Researching Land Records in Ontario

Land records have been an important resource in documenting the history of the Fleming families in Derby Township, Grey County. The most useful record has been the “abstract index to deeds” adopted in the land record offices in 1865. The abstract is a summary of the transaction showing dates, instrument number, transaction type, lot and concession, acres, grantor and grantee, dollar amount. Transaction codes indicate “bargain and sale,” mortgage received, discharge of mortgage, release, grant, and other events. In a nutshell it shows the history of the changes in ownership and financing arrangements, and sometimes the disposal of an estate. For further detail, it was sometimes necessary to find the memorialization of the deed or transfer by the instrument number in the copybook for the township or locate the original document.

Previously, researchers had to go to the county land registry office or Archives of Ontario. Today the Ontario Land Registry Access (OnLand) website provides online access to digital images of the index pages. This posting is a short guide for searching that service.

Land records are organized by concession and lot. In our case, we knew the concession and lot numbers of the properties Alexander Fleming bought in 1847 and 1858. Another source for this information are farmers’ directories – especially the Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Grey  1865-6 (Toronto: W W Smith, 1865)

In this example, we are looking for the history of “Forest Lawn” on the north half of Lot 9 Concession 6. James Fleming obtained the lot from his father in 1853 and during his lifetime developed it into an estate of orchards and gardens.

Print of Forest Lawn
Forest Lawn, Kilsyth. From Illustrated Atlas of the County of Grey 1880

OnLand is a product of Teranet Property & Registration Services through which you can search for land ownership documents, specific instruments and plans, and – of interest to us – historical books containing the records that predate the introduction of the electronic land registration system. There are video guides at

1. From the home page –, select Historical Books.

2. Land Registry Office. Select Grey LRO (16)

3. Browse Abstract / Parcel Register Book

4. Select the Township/Municipality – in this case Derby

OnLand Abstract/Parcel Register Book - Select Derby Township

5. Identify the book according to the concession number. We want Concession 6. Click on View Details.

OnLand - screen showing abstract books for Derby Township

6. Browse the pages using the buttons to go back and forwards or by page number. Adjust the controls to enlarge the text and use full screen. First find the concession and then the lot. Except – it might not be quite that straightforward.

The first few pages have entries from before 1865 that the registry office entered retroactively. The Fleming entries for Lot 9 are on page 9. Entries for Lot 9 after 1865 begin on page 161. We see that James sold two parts in 1867 and 1869 as residential lots in the village of Kilsyth. With effort one can discern most of the transactions on the pages. If completely unreadable, then a trip to the land registry office or Archives of Ontario may be necessary, although the microfilm might not be much better. For a small fee of $2 a page, you can request a copy of the page to be emailed to you.

Extract from the Abstract Index to Deeds for Derby Township, Grey County, Concession 6, Lot 9 for Alexander Fleming
Extract from the Abstract Index to Deeds for Derby Township, Grey County, Concession 6, Lot 9 pre-1865
Excerpt from Abstract Index to Deeds, Derby Township, Grey County, for Concession 6, Lot 9 showing two sales by James Fleming.
Extract from Abstract Index to Deed for Derby Township, Grey County, Concession 6, Lot 9 showing two sales by James Fleming.

The OnLand facility is a boon to family history researchers for saving time and enabling a deep dive into the records of a community – to see the movements of family members and neighbours over decades.


To learn more about land records in Ontario, see Genealogy in Ontario: Searching the Records (30th Anniversary Edition) by Brenda Dougall Merriman (Ontario Genealogical Society: 2013) – pages 147 to 155 on “Land Registration”

Archives of Ontario has a research guide (231) – “Finding Land Registration Records” – that describes the system for land records, the main records and the search process – all of which is good background for using OnLand Historical Books.

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