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.
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:
- Loyalist Association of Ontario/Canada. Resources include Loyalist lists and documentation, and Loyalist Trails – newsletter full of resources, interviews and information
- 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!
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.