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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Land Records Course Part 1 and Part 2 by Sharon L. Murphy, Brenda Dougall Merriman, CG, and Frances Coe, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Canadian Land Terminology
The language of land records and property ownership is a language you will need to learn in order to be able to understand the information you are gathering. It is not enough to find documents containing the name and address of your ancestors. You must know under what circumstance they either accumulated or lost their property.
Understanding the terminology will enable you to really know what went on and why. It will also allow you to search for particular documentation that you may not have known existed.
There is much more to land records than simply the deed and mortgage. Any document that was created in regard to land can be of great genealogical value. The land records are the earliest forms of establishing the location and time period of your ancestors.
The following definitions are the keys you will need to unlock this language. You will find yourself referring to this list until you become familiar with these terms. Once you have done this you will find the study of land records to be quite a worthwhile and profitable challenge. Clues are everywhere.
Abstract Book/Abstract Index to Deeds: All dealings with the land subsequent to the Crown Patent are recorded in an abstract book in the order of their registration. These abstract books contain a brief reference to every registered instrument commencing with the Crown Patent. Each entry is placed on a new line. Each page of the Abstract Index represents an individual lot or property and is a chronological record of the history of that piece of land.
Assignee: One to whom land or mortgage has been transferred.
Assignment of Mortgage (A of M): The mortgagee (the lender of money or creditor) may transfer the mortgage with all its conditions to another party in return for a payment.
Administrator(s): Person or persons assigned by law to settle the estate of an individual who died without a will.
Bar her Dower: When a woman gives up her right to lands which her husband owned she “bars her dower.” This is done whenever his land is sold and is shown in the land record. If this is not done it could be for many reasons such as; divorce, adultery, insanity, nonresident, whereabouts of wife unknown, sale of land for taxes, man single or widowed, and various others.
Bargain and Sale (B & S): The most commonly recorded instrument of title transfer from one party to another, conveying all rights and privileges in return for money or perhaps mineral or timber rights.
Cadastral Map: Map of an area showing land boundaries and land owners.
Clergy Reserves: Property lots set aside by the government to be sold separately with the proceeds benefitting the churches.
Conveyance: See Deed.
Copy Books: The books in which authentic copies of transactions are recorded, in bound volumes.
Crown Patent: The Crown was considered the original owner of all lands (after treaties with native inhabitants); a grant from the Crown indicated the first official title change and should appear as the first chronological entry in the Abstract Index of a piece of property. See also Patent.
Crown Reserves: Property lots set aside by the government to be sold at a later date and the proceeds to be used for the Crown.
Deed: The document under seal which conveys or transfers interest in a piece of land from one party to another, or parties as the case may be.
Devisee: A person who has been given property as a beneficiary of a will, or through a legal assignment or transfer from the current party of interest.
Discharge of Mortgage: This is the document releasing the real estate from a mortgage.
Dower: A woman’s right in lands which her husband owned or had an equitable title to was protected by dower—an interest that lasted until her death. Upon marriage a man’s land immediately became subject to dower, or upon a husband becoming the registered owner of land in which his wife had a dower interest.
Escheat: An incident of feudal law, whereby a fief reverted to the lord when the tenant died seised (left) without heir. i.e.: to revert by escheat to the lord, king, or state.
Escheats: The legal process by which lands granted were forfeited to the Crown for non-fulfilment of conditions specified in the grant.
Fiat: Permission granted. The word ‘fiat’ alone or in a formula, by which a competent authority sanctioned the doing of something; hence, an authorization; e.g. “Nothing can be concluded without the King’s Fiat.”
Feudal system: The system of land holding, in exchange for service, ultimately, to the king.
Folio: Latin word for “page.”
Freehold, Fee simple: Land owned, as opposed to leased or held by feudal/seigneurial tenure.
Grantee: The person receiving a grant or buying property.
Grantor: The person issuing the grant or selling property.
Heir: A person with beneficial and legal entitlement to the property of a deceased.
Indenture: A written agreement, between two or more parties.
Intestate: Having no will. If someone dies intestate, the court appoints an administrator to settle the estate.
Instrument: Legal document.
Leasehold: Land held by lease and for which the tenant paid rent.
Liber: Latin word meaning “book”.
Memorial: In early days, the copied recording of a deed for the Registry Office’s reference, when the original paper document was returned to the owner; usually only the essentials of the deed were abstracted, and then copied again into Copy Books.
Mortgage: A claim against a piece of real property given as security for a debt, i.e. money borrowed; the mortgagor (borrower) transfers title to the mortgagee (lender or creditor) until the terms of the mortgage are completed or discharged.
Patent: More formally, Letters Patent; in land dealings, the document that transfers full title from the Crown to an individual or corporation; settlement conditions were often required before a patent would issue.
Petitions: Letters sent to the government requesting Crown land grants. They may contain a considerable amount of information about the family, parentage, military service, age, wife’s name, the time when he settled on the land applied for, etc.
Preemption: Process adopted in Canada from the United States in 1874 allowing a settler who had entered on a homestead to obtain an “interim entry” on another quarter-section located adjacent to his homestead. After he received his Letters Patent for his homestead he could then purchase the additional “preemption” land at government prices. Preemptions were discontinued in 1890 and reintroduced in 1908 and repealed in 1918.
Quit Claim Deed: A document used to sell or relinquish all or part interest in a parcel of land where a transfer could not be acceptable; also called a release.
Real Estate (Real Property): Used in the sense of land, as distinct from personal goods and possessions.
Registry System: Provides for the registration of deeds and other documents affecting the title of land, but will not guarantee the title to a parcel of land.
Relict: The widow of a deceased man.
School Reserves: Property lots set aside by the government to be sold at a later date with proceeds going to funds for schools.
Section: An area of one square mile into which undeveloped lands are divided.
Seigneurie: In Canada, a landed estate held (until 1854) by feudal tenure.
Seigneur: A feudal lord; a noble taking his designation from the name of the estate. In Canada, the holder of a seigneurie; one of the landed gentry.
Subdivision: The severance of smaller lots from an original Crown grant. Subdivision plans for multiple smaller lots (for a village or town) are registered and initiate their own Abstract entries.
Testate: Having a will.
Title: Legal ownership as evidenced by a deed or other instrument.
Torrens System: Provides a system whereby evidence of ownership of a tract of land was by Certificate of Title guaranteed by the government, eliminating the long procedure required in the registry system of proving title to the land.
Transfer: See Deed.
Trustee/s (also Executor/s): The trustees or executors appointed in a will have the authority to sell, mortgage or release the real property of the deceased.
Warrant: A writing issued by the sovereign, an officer of state, or an administrative body, authorizing those to whom it is addressed to perform some act.
Will: A legal document in which a person declares to whom his possessions are to go after his death. A legal will was sometimes filed with the Registry Offices (in Ontario) when it involved the transfer of a parcel of land to an heir. As a result, these wills were never probated and only appear in the Registry Office files.
Chains and Links and Feet
As you read through old documents you will come across these terms over and over again. How long is a chain (Gunter’s Chain) or link in relation to feet?
According to the Surveyors’ Measure the table is as follows:
- 7.92 inches = 1 link
25 links = 1 rod, pole or perch (all of equal length)
100 links = 1 chain or 4 rods
80 chains = 1 mile
625 square links = 1 square rod
16 square rods = 1 square chain
10 square chains = 1 acre
43,560 square feet = 1 acre
66 feet = 1 chain
- Therefore 100 Links = 1.00 Chain and
- 1.00 Chain = 66.00 feet
Now when you read that the measurement of the area was 10 Chains and 50 links you will know that the length of the measurement was 660 feet plus 33 feet = 693 feet.
- 66 feet x 10 chains = 660 feet
+ 50/100 links = .5 chain x 66 feet = + 33 feet
660 feet + 33 feet = 693 feet
- 66 feet x 10 chains = 660 feet
A lot 20 chains (1320 feet) wide by 100 chains (6600 feet) deep contains 200 acres and a lot 50 chains (3300 feet) wide by 20 chains (1320 feet) deep, contains 100 acres.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Land Records Course Part 1 and Part 2 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.