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Find Ancestors in Upper Canada Land Records

How many of us overlook searching for an ancestor in land records? Sometimes genealogists don’t realize how much information can be found in a land record. Originally all land in Upper Canada (later called Canada West, then Ontario) belonged to the Crown. Although there were small areas of settlement in 1763 after the British took over, major settlement of Upper Canada began in 1783 and utilized Crown Grants. Many early settlers, both military and civilian, submitted land petitions to the Governor in order to obtain Crown land.

The following steps were involved in a settler acquiring land in Upper Canada:

  1. To apply for a land grant from the Crown, he (or she) may have submitted a petition to the Crown (further explanation below under Crown Land Grants).
  2. If the petition was successful, the Crown issued a land grant to the petitioner. It was a complex process to receive a land grant.
  3. If the settler took up residence on the land and fulfilled certain settlement duties, he or she ended up owning the land. In that case the settler was issued a patent, showing that the ownership of the land had passed from the Crown to a private individual.
  4. If there were any later transactions relating to that property (e.g., sale to another individual, taking out a mortgage on the property, etc.), they were documented in the records of the county Land Registry Offices.

Free Grants of Crown Land

Until 1826 free land grants were available to all settlers, to government favourites, and to United Empire Loyalist (UEL) children. In 1826 these free grants were abolished except for Loyalist grants and soldiers, thus anyone wanting Crown land had to buy it. 

Land Petitions

There were two types of land petitions:

  • pre-1827 petitions for free grants of land under the UEL and military categories
  • post-1827 petitions for purchase of Crown lands 


1797 Upper Canada Land Petition. Library Archives Canada


The Canada Company

Settlers could also buy lands from the Canada Company, a private company owning all of the Huron District. These records are held at the Archives of Ontario. All land sales after the initial Crown grant were registered with local land registry offices. 

Crown Land Grants

Procedures for granting Crown Land changed constantly but could involve:

  • The settler's initial Petition to the Crown for land
  • An Order-in-Council from a federal Land Board granting their request
  • A Warrant from Ontario's Attorney General ordering the surveying of a lot
  • The Fiat from Ontario Surveyor General authorizing a grant of the surveyed lot
  • A Location Ticket permitting the settler to reside on the lot
  • The Patent transferring ownership of the lot from the Crown to the settler.

CLRI (Computerized Land Record Index)

The Computerized Land Record Index (aka Ontario Land Record Index) summarizes land grants of Crown Land, sales of land from Canada Company sales or leases and from Peter Robinson settlers' grants. If your ancestor settled anywhere in Ontario and he was the first time owner of Crown Land, he should be on this index. 

Heir & Devisee Commission

In 1797, the government of Upper Canada (now Ontario) established the Heir and Devisee Commission to clarify land titles for settlers on unpatented land. If your ancestor was living in Upper Canada around this time, there is a chance that you might find them referenced in this collection. Records can include: affidavits, bonds, location certificates, powers of attorney, orders-in-council, copies of wills, mortgages, deeds of sale, and testimonial letters. The digitized films are challenging to search but for a corrected list of online digitized film numbers with their contents, see Olive Tree Genealogy’s Heir & Devisee Commission Microfilm Listings.

LFT HDV74H1146CorneliusVOLLICK 1795 copy
Heir & Devisee Commission, 1795.

Abstract Indexes to Deeds

The Abstract Indexes to Deeds are the indexed record of every transaction on a plot of land from Crown ownership to the present day. Using the Abstract Indexes to Deeds you can check for every instance of your name of interest on that parcel of land. By referring to the date and Instrument Number found with each transaction, you can look up the complete record. You may find a will (many wills are filed in the Land Records Offices) or other important genealogical information or document. 

Assessment Records

Assessment and Tax Records contain location of an individual's land. There are some very early assessment records, but each area in Ontario has different surviving records, so you must check for the county or township of interest to you. 

Township Papers

Township Papers deal mostly with the original locatees, but may contain other pre-patent records. Some petitions for land can be found in the Township Papers. This miscellaneous group of land-related records have been arranged by township name, then by concession and lot or by town name and lot number. Under any lot which has documents, researchers may find the following: copies of orders-in-council; copies of location certificates and location tickets; copies of assignments; certificates verifying the completion of settlement duties; copies of receipt; copies of descriptions; and copies of patents; and copies of incoming correspondence. See Finding Aid to Township Papers

Other Resources for Land Records

Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.


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