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By Ryan Taylor

The Ontario Genealogical Society recently published the final volume in its series Index to the Upper Canada Land Books. The final volume was also the first!

The nine volumes in the series cover 1787 to 1841, when Upper Canada changed its names to Canada West. This is confusing to modern ears. The 'upper' in Upper Canada refers to the upper part of the St. Lawrence River. The 'west' means west of Montreal-both names are early versions of Ontario.

Quebec, logically, was Lower Canada and Canada East.

The index makes available information in the minutes of the Executive Council of the Land Board. It supervised the granting or selling of land.

An applicant would appear before the board with his documents in hand. The information would be recorded in the minutes. The nine volumes contain references to more than 85,000 names, an amazing number when you consider the population of Ontario was a few hundred in 1787.

There was a population explosion throughout this period, of course. Toronto had less than a thousand people in 1815, but grew to 30,000 in 1851.

The process of land allocation in early Ontario was complicated. Users of the index are urged to read the foreword and introduction carefully so that they know how to use the material they learn here.

There are many other ways of approaching land grants documents, such as the Land Grant Index, a computerized listing available in most libraries in the province. It was produced 30 years ago and provides access to names of first owners of lots by both grantee and land description.

Patricia Kennedy's introduction to the Land Books index makes clear that "the relevance of records to a particular type of research varies widely; the records accumulated by any one official may be the ideal point to start one type of investigation while being largely irrelevant to others."

She goes on to describe the Land Books as the most formal copy of the council's minutes. They record various bits of information-documents, messages from the governor or other committees and persons-but do not include deliberations.

It is vital for any researcher to explore all the various avenues which lead to details about their ancestors' land activities, so the Index should be consulted even by those who suspect their relations may not appear there. Eliminate every possibility before passing on to the next subject, as Kennedy's introduction makes apparent.

The system of land grants is very complex and Kennedy lays out the steps in clear language and a concise format.

The index itself includes name, any descriptive information and residence (if given), the date and the page reference. It is very basic, but the entries in the minutes may be more detailed.

Person hoping for a grant submitted a petition which might contain full biographies including military services or civilian experiences in wartime, or connections to prominent members of the British Establishment. The purpose was "solid self-identification and justification for any special entitlement." The result is that genealogists can find life stories told by the people themselves, speaking to us from two centuries ago.

Few biographical details are left by ordinary people from this period, but these land documents are the exception. From a mere name, they suddenly become a full-fledged person.

This important series will now be among the first sources to be consulted by genealogical researchers in Ontario. They should be found in most libraries, or they can be purchased from OGS.

Details are given at the society web site and enquiries can be directed to provoffice@ogs.on.ca. Write to 40 Orchard View Boul., Toronto ON M4R 1B9 or call 416 489 9803. Cost is $38 per volume.

Posted January 12, 2006
Column copyright © 2006 Ryan Taylor

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