlers concerning the land they have been granted or are occupying and can include location tickets, assignments, certificates of settlement duties and correspondence.

  • Land Record Copy Books (Private Property)
    Also known as instruments, these contain copies of records (deeds, mortgages, liens, quit claims, wills, etc.) which affect legal title to land. These registers are by county for the period 1797 to 1846 and by city, town, township or village after that. The majority of the early records are held by the Archives of Ontario, while records from the 1880s on for southern Ontario and all records for the north are in local Registry offices.

  • Abstract Indexes to Deeds (Private Property)
    These provide a history for each piece of land including changes in ownership and other transactions over the years. These are usually filed by concession number and lot number in each township, or by a town lot within a city.

  • Alphabetical Indexes to Deeds (Private Property)
    These exist for some townships after 1865. These are dual indexes arranged by seller (grantor) and by buyer (grantee) and make it much easier to locate land records when you don't know the exact lot and concession number.

  • Wills (Private Property)
    Many probate records can be found in the land records, as land was often the only asset of the deceased. Separate will books are kept at the registry offices and are indexed in the General Register.

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