Posted by Lesley Anderson on April 15, 2016 in Canada

Sometimes when we are researching our ancestors we find ourselves in a time and/or place that isn’t familiar. Recently I found myself having to learn about a very fascinating period of Canadian history – the American Revolution and the Loyalists in around the Kingston/Napanee area of Ontario.

United Empire Loyalist Monument, Hamilton, Canada, from Canada, Historical Postcards on Ancestry.
United Empire Loyalist Monument, Hamilton, Canada, from Canada, Historical Postcards on Ancestry.

When American independence was officially recognized in April 1783, Americans who had remained loyal to the British Crown were persecuted and forced out of their homes. The British government came to the aid of these Loyalists and arranged for transportation for those who wished to leave. Many chose to settle in Nova Scotia (which then included New Brunswick) and in Quebec (which then included Ontario).

Following the Constitutional Act of 1791, the colony of Quebec was divided to create Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) and Lower Canada (present-day Québec). Military and civilian settlers submitted petitions to the Governor to obtain Crown land. Sons and daughters of Loyalists were also entitled to free lands.

Through my research I found these resources to be very helpful:

  • Land Petitions for Upper Canada, 1763-1865. This index will provide you with the name, place, year and the microfilm number where you can browse to the volume, bundle and page number where the petition can be found.

All or some of the documents described above have been digitized and are available here and in the Land Boards of Upper Canada, 1765-1804. Note: Remember to page forward and back once you locate a record to see if there are any supporting documents.

  • William Caniff’s Book –History of the settlement of Upper Canada (Ontario): with special reference to the Bay Quinté. The author interviewed many of the old settlers who were the sons and daughters of Loyalists back in the 1860s. His book is available on Internet Archive and here, and his notes have been transcribed online on Randy Saylor’s Family & Bay of Quinte Records website on RootsWeb.
  • Burleigh Fonds – Queen’s University. Dr. H.C. Burleigh was a general practitioner and local historian in Bath, Ontario and Genealogist for the Bay of Quinte branch of the United Empire Loyalist Society. People wrote to him to conduct family history research and provided detailed information on their family trees. These 1,000 genealogical files, which relate mainly to Bay of Quinte and Loyalist families, contain correspondence, research from printed sources, newspaper clippings and some photographs. In this collection, I found detailed accounts of how the Loyalists suffered and what they did to support their King and country – even what they ate and what they wore! Note, when you click on the name link, you may need to scroll up in order to see the digitized file.
  • Langhorn’s Anglican Church Register. Rev. John Langhorn was the first regularly sent Church of England Missionary to Upper Canada. The registers of Ernestown and Fredericksburg have been indexed here and you can contact the Anglican Archives in Kingston for assistance to get copies of the entries in the register.
  • The Lennox & Addington County Museum & Archives has a very helpful archivist and many genealogical and historical collections for consultation.
  • Loyalist Claims on Ancestry. British commissioners were appointed to examine claims of losses sustained by those loyal to the British crown during and following the war. These documents include books of evidence and memorials given by witnesses, accounts of losses (which can provide detail about places and possessions), evidence of claims, correspondence, indentures, and other documents collected over the course of these examinations.
  • Public Member Trees on Ancestry. Many of the personal family documents and pictures posted to online trees are from personal archives can’t be found anywhere else. I found this amazing picture of an original 1798 land grant from a kind researcher who had attached it to his tree and made it publicly available!

1798 Land Grant

For more information on Loyalist research, see our free Loyalist Ancestors Research Guide on Ancestry.

You can search for your Loyalist ancestors in Ancestry.ca’s collections here.

Lesley Anderson

Lesley Anderson has been involved in the personal research of her family tree for more than 35 years (yes she was a teenager!) and her passion for genealogy has branched out to teaching classes, speaking at seminars and conferences, consulting and doing research for others. She is well known for her genealogy classes and her “field trips” to various archives and libraries. You can find Lesley on the 2nd or 3rd floors of the Library and Archives Canada, researching for clients and working for Ancestry.ca.

5 Comments

  1. Denise Moss-Fritch

    Your first resource, the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada offers a resource of particular importance. That resource is the site’s Loyalist Directory with an alphabetical directory of loyalists giving in many cases documentation and an email contact of a knowledgeable individual for that loyalist (or family).

  2. May I suggest this book may be helpful for those researching Loyalist ancestors in Ontario? United Empire Loyalists: A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada, published by globalgenealogy.com.

  3. After the division of Quebec after 1791, some loyalist settlements moved out of Quebec but some went back to America, I have been working on this theory since I just started my work from Coadb.com I hope I can establish my claim. United Empire Loyalists: A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada is also a good guide, I will definitely check it out thanks Brenda!

  4. toni

    Like the person above whose document is now ancestry’s property, I was surprised to find a picture taken in my parent’s living room to be available to other ancestry subscribers with the citation as being found at ancestry.com. Not everyone remembers or even knows that everything they add to their tree belongs to ancestry to do with as they please.

  5. Kathi Ketcheson

    My direct ancestor, William Ketcheson, was one of the “founders” of the UEL community documented in Caniff’s book, mentioned by Lesley. The family holds a reunion every year in the Belleville, Ontario, area. There are numerous resources available on UEL families and a number of active groups in Ontario and other provinces. There is even a website and publication, which I believe is called The Loyalist Gazette, that contains information on Loyalist history and sources of genealogical information. Good luck to everyone in your research!

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