For many early settlers in Nova Scotia, land was often the only possession of real value. As a result, land records have been carefully documented and maintained since the first days of colonial government. A large, complex system quickly evolved, serving various purposes: documenting the land-granting process, whereby free land was offered by government to intending settlers; providing a continuous record of property transactions (sellers to buyers, and the reverse) over time; and protecting landholders' ownership and occupation of property.
Land records collectively provide a significant resource for family history research. The collection maintained at the Nova Scotia Archives is voluminous and complex; because of its size, little has been digitized, and most research must be done onsite, accessing the records via microfilm.
A few resources are available online to start your exploration of land records.
- The Nova Scotia Land Papers 1765-1800 database available on this website contains 11,464 names of early settlers petitioning for grants of Crown Land from government, plus fully digitized document files for the resulting grants; includes mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton. This resource also provides background information on the land-granting process.
- An overlapping Cape Breton Island Petitions 1787-1843, available on this website, provides an additional searchable name database for early land petitioners there.
- The Crown Lands Index Sheets, a series of maps showing the approximate location of all land grants in Nova Scotia, are available on the Nova Scotia Natural Resources website.
The most useful resources to explore onsite at the Nova Scotia Archives are:
- Nova Scotia Commissioner of Crown Lands. Petitions, 1765-1914; 1765-1800 digitized on this website. Includes petitions, surveyors' reports and certificates, warrants to survey, draft grants and miscellaneous related documents. Formerly RG 20 Series A, the records have been microfilmed and are accessed via a card index in the 3rd floor Reading Room; and via an overlapping surname index (1765-1937) on microfilm (microfilm 12926 - A to G; microfilm 12927 - H to Z).
- Nova Scotia Commissioner of Crown Lands. Petitions to purchase Crown Lands, 1800-1885. Formerly RG 20 Series E, the records have been microfilmed and are accessed via a printed index in the 3rd floor Reading Room.
- Nova Scotia Commissioner of Crown Lands. Ungranted Land Petitions, 1811-1849. Formerly RG 20 Series U, the records have been microfilmed and are accessed via a printed index in the 3rd floor Reading Room.
- Nova Scotia Registry of Deeds. Records, 1749-ca. 2003; 390 metres; 3272 volumes. All activities concerning land ownership subsequent to the initial Crown grant are recorded as deeds or conveyances entered in the records of the Registry of Deeds for the appropriate county within Nova Scotia. Extensive indexes and records, 1749-ca. 1930 are available on microfilm at the Nova Scotia Archives.
Because the land granting and deed registry processes in Nova Scotia are so complex, you might want to read our Guide to Land Records.