Deep in the Documents

Searching for Clarks in early Lower Canada

I’m deep at work sorting through hundreds of pages of early 19th-century documents at another great site, the online portal of Library and Archives Canada. As their home page explains:

As the custodian of our distant past and recent history, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a key resource for all Canadians who wish to gain a better understanding of who they are, individually and collectively. LAC acquires, processes, preserves and provides access to our documentary heritage and serves as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions.


One of LAC’s most (potentially) useful resources is its collection of Canadian land records. For an overview of what they have, click here. Since we are looking at early settlers to Lower Canada, I’m particularly interested in:

Click image to open site in larger window.

Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764-1841

The land petitions of Lower Canada are in some ways similar to our U.S. government land patents, and in many particulars quite different. The details of how one qualified for, and obtained, government land in Lower Canada and Quebec vary over the years, and I’ll discuss some relevant information in later posts. At the moment, I’m searching through the patents for the Stanstead area, focusing on the surname Clark, but also looking for other potential relatives and neighbors such as Rix and Merrill/Morrell/Morrill.

The nice thing is that LAC has digitized and indexed thousands and thousands of pages of petitions and made them easily available. The images are mostly very good quality, although the browser interface is a bit clunky. On the other hand, there is one large roadblock, which is that there are:

So many Clarks in the Lower Canada land petitions

Here’s what happens when you search for Clark as a surname in the land petition database:

Click image to open site in larger window.

Yep, those are the first 15 out of 377 results for Clark. (And that does not include the additional 121 results for the common variant spelling Clarke.) Clicking one of those links usually yields links to images of the original, handwritten documents. And those documents often cover many pages.

Now the question is, how do we sort out the Clarks that may have settled in Lower Canada in the early 1800s from all the other Clarks that petitioned for government land in Quebec/Lower Canada between 1764 and 1841? An index, organized by county and township or canton would really help.

Fortunately, such an index exists, and next time, we’ll take a look and see if it can help us on our search for Jonathan M. Clark’s purported roots in Lower Canada.