Postcard from Port Dover, Ontario

Postcard from Port Dover, Ontario

Beach at Port Dover — Photo by P. Dumas

Port Dover is a small town in southern Ontario, Canada, on the coast of Lake Erie. Now famous for its Friday the 13th gatherings of motorcyclists from across Canada and the USA, the town was settled by Loyalists in the 1790s and saw action during the War of 1812. Continue reading

Do you qualify for the letters U.E.?

Many Canadians have ancestors who remained loyal to the British Crown in the American revolution and, having found themselves on the losing side of the war, were forced to rebuild their lives in Britain’s Canadian colonies.


Today, Canadian descendants of Loyalists can still apply to the UELAC (United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada) to include the initials UE (for Unity of Empire) after their names because the title is hereditary. This is a unique quality amongst Canadian honours. It doesn’t come with any special status or rewards anymore, but at one time it was worth 200 acres of land.

The post-nominal letters and this designation come from Lord Dorcester’s 1789 Proclamation, in which he notes:

Those Loyalists who have adhered to the unity of the Empire, and joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783, and all their children and their descendants by either sex, are to be distinguished by the following capitals, affixed to their names: U.E. alluding to their great principle the unity of the Empire.

To qualify for this designation, one needs to complete a Loyalist Certificate Application. If you’re interested in gaining this designation, a first step would be to contact your local chapter of the UELAC to find out about joining the network and putting together an application with a volunteer from the organisation.

It’s also worth searching online for previously-approved applications that are published on the website. Not only might you find that your ancestor has already been proven to have been Loyalist, but the application should also include details about where the applicant found proof. This can be a very useful shortcut for digging up the primary sources for yourself, especially since (as we’ve seen) searching can be a frustrating, time-consuming activity.

For example, applications have been made by a very distant cousin of mine for both Jacob and Henry Anguish who are also my direct ancestors. This person’s applications included details about their military experience and where to find them in the records, and the applicant was kind enough to share their documents online. This also means that Jacob and Henry are now listed in UELAC’s Loyalist Directory.

You can also follow the UELAC on Twitter @uelac.

Using the Records Loyalists Left Behind: The Search for Henry Anguish

Using the Records Loyalists Left Behind: The Search for Henry Anguish

Over the past month I’ve been looking at Loyalist history and the records that have been preserved and digitised for historians and family historians alike to use to find out more about the early European and Loyalist American settlers in Upper Canada (now Ontario). Several of my ancestors were Loyalists who settled near the shores of Lake Erie in Upper Canada and many of their descendants are still living in the region.

Today I wanted to demonstrate what can be found within these records. I did this briefly with my look at Jacob Anguish’s request for aid that is found in the Haldimand Papers. Today I want to show what can be found across a range of sources for one person, namely Henry Anguish, Jacob’s son.

Henry is my 5x great-grandfather. Over the course of his life he moved from Canadian to American-held territories and back again. This demonstrates the fluidity of movement across borders during peacetime between the Canadian and American territories. He was one of the first Europeans settlers in the area of Tonawanda, New York. By opening the first tavern in the area in 1811 and creating the first building in what would become the village and then town, he is sometimes referred to as the town’s founder. However, he ultimately settled in Rainham Township in Haldimand County, Upper Canada.

So we know that Henry’s father was a Loyalist and that after the war his family’s land in Pennsylvania was no longer theirs. We know that he moved several times in his life. What details can the records fill in for us? Let’s take a look through the different sources that I’ve been writing about.

The Haldimand Papers

My first stop is the Index pages on the reel, C-1475, to look up Henry Anguish. The reel shows that a Henry Anguish is found at volume 105, p. 385, and volume 166, p. 81. Below the typed list of Anguishes there’s a note to see Anguish for Angust; this indicates that there must be places in the records where the last name was written as Angust. I should mention that there are a number of Anguishes in the list. In order to be satisfied that I had found everything, I would look up every one to see if they happen to also mention Henry.

Now we need to find which digitised microfilm reels contain volumes 105 and 166. Library and Archives Canada have put the four volumes that they consider to be ‘Loyalist Volumes’ all on one reel, C-1475, the same one we used above for the index Now it’s just a matter of finding the right page in the right volume. For ease of future searching, I’m noting the start pages of each volume here:

This should help us pretend that they are proper volumes and not one large, artificially created microfilm reel. It’ll also speed things up.

First we want to find Henry in Volume 105 Page 385. This is found through a lot of ‘hit and miss’ work with pages, because the pages aren’t all there. Unfortunately, when I did find the image it’s pretty poor quality (see below).


‘[List] of Persons under the Description of Loyalist Specify[ing] … Captain Lewis Geneway Company in the Corps of Rangers’, Haldimand Papers C-1475 Vol. 105 (Image 386), page 385.

What we have here is a list of Loyalist families that are under the command of Captain Lewis Geneway and the rations allotted to them. Geneway was a Captain in Butler’s Rangers, the regiment Jacob had fought with.

Henry is listed with his family on the right side of the page:


This segment of the list shows that Henry is 18. He is with his father, Jacob (age 63), his mother Elizabeth (age 54), older brother Jacob (20), and younger sisters Anna (16), who was initially left out by the transcriber) and Elizabeth (10). The family is entitled to 2 rations. Extrapolating from information on slightly clearer pages, it looks like this list is from 30 November 1783, the year before Jacob applies for aid for his family.

Next, we want to find Henry in Volume 166 page 81. Henry August is listed next to a Hanah August on a list of Loyalists from 1 August 1787 who are about to lose their right to provisions. Henry August is noted as being 14 and fit for service. As Henry’s last name is different, Anna’s (or Hanah’s) entire name is spelled incorrectly, neither are the expected age, they are not situated with their family, and they are in Montreal (we don’t know where they were in the first list, but have no evidence that they did not stay in the Niagara region where Jacob had been treated), we can’t be sure that this is the same Henry. However, we’ll keep it in our notes.

Upper Canada Land Petitions

My first stop is Library and Archives Canada’s Search page for the Land Petitions of Upper Canada, 1763-1865. A quick search for the surname Anguish brings up 15 results; Henry is first.


Partial list of Search Results for the surname ‘Anguish’

Then, starting with the Microfilm reference in the far right column, C-1609, I search for the item with the digitised, microfilmed Upper Canada Land Petitions. Henry petition is number 27 in volume 1, so I thought I wouldn’t have to dig through too many images, but I was wrong, as volume 1 isn’t the first volume on the reel. Also, it’s important to note that the Haldimand Papers are numbered by page, but the UC Land Petitions are numbered by petition, so I am looking for Petition 27, not page 27 (like I would if I was searching in the Haldimand Papers).

Henry’s petition is found on page 276 of reel C-1609. It is addressed to John Graves Simcoe, the Governor of Upper Canada, and dated 11 May 1796. The petition tells us that Henry has lived in Upper Canada since 1778 and has about 50 acres of land which isn’t enough to support his family, which now consists of his wife and their four children. He states that his father served in the war under John Butler and his wife’s father had been a Sergeant in the same regiment. He concludes by praying that his request will be granted as they will suffer if it isn’t, and signs his name to the petition.

The following page records the reply: Henry and his wife are to be granted 200 acres of land each. In the reply they specifically note that Henry’s wife is the daughter of a Loyalist.


Response to the petition of Henry Anguish, Upper Canada Land Petitions, C-1609 volume 1 (Page 277): 22/27.

Land Boards of Upper Canada

Names contained within the records of the Land Boards of Upper Canada can be searched for on Library and Archives Canada’s search page. A quick search for Henry Anguish leads us to a digital record of where he can be found in their list of land recipients:

Screen shot 2016-11-13 at 13.43.06.png

Search Results for Henry Anguish

The record here could be quite misleading. While the year given is 1802, when you find the actual entry in the manuscript, the date of the land grant was 12 May 1796. We already know this from our search above. The 1802 comes from the list of the Attorney General as they attempt to track all of the land grants, as the grant is recorded in the Land Board’s records on 24 March 1802. You can see the actual entry in my earlier post on Loyalist records.

Upper Canada Land Books

The Upper Canada Land Books provide information on where people can be found in the records. There’s no online search, but the index volumes are useful. Using the Land Books takes time and their intention is to refer you to where the actual records are. Here are the two record cards for Henry Anguish, found in Image 2821 and Image 2822:


Upper Canada Land Book entry for Henry Anguish, C-10810 Image 2821


Upper Canada Land Book entry for Henry Anguish, C-10810 Image 2822

Heir and Devisee Commission records

As we’ve noted, the online search available for these records only applies to those from the Second Heir and Devisee Commission which did not deal with Loyalists, but instead with their descendants’ applications for land. The only Anguish found in the Second Commission’s records is Lewis, Henry’s son (and my 4x great-grandfather) and shows that Lewis was granted land in Rainham township in 1841. The search results also give us useful details for tracking down Lewis’s grant in the records.

Without an online search for the time period I’m interested in, I have yet to find henry in the documents. There are a couple things I can do. First, I can perform an online search using a general search engine such as Google to see if someone else has found Henry in the records and has provided the details on where to find him. Second, I can try to find out where the land was granted (it appears to be Nassau, according to the Land Books we looked at above) and then find the set of records here that relate to Nassau and search for Henry within them.

The Nassau District becomes known as the Home District in 1792. This index to the records indicates that a number of volumes relate specifically to the Home District, but these often lead to summaries of the number of land claims rather than information on the individual claimants. Therefore, it’s possible that Henry is simply included in number of claimants given for a specific year or time period, rather than by name.

I hope what we can take from this search is that we can find out a lot of information about Loyalists and their families in the digitised sources. In some case this information includes interesting little details and insights into the lives, locations, living conditions, and the needs of early settlers in Upper Canada, while in other records these men and women and the documents they created have been amalgamated into the bigger picture of the European and American settlement of early Canada after 1776. When combined with some of the excellent recent works on Loyalist history and the history of Upper Canada, these stories of individuals bring the larger studies to life.

Fighting for the Unity of Empire

Fighting for the Unity of Empire

For the past few weeks I have been writing about the digitised sources available for historians and genealogists (family historians) alike for finding out information about Canada’s Loyalist ancestors. I wanted to take a slightly different perspective on the blog today by looking at what it meant to be a Loyalist.

Who were the Loyalists?

United Empire Loyalists were men and women who were in the thirteen colonies in America and who opposed the American revolution. Estimates of their numbers vary, but there were perhaps around 50,000 Loyalists.

These were people who:

  • lived in the American colonies as of 19 April 1775 (the date of the Battles of Lexington and Concord) and either joined the Royal Standard before 1783’s Treaty of Separation (aka the Treaty of Paris) or demonstrated loyalty to the Crown, and settled in British-held territory, OR
  • were soldiers who had served in an American Loyalist Regiment and then relocated to Canada, OR
  • were members of the Six Nations of either the Grand River or the Bay of Quinte Reserve and were descended from those whose migration patterns were similar to the Loyalists’.

There were Loyalist regiments, Loyalist forts and garrisons, and Loyalist settlements. They were from diverse backgrounds and had different motivations for choosing to fight against the revolution. Some of their stories are captured in the records that I’ve been writing about; historians have been utlising these records and other information as they explore their experiences and attempt to explain these motivations. You can find a list of suggested readings at the end of this post.

Former soldiers and their families and descendants were granted land, particularly in Upper and Lower Canada, and thanks to the well-preserved, transcribed, digitised records found in the Haldimand Papers, the Land Petitions of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, and the records of the Heir and Divisee Commission, we can see who was given land, where, and why. This is fundamental to our understanding of how Upper Canada (now Ontario) in particular was settled by Europeans and their American descendants as well as displaced First Nations peoples in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


James G. Chewett & Thomas Ridout, A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, 1826.

I think it can be tempting to try to whitewash the experiences of the war and the fact that thousands of men and women opposed the throwing off of British rule over the thirteen colonies. I’m a strong supporter of analysing the losing side of the battle or argument, particularly when it comes to arguments based on ideology, as a means of better understanding what the winning side was able to overcome and to challenge assumptions that a win was inevitable (this perspective is also pretty obvious in my book!). Loyalist history is the history of those who defended British rule in America and who believed in the need to maintain direct ties to the mother country; with the Commonwealth, we continue to see the legacies of these ties today.

Suggested Readings:

Jerry Bannister and Liam Riordan (eds), The Loyal Atlantic : Remaking the British Atlantic in the revolutionary era (University of Toronto Press, 2012).

Robert M. Calhoon, Timothy M. Barnes, and George A. Rawlyk (eds.), Loyalists and Community in North America (Greenwood Press, 1994).

Philip Gould, Writing the Rebellion: Loyalists and the Literature of Politics in British America (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Norman James Knowles, Inventing the Loyalists : the Ontario Loyalist tradition and the creation of usable pasts (University of Toronto Press, 1997).

Christopher Moore, The Loyalists : Revolution, exile, settlement (McClelland & Stewart, 1994).

Peter C. Newman, Hostages to Fortune: The United Empire Loyalists and the Making of Canada (Simon & Schuster, 2016).

Gavin K. Watt, The Burning of the Valleys : Daring raids from Canada against the New York frontier in the fall of 1780 (Dundurn Press, 1997).

Gavin K. Watt,  Loyalist refugees : Non-military refugees in Quebec 1776-1784, 2nd edition (Global Heritage Press [Canada], 2016).

A quick shout out and recommendation also goes to the work of Dr Tim Compeau, who’s a former classmate of mine and whose PhD thesis, ‘Dishonoured Americans: Loyalist Manhood and Political Death in Revolutionary America’ is available from Western University here. You can follow him on Twitter @TimCompeau and find a summary of his dissertation on the UELAC’s scholarship page.

Loyalist Records Online: An Overview

Loyalist Records Online: An Overview

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing quite a bit about using digitised Loyalist documents (check out my reflections on the struggles inherent in finding specific records and my detailed look at an injured Loyalist’s plea for financial support for his family). I’m thinking that a well-organised overview of some of the digitised sources I’ve been using and writing about might be in order. The resources are presented in a confusing enough way on their own sites; here we might be able to make a bit more sense of them.

Haldimand Papers

Search Page: The papers have not been transcribed and there is no online searchable index. There is, however, microfilm reel C-1475 that contains a typed index of names. Watch out for misspelled names and try to think up and look for alternative spellings. Also look for potential relatives; if a specific person you are looking for is not in the index, they may still be mentioned near a relative’s name in the actual records and were simply missed. This guide from Olive Tree Genealogy provides a helpful introduction.

Actual Digitised Microfilm Reels: Haldimand Papers


Excerpt of a letter from Robert Leake, dated 14 February 1768, complaining that troops in Pensacola, Florida are not receiving the bread or flour they need. Haldimand Papers reel C-4652 (p. 2), Image 9.

What you might find: 48 reels of documents in English that are preserved in the British Library. These documents are copies of the originals that were rewritten in the 19th century. Sir Frederick Haldimand was the Governor of Quebec (at the time this included present-day Ontario) from 1778-1786. In these reels can be found all types of correspondence and some tables and charts recording names, locations, individual stories and experiences, financial support, encampments, lists of soldiers in specific regiments, and so on.

Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865), aka Land Petitions of/for Upper Canada

Search Page: Library and Archives Canada search

Actual Digitised Microfilm Reels: Upper Canada Land Petitions


Excerpt from John Anable Jnr.’s Petition for Land dated 15 July 1807, Upper Canada Land Petitions reel c-1610 (item 50), pp. 37-8.

What you might find: 327 digitised microfilm reels containing details of Loyalists and their descendants who are submitting a claim or ‘petition’ to an initial or additional grant of land in the newly-created Upper Canada. Their requests contain varying levels of details and may also include additional supporting documents as well as information on whether a grant was made, why or why not, and what the grant entailed. Requests from the descendants of Loyalists tend to provide useful information for genealogists and those interested in family history because the petitioner has to outline their heritage to justify their claim.

Land Boards of Upper Canada, 1765-1804

Search Page: Library and Archives Canada search

Actual Digitised Microfilm Reels: Minutes and records of the Land Boards accumulated by the Executive Council Office


Records of grants recorded on 24 March 1802 (including to Loyalist Henry Anguish, my 5x Great-Grandfather, on 12 May 1796), Land Boards of Upper Canada, reel C-14027 (p. 14/46), Image 273.

What you might find: Minutes and records of the Land Boards of Upper Canada, including letters with detailed information about individuals and charts recording the most basic information about land recipients (name, amount of land granted, and date of the grant). These records were created by the Land Boards as they tried to keep track of who had been granted land in Upper Canada.

Upper Canada Land Books

Search Page: None online, although reels H-1976, H-1977, and H-1978 contain an index.

Actual Digitised Microfilm Reels: Upper Canada Land Books


Index card for Jacob Anguish, Upper Canada Land Books, reel C-10810, Image 2825.

What you might find: 41 reels of ‘finding aids’ in the form of thousands of filmed index cards with names that are related to requests and decisions about land grants in Upper Canada. These cards, organised in alphabetical order by the petitioner’s last name, refer to other sources where a request was recorded. Maybe someday we’ll have a version that is digitally linked to the sources referred to in the cards…

Heir and Devisee Commission records

Search Page: There is an online search for the Second Heir and Devisee Commission and an Index to the Records

Actual Digitised Microfilm Reels: Heir and Devisee


Segment of a chart of land grants, Heir and Devisee, reel H-1133 (p. 81), Image 130.

What you might find: 21 digitised microfilm reels recording the workings of the Heir and Devisee Commission, including legal documents, testimony, copies of wills and mortgages, and other information that was required by and sent to the Commission by claimants wishing to receive confirmation of land ownership. In other cases, information is displayed in the form of a chart (as above). Some volumes begin with an index. The major differences between the First and Second Heir and Devisee Commissions is time period — the First is for the period 1797-1804, the Second is 1805 and onwards — and the claimants. Only descendants were dealt with by the Second Commission. Most of the original nominees had died by this point, and those who remained could apply directly to the Surveyor General for their patent (the confirmation of land ownership).

In my next posts, I’ll give some more background information on the Loyalists and I show how I’ve used each of these records in my search for a certain Loyalist ancestor, Henry Anguish.

A Loyalist’s Request for Assistance in the Haldimand Papers

A Loyalist’s Request for Assistance in the Haldimand Papers

I recently wrote about some of the great online resources now available for conducting research into Loyalist history and experiences in early Canada, and alongside this I reflected upon some of the struggles that go along with trying to search through and utilise these great records. As databases that are very much the straight-forward digitisation of microfilm reels made in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, rather than having been created as an online resource, they are not user-friendly. They are simply organised by microfilm reel. Their related search engines have limited scope (usually just name and location) and give detailed information on where to find associated records in the microfilm, but no links to the digitised version of the source. At times it can be difficult to simply find the online database itself!

In my experience, searching for Loyalist records online involves a lot of jumping around from website to website, trying to find the search page and the actual digitised resources, translating the microfilm details from your search into something that’s meaningful for the online, digitised ‘reels’, jumping from image to image within the designated reel to find the correct volume and then the correct page, and then, if the quality of the decades-old microfilmed image was good and the digitised image of the microfilm sufficient, working your way through the text.

It seems to me that a lot of this confusion could be cleared up by a simple reorganisation of the digitised files. Instead of listing them by microfilm reel (each of which could hold several volumes and over a thousand images), they should really be separated out into volumes and listed on their website by volume. This list of the volumes could then be cross-referenced to the ‘original’ microfilm reel number for researchers who already have that information. The actual documents themselves, at least in the case of the Haldimand Papers and the Land Petitions, were clearly organised into separate volumes when they were rewritten by hand for preservation. These volumes have title pages and tables of contents or indexes to help researchers. The microfilm reels ignore these tools because of their format, but there’s no reason to reproduce the format of a microfilm reel online. But I digress.

At least three of my male ancestors were Loyalists who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War and later settled in Canada with their families. I’ve mentioned before that I have found one of my 6x great-grandfathers, Jacob Anguish, in Héritage‘s digitised reels of the formerly microfilmed Haldimand Papers. Jacob and his family had been living in Pennsylvania and joined Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist Regiment, in 1777. He was captured following the Battle of Oriskany and imprisoned in Hartford, where he suffered irreparable damage to his health. Members of his family can also be found in various Loyalist-related records from Upper Canada, and his son Henry’s descendants are found in the Canadian County Atlases. A number of Loyalists from Butler’s Rangers ultimately settled in the Niagara region, as Earnest Alexander Cruikshank’s The Story of Butler’s Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara (1893) recalls.

I thought that I would reproduce some of his testimony here to demonstrate how valuable these papers can be.


Screenshot of the Petition of Jacob Anguish to Col. Arent de Peyster, dated 4 August 1784, the Haldimand Papers, H-1448 (p. 419), Image 335.

To Lieut. Col. De Peyster Commanding Niagara, etc., etc.,

The Petition of Jacob Anguish, Late a Ranger in Lieut. Col. Butler’s Corps., Most Humbly Sheweth,

That Your Petitioner in the year 1777 quitted his habitation near the Susquehanna, and joined Lieut. Col. Butler, under whose command he went on the Expedition against Fort Stanwix, and was present at the Battle of Orisca.

That when the army retreated, he obtained permission from Lieut. Col. St. Ledger to return home in order to bring off his family; but having the misfortune to be taken Prisoner on his journey, he was put into a Dungeon in Hartford where he was detained nine months.

The letter goes on to detail how, after being released due to ill health, Jacob manages to return home, only to find that his family is missing. He returns to Butler’s Rangers, but the damage done to his foot and leg from lying on the frozen ground of the dungeon ultimately means that he must lose his leg at the Garrison Hospital in Niagara, is still unwell, and can no longer support his found family. Therefore, this letter was created as the result of his request for financial aid, not necessarily for himself (it’s noted that he’s now 59 and may not live long due to his ill health), but for his wife and family:

That your petitioner humbly hopes, that in case he should not recover from the operation, His Excellency will nevertheless extend his Bounty towards his helpless widow now between fifty and sixty years of age.

The letter is signed with Jacob’s mark, an ‘X’. This indicates that Jacob is illiterate and has dictated the story to an agent. Jacob’s statement regarding his health and fitness is corroborated by John Butler in a short statement following the petition, dated 4 August 1784, at Niagara.

As you can see from just one letter, the Haldimand Papers give insight into the experiences of normal soldiers and immigrants who found themselves on the losing side of a war that resulted in them never being able to return ‘home’. They add names to the battles, information about background and details of locations, and even insights into the history of medicine and prison conditions. They have preserved the stories of men and women who could not write their own story, albeit in a formalised style and interpreted by someone else. For example, additional research has shown that Jacob’s last name was probably Enckisch; he has been identified as a German immigrant who arrived in Philadelphia on 9 September 1751 on the ship, The Patience, so his name here has been anglicised.

You can find the full text of Jacob’s petition in the Haldimand Papers amongst Héritage’s digitised collections. Next week, I’ll provide an overview of some of the digitised record collections and search engines to pull all of these resources together.

The Struggles of Searching for Loyalist Records

The Struggles of Searching for Loyalist Records

Recently I’ve been looking into some Loyalist records from early Canada. Thanks to government-funded digitisation programmes such as Héritage and the work of Library and Archives Canada, many sets of records once only available in the British Library or on 1960s-era microfilm at select national libraries are now online and free to access.

The digitised, handwritten documents found in such collections as the Upper Canada Land Petitions and the Haldimand Papers (two sets I’ve used quite a bit) also serve as excellent reminders that just because a source has been put up online does not mean that it will be easy to search through, read, or use. Even databases with an integrated online search application can give difficult or incomplete results due to many different factors. First, searches are often limited to name and location: content or subject is left out. This is promising for family history and genealogy research, but what if I want to know about early settlers to a specific region or find examples of cultural interactions between different groups? I’d have to go through page by page. The search engine (and, in some ways, the presentation of the collection) has therefore been aimed at genealogists rather than historians.


Excerpt from the Petition of Jacob Anguish to Lieut. Col. Peyster of Niagara, dated 4 August 1784. The Haldimand Papers, H-1448, 399 (pp. 419-21), Images 335-7.

The search results may also be affected by the quality of penmanship and the skill of the archivist. Unlike many contemporary online databases of digitised, type-written documents, these records can not be searched automatically for a certain word using a browser’s find function. Any search results have to have been inputted by someone and this leaves room for errors and omissions (not that computerised searches are infallible!). Documents may have been misread or key elements, such as names, may be simply illegible.

Finally, these collections have been digitised as complete microfilm reels, not volumes, meaning that it is the format and limitations of film and the archival practices of the 1960s that is being reproduced online. As a result, search results include information meant for archivists and not the general user, online researcher, or family historian. In fact, the search applications and their results page are regularly not linked to the digitised copy of the source, or even to the online database as a whole.

For example, you can search the Land Petitions for Upper Canada by first and last name and/or place here at Library and Archives Canada, but the actual digitised documents are in LAC’s archived pages here. This can lead to hours of hunting online for the right database and then the page of the right volume that matches the specific details listed in what was originally a simple search. There are also cases in which only some of the records revealed in the online search have been digitised. You may still need to venture to a national library or the British Library to see the contents of the document. This can be very frustrating.

However, the hunt can be well worth it. A while back I was looking into some of the Loyalists in my own family history and starting to dig through the Haldimand Papers. Unlike the Land Petitions for Upper Canada 1763-1865 and the Land Boards of Upper Canada 1765-1804, the Haldimand Papers do not have an online search page for names or places mentioned within the text. I had thankfully come across the details of record for one of my ancestors in the published work of another researcher. It still took me almost an hour to track down the correct pages in the records, but it was great to finally find Jacob Anguish, my 6x great-grandfather, in the Haldimand Papers. I’ll write more about Jacob’s story in my next post.

There is so much potential in these documents that has been left hidden by the partial or total absence of digitised finding aids, the decision to present them as microfilm reels rather than as the original volumes of records, the lack of additional metadata, and the focus on creating finding tools for family historians who are familiar with the archives in question and not researchers with broader interests (as evidenced by the prominent genealogy banner on Héritage’s homepage and the inclusion of ‘Genealogy and Family History‘ as the very first link on Library and Archive Canada’s homepage‘s list of Popular Topics).

I think that these databases are wonderful resources for family history researchers and historians alike; their organisation and search functions could go a long way towards making the digitised documents and collections more accessible and useful for everyone.

Sources 101: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

Sources 101: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

This post is the first in what we plan to be an on-going series on sources for primary source research on the web. I’ve decided to begin with a favourite of mine, and also one of the more difficult to navigate: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.


Between 1998 and 2001, 43 county atlases were digitised by researchers, librarians, curators, and students at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. They digitised the pages of atlases found in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections and recorded the names and properties on the atlases in a simple, searchable online database.

What you’ll find:

The database contains scanned copies of the atlases as well as the names of individual land and business owners. It also provides a brief overview of the origins of the atlases and title page information for every atlas included in the project.

How to use it:

I found it somewhat challenging to navigate the website and discover the full extent of the information contained within the database. The Home Page, In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project, gives your four options to choose from: Project Overview (background information on the origins and methodology of the digitisation project); County Atlases (information on the creation of the 19th century atlases); Search; and Project Credits (a list of the people involved in making the database).

Search gives you two main options: People and Maps. It also includes two new options not found on the home page: FAQ and Abbreviations (useful for interpreting the search results). By clicking on People, you can search by one or more of the following terms: Last Name, County, Township, Town, Birthplace, and Occupation, and whether to restrict your results to an exact match for the last name and to only results with an attached image. By clicking on Maps, you are taken to an interactive map of southern and central Ontario. Click on a county to bring up an interactive map of the county, in which you can find more details maps of individual townships, or choose from a drop-down list of counties, townships, and towns.

Research potential:

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project is an excellent resource for individuals interested in researching their family history. If you had a male land-owning ancestor living in Ontario between 1874 and 1881, it is worth making a quick search of their last name to see if they are on there. Prominent individuals also paid to have biographical information, business information, and portraits of themselves or their homes included in the atlas, and so it could also provide information on prominent individuals in their communities. The descendants of Loyalists (of particular interest to those of conducting research on British and American colonial history!) can also be found throughout the atlases.


The database clearly shows its age, but the information and images contained within make it worth struggling with the minimal options, buttons, and lack of menus. The search function is fairly straightforward and gives you detailed information (where possible) and results that link directly to a close-up image of their property on the relevant page of the atlas, as well as a zoomed-out image in which to situate the search results.