Ontario Land Records User's GuideEdit This Page

From FamilySearch Wiki

Revision as of 23:46, 24 February 2009 by Mmark (Talk | contribs)

See also Ontario Land Records.


What Are Ontario Land Records?

The availability of land attracted many immigrants to Ontario. Land ownership was generally recorded as soon as settlers began to arrive. These important records sometimes exist when few other records are available. There are many kinds of land records including petitions for land grants and leases, indexes, commission records, case files, claims, reports, registers, and immigrant lists. Search every kind of land record you can find described in this guide.

How Ontario Land Records Can Help You

Land records are used mostly to learn where a person lived and when he lived there. They often reveal other family information, such as the name of a spouse, heir, other relatives, or neighbors. Some land records show a relationship to a Loyalist ancestor. You may learn where a person lived previously, his occupation, and other clues. Sale of the land may show when he left, and may mention to where he was moving.

What Ontario Land Records Do NOT Do

Ontario land records do not consistently show the same information for different pieces of property even within the same record. The original land records may or may not include information about your ancestor’s origins or names of family members.

These three steps do not include all the ways to find Ontario land records, they only explain how to find the most accessible records at the Family History Library.

Steps for Using Ontario Land Records

To find an ancestor follow these steps:

Step 1. Search land records that have surname indexes

One of the best ways to locate ancestors in Ontario before 1851 is to use land indexes. These indexes exist for earlier time periods than censuses and other province-wide records. Each of the following four sources is both an index and a land record—

  • Executive Council Petitions for Land Grants and Leases, 1791-1867.
  • Heir and Devisee Commission Land Records 1796-1894.
  • Ontario Archives Land Record Index.
  • Crown Lands Department Land Petitions and Related Records, 1637-1842.

Use the index first to find the land record. Search all four of the sources because each has different names. Your ancestor may be in more than one. To use them, follow the steps that start at the bottom of this page.

- petitions reporting an applicant’s military service
- names and ages of his family members
- relationship to a Loyalist ancestor
  • Ontario. Heir and Devisee Commission (2nd). Land Records, 1796-1894. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1982. (On 100 FHL films starting with 1313768.) You may find—
- why a person is entitled to land such as military service or having a Loyalist father
- application date, age, and place of birth
The surname section of this index is alphabetical and includes the name of the township, and the concession and lot numbers where original grants were located. Dates are filing dates of petitions or patents, not the date the settler came to a township. The key to the symbols showing the type of grant, lease or sale is on microfiche 6049631. For Internet instructions about how to use this index see www.archives.gov.on.ca/english/virtualrr/info12.htm .
Some, but not all, names from the R.G. 1, C-I to C-III series of these records are in theOntario Archives Land Records Index listed above.

Search the Indexes

Steps to follow to search land record indexes—

  1. Find the entry for the above sources (one at a time) in the Film/Fiche Number Search of the Family History Library Catalog.
  2. Look for the index part of the catalog entry. Figure out the microfilm or microfiche number of the index for your ancestor’s name, according to place and time period. Write this number in the space below. Index film/fiche number _____________
  3. Ask a staff member at your Family History Center to order a copy of the index film or fiche.
  4. When the index film arrives, search it for your ancestor’s name. Make a copy (preferably a photocopy) of each index entry for your ancestor. File these copies and summarize the results (positive or negative) on your Research Log.

Before concluding that your ancestor’s name is not in the index or in Ontario land records, do the following:

  • Try searching for alternate spellings. (The name may be spelled differently.)
  • Look for different ways the name may be listed, like a nickname, middle name, or initials.
  • Look under a woman’s maiden name and married surname.

Search the Land Records

Steps to follow to search land records—

  1. If you find your ancestor’s name, go back to the catalog entry you have been using. Use the index information to figure out the film or fiche number of the related land records, according to place, time, township, and concession number. Write this film number below.  Land film/fiche number _____________________
  2. Ask a staff member at your Family History Center to order a copy of the land record film or fiche.
  3. When the land record film arrives, search it for your ancestor’s name. Make a copy (preferably a photocopy) of each land record of your ancestor. File these copies. Write your source and the results of each search on your itali. Add new information to your genealogy records.
  4. Go back and repeat these steps for each of the four indexed sources. Then go on to Step 2 Search Land Records Arranged by Description.

Step 2. Search land records arranged by description

Ontario land records that have no surname indexes are arranged geographically by the description of the land. Most southern Ontario townships are divided into fourteen or fewer strips of land, called concessions, which run from one border of the township to the opposite border. Each concession is divided into farm lots of 100 or 200 acres. Lot 1 in the First Concession joins Lot 1 in the Second Concession, which in turn joins Lot 1 in the Third. If you can find the description of the land, you will be able to find the land records.

Information you may already know—

Ancestor’s Name: ___________________________

Years in the township: ________________________

Township: ___________________________

County: __________________________

You may know only the name of the village where your ancestor lived. To search most land records, you must know both the county and the township where that village was located. The names of the counties and townships for many villages are included in:

Lovell, John. Canadian Dominion Directory for 1871, 8 vols., Montreal: Lovell, 1871. (FHL book 971 E4L; films 856124 and 856125; fiche 6046766.)

Find the Land Descriptions

For land description information look in:

  • Ontario Archives Land Records Index (cited earlier)
  • Censuses (population, agricultural, building and land schedules)
  • Illustrated historical atlases

If you find a land description for your ancestor, note the county name, township name, concession number (often written in Roman numerals), and lot number (usually in Arabic numbers) where your ancestor lived on the blanks provided here—

Township: ____________________

Concession number: ___________

Lot number: ____________


Steps to follow to search census records—

1. If your ancestor lived in Ontario in 1851, 1861, or 1901, look for your ancestor’s name in the census of that year. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under—
The 1871 census microfilms at the Family History Library do NOT include agricultural schedules, but the National Archives of Canada microfilms do. National Archives films are available through inter-library loan at public and college libraries. For an Internet index to the 1871 census heads-of-house, go to www.archives.ca/02/02010802_e.html
2. Look through the catalog entry for Ontario and the county where your ancestor lived.
Write the film numbers on the blank below.
Census film numbers _______________________
3. Have a staff member help you get the film.
4. Put the film on a reader and turn through the film to the county where your ancestor lived.
5. If you know the town, turn to it. Look through the population schedules on the film name-by-name until you find your ancestor. If you find your ancestor’s name, this would indicate that a land description might exist for him or her on the same microfilm in another schedule.
6. Turn through the film to the agricultural schedules, or buildings and lands schedules. If you find these schedules for your ancestor, write the land description in the spaces provided earlier.

Illustrated Historical Atlases

Look for your ancestor in illustrated historical atlases for the southern counties that have them. They show farm lot and concession numbers with the names of landowners in the late 1870s.

Steps to follow to search historical atlases—

1. Look in any one of the following indexes. Most illustrated historical atlases are indexed in:

  • “Search Family Archives” in Family Archives: Genealogy Data Online & on CD! [Internet database]. [N.p.]: Genealogy.com, 2000. At www.genealogy.com/cdhome.html You can search this 220 million entry database for your ancestor’s name for free. Type an ancestor’s name in the “Search Family Archives” and click GO. At the “Summary of Search Results” screen click the word matches in “matches in Family Archives” to see the title of the source CD.
If the source is the Canadian Genealogy Index, 1600s–1900s (#118), the source might be an illustrated historical atlas, but you must buy the index on CD, or use a CD or book copy (listed next) at a library to find out.
  • Canadian Genealogy Index, 1600s–1900s. Family Tree Maker’s Family Archives; 118. [Novato, Calif.]: Brøderbund, 1996. (FHL compact disc no. 9, part 118.) Contains over 2 million entries. Shows name, event, date, location, province, county, source (sometimes an illustrated historical atlas), and page.
  • The Central Canadians, 1600-1900. 3 vols. Toronto: Genealogical Research Library, 1994. (FHL Ref book 971 D22cc; not on microfilm.) This index is included in the two indexes above.
This set of books is in the Canada reference area. Keys to localities and sources are in the back of each volume.
Source (code and page): __________________
Source Title: ___________________________
Edition: _______________________________

2. Look for the atlas in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:

Source call number: ________________________
Sometimes the catalog lists a different edition than the one that was indexed. The pages listed in the index may not match a different atlas edition.

3. Have a staff member help you get the film or book.

4. Find your ancestor’s name on the page cited in the index. The township’s name should be at the top of the map. The map should also have a grid system of Roman numerals (concessions) and Arabic numerals (lots). Figure out what these numbers are for your ancestor’s piece of property, and write the numbers in the space provided earlier.

Use the Description to Find the Land Records

Once you know the county, township name, concession number, and lot number, look for your ancestor’s land records in the following sources:

  • Crown Lands Department Township Papers
  • Abstract Index Books of Deeds
  • Deeds

If you find your ancestor’s land records, make copies, preferably photocopies, analyze them, add new data to your genealogy, list the sources and results on your Research Log, and share your research with others.

Township Papers

Ontario. Crown Lands Department. Township Papers, ca. 1783–1870's. [Toronto]: Archives of Ontario, 1982. (On 541 FHL films starting with 1319288.)

You will find early records for most southern Ontario townships and some cities. The townships and cities are listed in alphabetical order. Papers for lots in townships are arranged by concession and farm lot. Papers for cities are arranged alphabetically by owner’s name.

Township papers may include maps, letters about land disputes with ancestor’s names, petitions, or military discharge papers showing place of birth. They are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:


Abstract Index Books of Deeds

These books are about property in a particular township, but they are listed by county in the catalog. They are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under one of these headings:


Abstract index books are arranged by county, township, concession, and lot numbers. They tell what happened to a particular piece of property through time, from the date of the original grant or patent to as late as 1959. “Memorial” numbers (file numbers) are listed for each transaction (sale or will).


If you find a memorial number for years prior to 1880, look for deed records. If the library has copies of the deed books, you will find them in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:


Step 3. Search for probate records related to land transfers

When an individual died, his land was usually sold, or the title was transferred to an heir or creditor. To make a land transfer official in 19th century Ontario, a person’s last will and testament may have been copied either into a deed book at a land registry office, or into a probate record at the probate court, or surrogate court. Copies of the will or probate papers are rarely filed in both the land registry office and the court. But probate papers in the land registry are a hint that you may find additional related papers in court records.

The abstract index books mentioned previously are the major indexes to wills that were recorded or memorialized in deed books.

Also, if land records show the person’s estate was “proved” or probated before a court, you should look for his name in one of the following sources:

  • Court of Probate Probate Registers and Estate Files
  • Surrogate Court Records Index

Probate Registers and Estate Files

Upper Canada. Court of Probate. Probate Registers, 1793–1858; and Estate Files, 1793–1859. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1982. (On 41 FHL films starting with 1312313.)

Look alphabetically by name of the deceased. You may find wills, administrations, guardianship, or citations of next of kin.

In the Estate Files, you may find inventories, administration papers, bonds, affidavits, letters, or wills. Estate files are indexed by the name of the deceased in:

Court of Probate: Registers and Estate Files at the Archives of Ontario (1793-1859). [Toronto]: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986. (FHL book 971.3 P2z; not on microfilm.)

Surrogate Court Records Index

Surrogate Court Records Index, 1793-1858. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, [198-?] (FHL fiche 6334160 [set of 8].)

This index gives dates, volume, and page numbers, and tells the name of the county which received the pre-1854 records. To find the microfilm numbers of the indexed records, look in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:


You can find more recent Surrogate Court records under the same Locality Search catalog heading.

For a county-by-county index, look in this book:

Gibson, June. Surrogate Court Index of Ontario, Canada, 1859–1900. 27+ vols. Agincourt, Ont.: Generation Press, 1988-. (FHL book 971.3 P22g; not on microfilm.)

You may find the name, locality, will number, and year proved. A table in the front of each Gibson volume lists the Archives of Ontario microfilm reel numbers which were indexed in that volume.

Other Record Types

If you still cannot locate Ontario land records for an ancestor, you could also search for Church Records, Census, Directories, Military Records, or Taxation information by using the Family History Library Catalog. For details about the value, use, and availability of these and other record types see the Ontario wiki page, and Canada wiki page.

For Further Reading

For a detailed discussion of land records see:

Merriman, Brenda Dougall. Genealogy in Ontario: Searching the Records, 3rd ed. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1996. (FHL book 971.3 D27m 1966; not on microfilm.)

Pages 89-114 are about land records. These explain key dates, townships, concessions, lots, the land grant process, the Ontario Archives Land Record Index, abstract index books, and the registry system. Several example documents are included.


Need additional research help? Contact our research help specialists.

Need wiki, indexing, or website help? Contact our product teams.

Did you find this article helpful?

You're invited to explain your rating on the discussion page (you must be signed in).