Nova Scotia Land and Property Records
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Land records up to about 1900 in Nova Scotia are available at land registry offices and at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Records after 1910 are only found in the registry offices. There are also some indexes available. Deeds found in the registry offices generally mention dates, names, locations, occupations, and so forth.
The Public Archives of Nova Scotia has an alphabetical file of draft land grants and petitions for land. This file covers the years from 1763 onward. There are indexes for 1784–1877. Petitions often mention a petitioner's name, country of origin, date of arrival in Nova Scotia, and other information.
What’s Available on the Internet
- Nova Scotia Archives -Historical Maps of Nova Scotia
- Nova Scotia Archives - Nova Scotia Petitions 1769-1799 ~ Cape Breton Island Petitions 1787-1843This is a searchable database for early petitions for Crown grants of land for settlement purposes.
- Nova Scotia - Department of Natural Resources LibraryThis site has information regarding obtaining the Crown Land Grant maps and the Ambrose Finson Church maps.
- Nova Scotia - Crown Land Information Management Centre [Grant Maps]The majority of these maps were issued between 1750 and 1850 and can be viewed or downloaded at this site.
Map of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia, one of the Atlantic Provinces, consists of two parts: peninsular Nova Scotia separated from the mainland by the Bay of Fundy and connected by the narrow Chignecto Isthmus and Cape Breton Island. Originally, first held by France, it was known as Acadia and included what is now New Brunswick. Cape Breton Island was called Île Royale.
The British name Nova Scotia dates from 1621 when a Scot, Sir William Alexander, was given a charter for colonization. French influence dominated the territory until 1710, when the British captured Port Royal and renamed it Annapolis Royal. The surrender of the fortress of Louisbourg in 1745 effectively ended French rule in this region.
The French-speaking Acadians were caught in the conflict between the two countries and then they were expelled in 1755 and 1758. Halifax was founded in 1749 and its small population was augmented by settlers from the American colonies to the south. After the American Revolution, thousands of United Empire Loyalists arrived in 1783-4. New Brunswick and Cape Breton became separate colonies (the latter was re-annexed in 1820).
From 1815 to 1850 there were about 55,000 immigrants, mostly Scottish and Irish, which came to the province. Nova Scotia was a charter member of Confederation in 1867 and by 1876 the railway from Halifax to Québec was completed.
As you can see, the development of Nova Scotia was based on many events and as the population grew the issue of land became an important one.
Another particular situation was present in Nova Scotia that played a large role in the land development. The better timber suited for the construction of ship masts belonged to the crown for the use of the royal navy. The government was hesitant to grant large tracts of land because of this very necessary resource. In the mid-eighteenth century they changed the policy to allow large land grants to associations and individuals who would agree to bring settlers in. This policy at least temporarily locked up much of Nova Scotia’s land.
The years 1760 to 1773 witnessed almost 5½ million acres granted under this system. At that time no more than 13,000 people lived in the colony. In 1774 they decided to stop these free grants and would sell land instead. This only lasted for one year and in 1775 the land granting system started again.
The first contingent of 1,000 United Empire Loyalist men, women and children left Boston, USA, and headed for Nova Scotia in March 1776. By 1783 Nova Scotia saw 30,000 more United Empire Loyalists enter their colony. Some 14,000 settled in Sunbury County (which became New Brunswick in 1874) and the remainder stayed in Nova Scotia. These refugees were given free land grants by the British authorities.
In many places it was difficult to find land not already granted, though there might not be a soul living within miles. Considerable areas had been escheated (taken back) for non-fulfillment of settlement conditions, but frequently Loyalists were placed on land claimed by others. This prompted years of negotiating to clear titles. In the nineteenth century many farmers still lacked clear title to the land they had farmed for years.
In 1790 free grants were cut off again in order to develop land more efficiently and increase revenues. This made immigration more difficult because very few wishing to emigrate had the money needed to actually buy land. Those who did come either squatted or obtained licenses as actual occupying settlers, not property owners.
Explorations were undertaken in the 1800s in Nova Scotia by a pioneer ecologist and surveyor, Titus Smith. He traveled through the interior and appraised the soil and timber resources but reported only small pockets of land where farming could be tried.
In 1808 the granting of land commenced again but a debate between free grants versus land sales continued. In 1827 a system of selling land on a term basis was introduced by the Colonial Office over the opposition of the Atlantic colonies as the colonies realized that their lands were not attractive to potential purchasers.
Public Archives of Nova Scotia
The Nova Scotia Archives (NSA) offices have extensive files on grants and petitions for land for Nova Scotia. The Registry of Deeds for each county has indexes to grantors and grantees for all the different types of transactions; mortgages, deeds, leases, releases, liens, sheriff’s deeds, court orders, and some wills involving real estate.
Most of these records have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and copies are available at the Nova Scotia Archives and on loan through any FamilySearch Center.
The boundaries of the counties have changed over the years and the following chart gives the details and years that records are available on film.
- Land Records, 1763-1914; index, 1784-1877 are found on 95 films beginning with FHL film 1378554 available through FamilySearch Centers.
- Crown Land Grants, 1854-1967 can be found on 14 FHL films beginning with film 465201, the index is on film 466413, again available through FamilySearch Centers.
- There is also a land record book containing 3,300 petitions for Cape Breton entitled,Cape Breton Land Paper and Index, 1781-1843, and Miscellaneous Land Papers, 1820-1864. These records are at the Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management and are also available through the FamilySearch Center on 14 films beginning with FHL film 1378276.
|| Formed 1759 was Halifax
|| Formed 1784 was Sydney County 1784-1836
| Cape Breton
|| Formed 1784 separate to 1820
|| Formed 1835 was Halifax
| Cumberland, Amherst
|| Formed 1759 was Halifax
| Cumberland, Parrsboro
|| Included in Kings County until 1840
|| Formed 1837 was Annapolis
| Guysborough, Guysborough
|| Formed 1836 was Sydney County 1784-1836
| Guysborough, Sherbrooke
|| Formed 1836 western half of County
|| Formed 1749
|Hants|| Formed 1781 was part of Kings County
|| Formed 1835 was part of Cape Breton County
| Kings Aylesford
|| Jurisdiction moved to Kentville
| Kings, Cornwallis
|| Formed 1759
| Kings, Horton
|| Jurisdiction moved to Kentville
| Lunenberg, Chester
|| Formed 1759 was part of Halifax
| Lunenberg, Lunenberg
|| Central and Western part of County
|| Formed 1845 was part of Halifax
|| Formed 1762 was part of Lunenburg
|| Formed 1835 was part of Cape Breton County
| Shelburne, Barrington
|| Formed 1784 was part of Queens
| Shelburne, Shelburne
|| Eastern part of county
|| Formed 1851 was part of Breton County
|| Formed 1836 was part of Shelburne
- A list of the Americans who received land as refugees from the American Revolution is found in: Whereabouts of Some American Refugees, 1784-1800: the Nova Scotian Land Grants, by Clifford Neal Smith. 7 vols. McNeal, Ariz: Vestland Publications, 1992. (FHL book 971.6 R2s).
- Another source for Loyalist research is Marion Gilroy’s Loyalists and Land Settlement in Nova Scotia, reprint with index 1980. FHL online version of 1937 edition
Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources
The Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources maintains records and maps tracking crown land transactions. It also maintains a collection of Ambrose Finson Church (A.F. Church) maps dating back to the mid to late 1800s. These materials reside in either the Department’s library or in the Provincial Crown Lands Record Centre. The following brief description will explain how these two resources can be of use for you.
The A.F. Church maps indicate the names of the heads of households in each community, as well as listing tradesmen and prominent citizens. These maps are about four and a half feet square, or a little larger, include insets of Nova Scotia and adjacent provinces, plans of the various townships, and names of residents. Each (except Cumberland) bears a certification that it was entered according to law on the twenty-fourth day of March, 1864, by Ambrose F. Church. None of the maps were published that year, and very little is generally known about Ambrose F. Church.
There is a detailed schedule of the completion dates of each map and this can be accessed at the website. You may purchase copies of these maps on 36" x 60" paper. Each county is printed on 2 sheets of bond paper and is priced at $18-29 Canadian per county. See website for more details.
Crown Land Grant Maps
Crown Land Grant Index maps provide a graphic representation of the layout of the original land grants and over the years they have been meticulously updated by government staff. They show the locations of all land grants and townships. Each map is 26" x 36". The series consists of 138 maps and may be viewed or downloaded. These index sheets are updated on a daily basis. The crown commenced issuing grants in the 1730s, so the names found on this series can predate the A.F. Church maps by over 100 years. Each Crown Land Grant Index Map is printed on bond paper and is priced at $6.86 Canadian (as of 2012).
A list of the Americans who received land as refugees from the American Revolution is found in: Smith, Clifford Neal. Whereabouts of Some American Refugees, 1784–1800: the Nova Scotian Land Grants. 7 vols. McNeal, Ariz.: Vestland Publications, 1992. (FHL book 971.6 R2S; computer number 690908
A wiki article describing ain oniline collection is found at:
- Murphy, Sharon L., Brenda Dougall Merriman, and Frances Coe. "Nova Scotia Land Records (National Institute)," National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Nova_Scotia_Land_Records_%28National_Institute%29.