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The availability of land attracted many immigrants to Canada, making land records some of the earliest records available for researching Canadian ancestors, predating most census and even vital records. In eastern Canada these records date back as early as the late 1700s. The types and availability of land records vary according to province, but generally you will find:
- Records showing first transfer of land from the government or crown to the first owner, including warrants, fiats, petitions, grants, patents, and homesteads. These are usually held by national or provincial archives, or other regional government repositories.
- Subsequent land transactions between individuals such as deeds, mortgages, liens, and quit claims. These land records are generally found in local land registry or land title offices, although older ones may be found at provincial and local archives.
- Historical maps and atlases showing property boundaries and names of land owners or occupiers.
- Property tax records, such as assessment and collectors' rolls, may provide a legal description of the property, plus information on the owner.
Federal homesteading began in Canada about ten years later than in the United States, encouraging westward expansion and settlement. Under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872 a homesteader paid just ten dollars for 160 acres, with the requirement of building a home and cultivating a certain number of acres within three years. Homestead applications can be especially helpful for tracing immigrant origins, with questions regarding the applicant's country of birth, subdivision of country of birth, last place of residence, and previous occupation.
Land grants, homestead records, tax rolls, and even deed records can be found online for cities and provinces across Canada through a variety of sources, from local genealogical societies to regional and national archives. In Quebec, don't overlook notarial records for recorded deeds and divisions or sales of inherited land.
Lower Canada Land PetitionsLibrary and Archives Canada Free
Searchable index and digitized images of petitions for grants or leases of land and other administrative records in lower Canada, or what is now present-day Quebec. This free online research tool from Library and Archives Canada provides access to more than 95,000 references to individuals between 1764 and 1841.02of 08
Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865)Free
Library & Archives Canada hosts this free, searchable database of petitions for grants or leases of land and other administrative records with references to more than 82,000 individuals who lived in present-day Ontario between 1783 and 1865.03of 08
Western Land Grants, 1870-1930
This index to land grants made to individuals who successfully completed requirements for their homestead patent, provides the name of the grantee, legal description of the homestead, and archival citation information. The homestead files and applications, available through the various provincial archives, contain more detailed biographical information on homesteaders.04of 08
Canadian Pacific Railway Land SalesFree
The Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta, hosts this online database to records of sales records of agricultural land by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to settlers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta from 1881 to 1927. The information includes the name of purchaser, legal description of land, number of acres purchased, and cost per acre. Searchable by name or legal land description.05of 08
Alberta Homestead Records Index, 1870-1930Free
An every-name index to the homestead files contained on 686 reels of microfilm at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA). This includes the names of not only those who obtained a final homestead patent (title), but also those who for some reason never completed the homesteading process, as well as others who may have had some involvement with the land.06of 08
New Brunswick County Deed Registry Books, 1780-1941Free
FamilySearch has posted online digitized copies of indexes and deed records books for the province of New Brunswick. The collection is browse-only, not searchable; and is still being added to.07of 08
New Brunswick Grantbook DatabaseFree
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick hosts this free database to records of land settlement in New Brunswick during the period 1765-1900. Search by grant holder name, or county or place of settlement. Copies of the actual grants found in this database are available from the Provincial Archives (fees may apply).08of 08
Saskatchewan Homestead IndexFree
The Saskatchewan Genealogical Society created this free file locator database to the homestead files at the Saskatchewan Archives, with 360,000 references to those men and women who took part in the homestead process between 1872 and 1930 in the area now known as Saskatchewan. Also included are those who bought or sold North West Métis or South African scrip or received soldier grants after World War One.