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February 15, 2012

Land Registry Offices - No Need for Fear!

Outside the Land Registry Office
I confess. In all my years as a genealogist I've only been to the Land Registry Offices once, and that was to accompany an experienced Land Registry Office user. I've never been on my own and thus I've never actually used their resources.

Curious about the Land Registry Offices? The official website states:

"The Central Production and Verification Services Branch of ServiceOntario manages and operates 54 Land Registry Offices throughout Ontario which register, store and manage documents such as deeds, mortgages and plans of survey. Registration of real property is done under either the Land Titles Act or the Registry Act. All registered and deposited records are available to the public (for a fee) to search title or obtain information about the ownership of real property."

Part of my reluctance to visit my local Land Registry Office in Barrie Ontario was that I'd heard stories from other genealogists - not about the Barrie office but about Land Registry Offices in general - that genealogists were not welcome and that staff were reluctant to assist genealogists. But I'm here to tell you otherwise!

This past week I took the plunge and visited the Barrie Land Registry Office to look up records for the land that we own. It was a wonderful experience. The staff were amazing.  The young woman at the desk was helpful, courteous and patient with my husband and I.

She explained how the services worked, asked questions to determine what we required, and took us to the exact book we needed to start the process. She explained all the steps we needed to take, and showed us to the drawer for the microfilm we needed, then proceeded to pull the film box for us.

At the Reader-Printer
Next step she chose a microfilm reader-printer, brought us a second chair and even put the reel of film on the reader. She also arranged for me to speak to the manager, Steve Small, to ask if my husband could take a few photos of me at the computers, the microfilm reader and the microfilm drawers.

The general policy at the Land Registry Office is that no photographs are allowed.  Mr. Small was very accomodating and agreed that as long as I did not photograph documents or maps or other materials, I could use my camera for pictures to illustrate this article.

It was very easy once we got started (thanks to the assistance of the LRO staff) and  I want to share the steps with you.  It was a fun project as we now know the name of the first time buyer of our land, the date (1839) and what it cost. We were curious as to when the original farmhouse was built on our property and who lived in it. We knew the house was built ca 1890-1910 but that was all.

While the building of a house was not listed in the land records, we were able to narrow down the family who lived there in 1911 and I later found them on the 1911 census for this area. We plan to go back to look up the history of other homes I have lived in over the past 40 years. 

To find records you must know the proper designation of your land or home. In our case we needed Lot and Concession number plus Township. For a house in town you would need the designation on your deed of ownership.

At the Computers
You can use computers which are the more recent transactions dating from present day back to when the original land books were transferred to microfilm.  The computer records do not go back very far, only to around 2000 or 2001 I believe.

To use the computer you can search by name of the current owner or by street name and number or by the registration number which is a unique number assigned when documents, deeds and mortgages are registered. When you find a record of interest, you can pay by credit card or debit card online or by cheque or cash at the front desk, then print your record.

Microfilm Drawers
To find earlier records you will need to search microfilm. Your first step is to check the book which is a Finding Aid to the correct reel of film. Check your township, then concession number. Write down the microfilm reel number and go to the labelled drawers. Then start viewing your roll of film on a reader-printer.

To print records you need a $5.00 copy card which is refundable when you turn the card in when you're done. You can pay for a copy card with cash or a cheque. Each page you print costs 50 cents. We printed everything from 1839 to the present day - a total for us of about 20 pages.

It's been really interesting researching the family who lived in the original farm house in 1911.  I'm looking forward to researching the early families of my last home which I suspect was built around 1870 or 1880.

There is much of value to genealogists in the land records. For example you might find mention of a spouse, and sometimes a first name is given which could be the answer to a brickwall. Often there is mention of an estate for an owner which is an indication that the individual has died. You can track the trail of ownership which may help determine relationships of individuals. The benefits to genealogists deserves a blog post of its own but that's for another day.

So don't hesitate - visit your local Land Registry Office and have a look at the history of your house! But please ask if photographs can be taken. Remember that  repositories such as Archives. Libraries, Museums etc. have different rules. Find out what they are and follow them.

It's a little matter of courtesy and respect.


Houstory Publishing said...

Fantastic article -- thank you for sharing! Every house has a story...

Niecey - Chosen Storyteller said...

I thought this was a great post -- I've never been to a LRO so I thought it was quite informative and well-written. Thank you!

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Glad you liked the article. I really enjoyed my visit to the LRO and can't wait to go back.

My next adventure will be visiting a different Land Registry Office in Ontario!