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The following paragraphs discuss land grants from the government, land petitions addressed to the government, and similar records.
From the beginning, large grants of land were issued by the Crown to seigneurs (lords) who held them in feudal servitude to the king. The lords hired indentured land workers and habitants (the French farming class) to work the land. The lords did not own the land, but in time they could buy and sell the land by the "right of occupancy," much as we do today. Although this system was French, the English retained it after they acquired New France in 1763. The system was finally abolished in 1854.
The French Canadians generally used a river-lot system to divide the land on the seigneuries. The land was divided into narrow strips of irregular size, but each strip bordered on the river.
If your ancestor lived in a seigneury (the land of a seigneur), look for records of family members in the parish registers of churches in or near that seigneury. See Quebec Church Records.
The French king's grants to original seigneurs are in:
- Québec (Province).Législature. Assemblée legislative. Land Grants of Seigneuries 1674–1760 Quebec: Appendice du Onzième Volume des Journaux de L'assemblée Legislative de la Province du Canada, Appendice (H.H.H.H.). Québec, Canada: Secretary's Office, 1853. (Family History Library book 971.4 R2s; film 1036410 item 10; fiche 6046787.) Text in English.
A map with the names of the original seigneurs, their successors in 1791, and the boundaries of the original seigneuries is in:
- Matthews, Geoffrey J. Historical Atlas of Canada, Volume 1, From the Beginning to 1800, Editor R. Cole Harris. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1987. (Family History Library book 971 E7h.) The map is plate 51.
Detailed maps and land descriptions of the seigneuries along the Saint Lawrence River are in:
- Trudel, Marcel. Le Terrier du Saint-Laurent en 1663 (Lands Occupied in the St. Lawrence Valley in 1663). Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Les Presses de l'Université d'Ottawa, 1973. (Family History Library book 971.4 R2t.) Text in French.
Seigneurial records include:
- Land grants
- Fealty and homage records
- Aveux (oaths of allegiance)
- Dénombrements (censuses)
Land Grants generally give the name of the colonist, the maiden name of his wife or widow, the name of the seigneury and its boundaries, the names of immediate neighbors, and the obligations the colonist accepted or the price paid.
Fealty and homage records are registers of the pledges a seigneur made to the king when he received land. These records may show how an individual was entitled to receive the land, either by a grant or by inheritance, and may provide names of relatives of the seigneur.
Some land grant and fealty and homage records are summarized in:
Roy, Pierre Georges. Inventaire des concessions en fief et seigneurie, foi et hommages et dénombrements conservés aux Archives de la province de Québec (Inventory of Seigneurial Records at the Archives of the Province of Québec). Six Volumes. Beauceville, Québec, Canada: L'Éclaireur, 1927–1929. (Family History Library book 971.4 R2q; on 24 fiches numbered 6046791.) Text in French. Includes index.
Aveux and dénombrements for the Saint Lawrence River Valley are transcribed in:
Mathieu, Jacques, and Alain Laberge. L'Occupation des terres dans la vallée du Saint-Laurent: aveux et dénombrements, 1723–1745 (Occupation of the St. Lawrence River Valley: Oaths of Allegiance and Censuses, 1723–1745). Sillery, Québec, Canada: Éditions du Septentrion, 1991. (Family History Library book 971.4 R2m.) Text in French. Describes each seigneury, lists its farms, and gives the names of the habitants. Has information on approximately 7,400 farms (more than 98 percent of the seigneury farms in Québec during the French régime). Includes indexes of the names of the seigneurs and habitants.
Crown Land Records
After 1763, areas in the Eastern Townships and counties on the Ottawa River were surveyed for settlement by the British and by Loyalist Americans. This included counties such as Argenteuil and Gatineau. The areas were divided into townships (cantons).
In contrast to the French river-lot system, the English usually divided the land into sections called ranges or "concessions." The concessions were then divided into regularly shaped farm lots of 100 to 200 acres.
Beginning in 1764 in Québec and in 1795 in Ontario, land was given in crown grants instead of in seigneuries. A settler who wanted free land in a township submitted a petition directly to the governor or lieutenant governor. Crown grants became especially popular because of the American Revolutionary War. Grants were made to all Loyalists or children of Loyalists. Later, any settler in the provinces of Canada could receive these grants. Free grants were abolished in 1827, except for relatives and descendants of Loyalists.
The petitions for land and the patents-certificates that granted the land are the most important crown land records for genealogical research. The petitions may have information on the petitioner, his family, parentage, military service, time of settling the land, etc. The patents give the name of the grantee, a description of the land, and the date of the grant.
Several manuscript records relating to crown lands are at the National Archives of Canada and at the Archives nationales du Québec. The most easily available include:
List of Lands Granted by the Crown in the Province of Québec from 1763 to 31st December 1890. Québec, Canada: Charles- François Langlois, 1891. (Family History Library films 413121–22.) This book is a transcription of information from land patents. It is an especially good source to begin with if you are looking for English-speaking settlers. It gives the date of the patent and the county, township, and lot number where the grant was located. The index at the end of the volume is alphabetical only by the first letter of the surname.
Lower Canada. Executive Council. Land Committee. Land Petitions and Related Records, 1637–1842. National Archives of Canada series RG 1, L 3 L. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Public Archives of Canada, 1965–1995. (On 126 Family History Library films beginning with film 1831844.) Indexed.
Upper Canada. Executive Council. Petitions for Land Grants and Leases, 1791–1867. National Archives of Canada series RG 1, L 3. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1992. (On 257 Family History Library films beginning with film 1832344.) Includes records for the years between 1842 and 1867, when Canada East (Québec) was part of the Province of Canada. Index films and some series films are available at the Family History Library.
The Family History Library has a combined index to Petitions for Land Grants and Leases, 1791–1867 and to the following minute books:
Québec, Lower Canada, Upper Canada, Canada Executive Council. Minute Books (on Land Matters) 1787–1867. National Archives of Canada series RG 1, L 1. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: National Archives of Canada, [19—?]. (NAC films C-94 through C-96 and C-100 through C-110). Includes records of hearings before land committees of various executive councils. Although these are not at the Family History Library, microfilms of the "Land Books" can be loaned by the National Archives of Canada to any public library which participates in the interlibrary loan system.