Guide to Early Land Settlement records

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Archives of Ontario

From Grant to Patent:

A Guide to Early Land Settlement records,

ca. 1790 – ca. 1850

215 Research Guide

Most Recent Update:

May 2018

This research guide will help you find and use Crown Land Records on grants and patents from the eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. It provides short summaries and links to Crown land records that will be of particular interest if you are researching family history. The guide does not cover all the land records that are available to researchers.

The Archives has most of the records on Crown land in Upper Canada, Canada West (the new name of the colony after the Union Act of 1840) and in Ontario (the name that came into effect in 1867). Library and Archives Canada (LAC) also has some records – mainly the Crown land Records of the Executive Council of Upper Canada. The Archives has copies of most of these records on microfilm.
There are a lot of records and they cover a wide range of topics. In addition to researching a family history, you can, use Crown land records to study many other topics (e.g., land use, local history and settlement patterns).
Most records in this guide are described in the Archives Descriptive Database (ADD) Click here to access the Archives Descriptive Database. The ADD has more information about these records, including what they contain and instructions on how to access them; it does not include lists of people found in the records. Click here to access Research Guide 205: How to Use the Ontario Land Records Index which will also be useful if you have not used the Ontario Land Records Index (OLRI) before. It is available in the Archives’ Reading Room or on our website. Click here to access the Archives of Ontario website.
This guide covers the following topics


Archives of Ontario 1

From Grant to Patent: 1

A Guide to Early Land Settlement records, 1

ca. 1790 – ca. 1850 1

215 Research Guide 1

Most Recent Update: 1

May 2018 1

Getting Started 2

Understanding the Crown Land Granting Process 2

Using the Ontario Land Records Index to Find the Grant for a Particular Settler 2

The Records 4

Applying for a Land Grant: Land Petitions 4

Upper Canada Land Petitions, ca.1790-ca.1867 4

Petitions for Land, 1827-1856 5

Orders-in-Council, 1827-1904 5

Other Records 5

First and Second District Land Board Records 6

First District Land Boards 6

Second District Land Boards 7

Settling Disputed Land Claims: The Heir and Devisee Commission Records 8

When to Use the Heir and Devisee Commission Records 8

The First Heir and Devisee Commission (1797-1805) 9

The Second Heir and Devisee Commission (1805-1911) 10

Second Heir and Devisee Commission Database 10

Other Second Heir and Devisee Commission Records 11

Promoters of Land Settlement: The Canada Company, Thomas Talbot, and Peter Robinson 12

Canada Company Fonds (F 129) 12

Thomas Talbot Fonds (F 501) 13

Records Relating to the Peter Robinson Settlers 14

Township Papers 15

Land Descriptions, Surveyor’s Notes and Diaries, and Crown Lands Correspondence 15

Descriptions 15

Surveyor Notes and Diaries 16

Crown Lands Correspondence 16

Maps and Plans 17

Survey Plans of Townships 18

Patent Plans 18

Other Maps and Plans 18

Acquiring Ownership of the Land: The Patent 19

Land Registry Office Records 19

Further Reading - Resources on Early Land Settlement 19

Books 19

Published Articles 20

Archival Documents 20

Making Contact 20

Ready and Willing 20

Contact us 20

Website 21

Customer Service and Research Guides 21

Getting Started

Understanding the Crown Land Granting Process

The Crown Land Records of Upper Canada date back to the eighteenth century. Then, due to the American Revolution, a flood of immigrants from the American colonies wanted to settle on British territory. The land that was to become known under the Constitutional Act of 1791 as “Upper Canada” was to be distributed under the control of, and according to regulations that the Crown or its representatives made. By 1795, there was a complex system of land titles and ownership under the direction of the surveyor general. Throughout the pre-Confederation period (before 1867), land policy and distribution was a central activity of the Crown Lands Department.

The Crown’s system for granting land changed a lot over the years. In very general terms, this is how people obtained Crown land:

  • A person who wanted to apply for a land grant from the Crown may have submitted a petition (application) to the Crown.

  • If the petition was successful, the Crown would issue a land grant to the petitioner who then became a settler. Receiving a land grant was a complex process. Many offices were involved. Each office (Executive Council Office, Receiver General's Office, Attorney General's Office, Surveyor General's Office, Provincial Secretary's Office, etc.) had its own numbering system for the land grant documents it created or received.

  • If the settler took up residence on the land and fulfilled certain settlement duties, he or she would have ended up owning the land. Then, the Crown issued a patent to the settler, indicating that the ownership of the land had passed from the Crown to a private individual.

  • If there were any later transactions relating to that property (e.g., sale to another individual, taking out a mortgage on the property, etc.), this was documented in the records of the county Land Registry Offices (LROs).

  • In conducting your Crown land records research, we recommend that you look at the descriptions of the records in the Archives Descriptive Database; click here to access the Archives Descriptive Database. The descriptions explain the relationship of the land records to other records in our holdings and what information is in them. Keep in mind that there are revised reference codes for many of the Crown land records series. However, the microfilm reels and the Ontario Land Records Index (see below) still use the old codes. You can search the old codes in the ADD using the keyword search. The Archives also has a conversion list matching old and new reference codes, which you can find in the Archives’ Reading Room.

Using the Ontario Land Records Index to Find the Grant for a Particular Settler

Many Crown land records are arranged by the lot and concession numbers. In land record research, it is not essential, but it is useful, to know the township, concession and lot to which a person or corporation was associated.

If you do not know the location of the grant for a particular settler, check the Ontario Land Records Index, ca. 1780-ca. 1920 (OLRI). In the OLRI you will find a variety of other records that you can use to find more information about a specific settler and the land that the settler received.
The OLRI is available on self-service microfiche in the Reading Room and through microfilm interloan. We have also distributed the OLRI to libraries, archives and family history centres across Canada and in some parts of the United States. There is a pathfinder to the OLRI in the Reading Room and on the Archives’ Website; click here to access the Pathfinder to the Ontario Land Records Index.
The OLRI is an index of settlers who received Crown land in Ontario by grant, lease, or purchase. The information is:

  • collected and arranged from Crown land records, some records from the Canada Company fonds and the Peter Robinson fonds, and

  • indexed by the surname and township of homesteaders who obtained permission to live on a specific piece of Crown land.

The index includes settlers that Peter Robinson (see below) sponsored and people who obtained land from the Canada Company (see below). The OLRI is useful for learning if a settler received a grant of land from the Crown and, if so, the location. It has the settler’s name and residence (if known), the township, concession, and lot of the Crown property, the date and type of grant and the archival reference code to the source of the data.

The records that the index refers to are available on microfilm in the Archives’ Reading Room and through microfilm interloan, except for the Registers of Fenian and South African volunteer Land Grants (RG 1-99-8, former code RG 1 C-VII-8). Click here to access the description for RG 1-99-8.
Once you have found a settler or location of interest from the OLRI, you can:

  • Look up the original record (on microfilm) that the OLRI refers to and find out if there is any more information, or confirm the information that you found in the OLRI. However, this record often does not have any different information than what is in the OLRI.

  • Read the description of the referenced record in the ADD to learn if there are related records with more information about the land grant. This is often true for references to series of records that are registers of fiats or warrants (documents created in the process of land granting). There may be a corresponding sub-series of the copybooks of fiats or warrants that may have further information on a particular settler.

  • the settler who was granted the land most likely submitted a petition (application); click here for information on searching land petitions.

  • the settler may have been issued a land patent, confirming that he was the owner; click here for information on searching land patents.

  • Research the specific lot of land by using the following records: click here to access Township Papers (RG 1-58), click here to access Survey Notes and Diaries (RG 1-59), and click here to access Descriptions (RG 1-53).

  • If the type of free grant is listed as COMM, the land was granted through the Heir and Devisee Commission; click here for information on searching Heir and Devisee Commission records if you want to know a particular property’s buying and selling history, where the OLRI, in cases where the type of free grant listed is identified as COMM (granted through the Heir and Devisee Commission).

Click here to access Research Guide 205: How to Use the Ontario Land Records Index for more information on how to use the index.

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