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Land records help people become property detectives

By Sharon Harrison
People looking to learn about the history of their home and land can uncover golden information in land records.

A delve into the Hastings County Land Records housed at the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre (MAGRC) in Ameliasburgh was part of a presentation celebrating the County’s heritage during Flashback February week.

The Living Room Edition of Flashback February, hosted by the County Museums, switched to a digital format this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. This event, Property Detectives, was part of the Hearth and Home series and was hosted by Darlene Walmsley, Seventh Town Historical Society volunteer,.

“It has been said that genealogy is the fastest growing pastime in North America today. Perhaps it’s a logical extension for those who are interested in family history to also be interested in researching old buildings and local history,” said Walmsley. “Old homes are an obvious choice for researchers. They have many chapters to explore, but newly-erected buildings and vacant land may have an equally interesting history. Changes made to an existing structure may alter its appearance forever and demolition may have erased the physical structure completely, but the owners of the property left a paper trail which waits to be discovered.”

The types of paper property records to be found at the Marilyn Adams research centre, usually referred to as instruments, come in the form of deeds, mortgages, wills, contracts, and agreements related to a specific property or properties.

“Crown patent returns for Hastings County are the oldest original documents in the land records collection, and in some cases the dates are before 1800.”

She said while it might seem odd that the Hastings County records are located at a facility in Prince Edward County, it was due to a quirk of fate.

“Approximately 20 years ago, the provincial government decided there wasn’t any need to keep old books and papers because everything had been microfilmed and they were going to be destroyed,” explains Walmsley. “There were approximately 1,500 genealogists across the province who took issue with this and found ways to save the records.”

At the time, the Marilyn Adams centre was a fairly new building. Walmsley explained the crown documents were recorded using their legal description at the time the property was sold by the crown to the very first owner.

In most cases, the patent was for 200-acre farm lots.

“Over time, the original lots may have been sub-divided into small portions and the original geographic township may have become part of a large municipality.”

She further explains that every lot and concession has an abstract page where transactions for that particular property were recorded.

“The abstract record captures all information about a property from the original crown patent. In urban areas, the records are more complex and involve plans and sub-divisions.”

“Looking at an abstract page for any property, the instrument number is in the far left hand column. Next is the type of transaction, the date of the document, and the date it was actually registered – this is important. Next is the quantity of land and the value under consideration, in the last column there are remarks and this may be a further description of the land or other pertinent details.”

“For genealogical purposes, we make note of the names and search the instruments to gain an insight into not only the land holdings, but also community involvement or agreements between neighbours.”

She says when land was transferred by means of a will, often a lot can learned – not only names of spouses but of children, spouses, grandchildren and other relationships of those who are witnesses, executors or beneficiaries of an estate.

“The instrument will usually be signed by the parties involved and the witnesses, perhaps a lawyer, clerk, justice of the peace or notary. It may be surprising to discover that an ancestor could not read or write and this is evident when you see their signature on a legal document as an ‘X’.”

Walmsley notes a document relating to releasing a wife’s dowry rights, a practice that ended in Ontario in 1978.

“Because a widow retained the right to live in the main house on the property after her husband’s death and was entitled to one third of profits from the late husband’s land, wives released their dower rights to allow any property sold by the husband to pass to the owner free of her potential future claims on the property.”

She unraveled an interesting abstract page concerning a property located in Sidney Township. The property owner was Captain John Walden Meyers, who at the time of his death on Nov. 22, 1821, was aged 76.

Captain Meyers was a wealthy man, having accumulated more than 3,000 acres of land and was worth approximately 12,000 pounds (approximately one million dollars today).

“Most remarkable is the means in which all the heirs and devisees are named in full, wives and grandchildren and the relations clearly spelled out,” she says. “To a genealogist this document is almost unbelievable.”

The document states Jacob Meyers has seven children, son James is married to Mary Van De Voort; Alley Westfall is the wife of George; Catherine Orr is John’s wife; and Peter Van De Voort is married to Leonard’s daughter, Mary, and she is clearly described as a granddaughter. John R. Bleecher is the eldest son of John Bleecher and is Captain Meyer’s grandson.

Another deed Walmsley shows is from 1871 from Rawdon Township and concerns Sir MacKenzie Bowell and his wife Harriet.

“MacKenzie Bowell was the owner of the Belleville Intelligencer and served as MP for North Hastings riding. He was also Canada’s fifth prime minister.”

The records housed at the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre cover the period from just after Canadian Confederation in 1867 through 1959, and can be accessed in a variety of ways.

Using the online land records database on the MAGRC website, people can access the post-1867 land records.

“There are at least two more ways to find information about individuals from the land records: a search for an individual’s name may generate a list of properties in Hastings County they are associated with. The list can either be brought into the centre or sent by email.”

Copies of the pre-Confederation instruments are available through Ontario Archives, OnLand Service Ontario, and family search websites. Land petitions are at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa and are viewable online at their website. The website of Family Search operated by the Church of Latter Day Saints offers extensive microfilm collections of land records, abstracts, transcriptions of the deeds, land use agreements, wills and probate and township papers.

“I think volunteering at the Seventh Town Historical Society is the perfect fit for me with the genealogy records upstairs and the Hastings County records on the lower level, both subjects interest me so I have happy on any level,” said Walmsley.

Walmsley also looked into the history of a 175-year-old farm property located in Huntingdon township in Hastings County in the second segment.

The Property Detective video presentation, along with other videos, can be found at Seventh Town Historical Society Facebook page. Seventh Town Historical Society can be reached at

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  1. Deb says:

    Thank you. I will look at these sites.

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