Canada Land Records, The Beginning (National Institute)

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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 ($).

The Beginning

It all goes back to the land. Remember this when you are working on genealogy research. As each new immigrant arrived in what was to become Canada they all had the same dream, to own their own land. They had come from a variety of circumstances but all wanted to be their own master and control their own destiny. Whether it was just a small house and garden or several hundreds of acres, it all meant the same thing, independence and freedom.

The nineteenth century advertisements and enticements used to convince people to come to the new land were quite different from the reality that they faced when they arrived. No roads, lots of swamp, no shelter and a harsh climate were the reality. The majority of those that made the trek remained, whether this was due to the fact that they could not endure the trip back to wherever they came from, or because they had no place to return to doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they remained.

They came to Canada from the British Isles, Europe and the United States. They were clergymen, trappers, explorers, soldiers and settlers. The life they led and the skills they brought with them had to undergo great adjustments in order for them to survive in this rugged new country. In the process of pursuing the dream, they created documents that told of their day to day struggles, their goals and plans for the land they would acquire, the personal details of their lives and their families.

These are the gold bricks you are searching for. Not only will they give your family history a strong solid foundation, they are invaluable in your quest for the facts. Use these records to reconstruct your heritage and trace your family’s journey.


Land records can give important clues for genealogists. They can:

  • establish a date before which the family came to Canada
  • contain marital information
  • have wills attached which may contain extensive family information
  • provide occupations
  • indicate military service among other things

Each of these clues provides a starting point for further research.

Tools and Skills

Maps of the area you are researching in are mandatory. Find out what is available and remember to use old and new maps to help determine the correct location of your ancestor’s whereabouts. Boundaries and borders changed over time and you will need to be aware of the dates and causes of these changes as they will impact on the record groups you search.

Just like any other research you will undertake, there are certain tools and skills you will need to acquire. Historical atlases and gazetteers will be one of your basic tools as they will give lot numbers and concession numbers and you will then be able to actually locate your ancestor’s homestead on a map.

Geography and History

Once you have found the property you can then study the surrounding geographic area for obvious landmarks, i.e. rivers, lakes, swamps. This will determine the route your ancestors likely took to go to church (also shown on historical atlases) and schools and to take care of their day to day business. It may also give you the names of their neighbours, who could very likely also be relatives.

Geography and history must be understood and used to analyze the type and likelihood of records created. What was happening during the time period that your family was immigrating? What areas were being developed during that time frame? Where are the most obvious ports of call and where did people go once they left the ship?

Learn everything you can about the ongoing growth of the region, particularly what the rules were regarding the availability and criteria for getting that land. What was the special attraction that persuaded your ancestors to come to Canada? Did your people come with a large group in a settlement scheme or did they arrive later to join family already here? Were they United Empire Loyalists?

As Canada emerged as a nation, our country underwent huge growth spurts and major political changes.

Land records are important in genealogy because they were often the only written records existing for the early settlement periods. Because Canadians were quite land conscious a very large number of adult males can be found somewhere in the land records. Many of the early land records, such as the land petitions, contain a significant amount of basic genealogical information.

Additional Information

For more information on Canadian Land Records see:

Provincial Land Records

Canada Land and Property


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

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.