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. Continue reading

Laird of Cragganfearn

Cragganfearn, Logierait Parish, Scotland in 2018. Photo by Eddie Thomson
Cragganfearn, Logierait Parish, Scotland in 2018. Photo by Eddie Thomson (https://www.heartlandtours.co.uk/)

Many families have a story from the past that takes on mythic qualities in the retelling. In genealogy, however, it is important to examine the story critically and evaluate the evidence. (1)

The Fleming family’s story has been about the “laird of Cragganfearn”,  the belief that Alexander Fleming’s grandfather had been “laird of Cragganfearn”, an estate of some 260 acres in the central part of the Atholl region of Perthshire. As the story goes, Alexander Fleming’s father, John, met his future wife Janet Ross at Cragganfearn where she was a servant. John’s father, the laird, banned the marriage and disinherited his son when John disobeyed. Very romantic, but how much is true? To be a laird means owning a substantial estate. Did a Fleming own that estate?

Others have wondered. In 2006 there was a heated thread at Rootschat in which three Fleming descendants sought information about the laird. One respondent (not a descendant) with the handle Tickle pointed out that the entire area had been owned by the Duke of Atholl in the 1700s, and that rental records at the Blair Estate in Blair Atholl (north of Logierait and Cragganfearn) would have the answer.

We examine the sources of this story, the information itself, and the evidence from land records and other accounts. We will see that the “lairdship” story began as wishful thinkin and continued thus. Continue reading

Derby Township Assessment Rolls

In investigating the lives of our ancestors much can be inferred from the tax assessment rolls.  In researching the Flemings of Derby Township we can see  acquisition of acreage, clearance of forests for pasture and crops, and the growing value in real property. Five of Alexander’s sons (James, John, Alexander II, Donald, and Charles), and his son-in-law (James Agnew)  became established as farmers. William, the sixth son, left his farm and moved to Owen Sound in the early 1880s.

Assessment rolls were completed annually by the township in order to determine taxes payable by its residents.

Assessment rolls are used to record information about a resident’s property in order to determine the amount of taxes payable on real property.  The following information is recorded: land and building value; status as residence or business, religion (for school taxation purposes), age, and occupation of head of household and number of people living on the property.  Other information is collected from time to time reflecting local or provincial requirements. [Source: Finding Municipal Record, Research Guide 209, Archives of Ontario]

Continue reading

From Petition to Patent

Obtaining land from the Crown in Upper Canada began with a written petition to the Crown stating who you were and what you sought, and culminated in receiving the patent (as the deed was called) to the land.

In the summer of 1847 Alexander Fleming with his son James walked from Vaughan, near Toronto, north to the newly opened Derby Township in Grey County. Their purpose was to examine available lots and make a selection. Alexander likely submitted a petition to request Lots 9 and 10 in the 6th Concession, and , after paying the ₤ 157.12, received patents for the land 23 November 1847. We know from a copy of the receipt kept by the family that most of the payment was made in script, a type of voucher given to soldiers that could be redeemed for land or traded to others for money.

His next recorded purchase was Lot 6 Concession 9 in 1858, but we learn from papers Continue reading