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Upper Canada Land Petitions - Where to find them, What will they tell you?

Before the arrival of the Loyalists and British military settlers, the present-day Province of Ontario was an extension of the Province of Quebec and in 1791 was named Upper Canada. Many early settlers, both military and civilian, submitted petitions to the Governor to obtain Crown land along with sons and daughters of  many Loyalists who were also entitled to free lands. These records became known as the Upper Canada Land Petitions and last week the Library and Archives Canada launched an online database of these land records. This research tool provides access to more than 77,000 references to individuals to lived in Upper Canada between 1783 and 1865.

During this time, each applicant was required to submit a written petition, according to the regulations in force at that date. He or she also had to supply the necessary supporting documentation such as certificates from a local magistrate confirming his or her age, good character, loyalty and identity, or a discharge certificate from the Army or Navy. Unfortunately, in most cases, the documents were returned to the applicant, so they are not included with the land petition.

However, a successful petition identified oneself without any doubt and was be able to justify any special entitlement. Therefore, the petitions will often contain an applicant's story detailing services, losses and sufferings during the American Revolutionary War or the War of 1812. They may also contain discharge certificates, letters of introduction from prominent individuals in Britain, reports by the Surveyor General or the Attorney General on technical and legal matters, and some lists of settlers by region. The petitionner had to pay a small fee for processing the petition up to the point of granting the land.

The database was created from the list of names at the beginning of each bundle of petitions and not from the card index or the actual petitions due to errors and omissions on the index and from the various spellings of names on the petitions as a result handwriting and legibility.

The search screen at the Library and Archives Canada website allows you to search by the name of an individual. It is best to search by surname only, due different spellings of names and sometimes there is no given name on the documents. You can then scroll through the list of results, from which you can obtain a description including, name, place, year of document. By further clicking on a name, a more detailed description is provided including surname and given name, place, year, volume, bundle, petition, page, microfilm and reference.

The actual records have not been digitized but are available on microfilm, and can be access through the interlibrary loan program. If your ancestors were early settlers in Upper Canada then this archive collection is worth investicating at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/upper-canada-land/index-e.html.

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