Friday, 22 January 2016

Making it in Alberta

Free land in the west - easy right? Just sign me up!

Not so.  A person could be issued a section of land, but he had to perform certain duties before he could keep it.  He had to build road access to their land, clear it, build a house, plant crops or raise cattle, and all within a certain time frame.  Some came not thinking of the hardships they would face and gave up, abandoning their land. There were many reasons for abandoning the grant - the land was not good for growing, the weather was not cooperative, the person got sick, their family refused to follow, etc. But more made it - either alone or with relatives to help, they did their duty and perhaps later bought more land to add to their holdings.  Or sold out to buy elsewhere.

I have a few ancestors that headed west in search of land and adventure. I learned the story of John Mavor (he went by Jack) and his wife and brother-in-law Ed Carbee from 2 books about Daysland that were uploaded to Our Roots. There you will find many books about towns in Alberta and about the early settlers.

Here is how I found the land records for my ancestors.  We will use John Mavor as an example.

In the Prairies the legal land descriptions are section, township and range numbers. The Section is divided in quarters of SW, SE, NW and NE. A quarter section is approx 1/4 of a square mile or 160 acres.

First I went to Library and Archives Canada, Western Land Grants and searched his name. This gave me the section numbers and 2 pages of maps. John's land has this legal description: the Northeast Quarter of Section 18, Township 44, Range 16 west of the Fourth Meridian", or abbreviated "NE-18-44-16-W4."

Next I went to the website for Alberta Homestead Records 1870-1930 and clicked Search the Index. I got 1 result for John Mavor.

*NOTE:  This website has changed their Homestead Index pages.

This tells me where the records are to be found in the Alberta Provincial Archives...
Film #2737, in Accession 1970.313, File #952819.

Well, I don't live in Alberta but I am in luck because someone was kind enough to upload all the reels to Internet Archive... all 685 of them!! There are over 2000 pages on each reel.  Sounds daunting, doesn't it?  But it isn't because the information on the homestead record makes it easy. I know I am looking for Film 2737 and all the titles start the same. So I go to google search and type the following, substituting  2737 for the ****. You can copy and paste this into the google search box and put in your Film number.

Alberta Homestead Records 1870-1930 [Reel 70.313/****]

This will give me the link I need in Internet Archive.  Much faster than scrolling down through over 600 titles. The start of a file is sideways and looks like this...

I browse a bit and notice the the files are uploaded for the most part in numerical order. I look for File #952819, using the page finder slide at the bottom to jump ahead, and I found it near the end. Some files have more about the land or the person, and may include abandonment papers from other settlers, naturalization papers, seed orders, etc. The documents will all have the same land numbers and/or file number, if not necessarily the same name. Keep going until you get to start of the next file. (Some pages were uploaded upside down, you can rotate them when downloaded). John's file has 4 pages.

Next I go to the Prairie Locator page, that changes the legal land description to lat/long and shows the location on google map.

After John proved his homestead, he sold it to his brother-in-law Ed Carbee and bought land from CPR, the north half of 19-44-16-W4... so 320 acres at $2.745 /acre. You can find indexes of CPR Land Sales at the Glenbow Museum website.

I found John Mavor's land on a homestead map for the Montrose School District in the book As The Wheel Turns at Our Roots. Now I can see who and where his neighbours are.

John named his ranch "Hatley" after the town in Quebec where he and Marcia Carbee were married in 1906.  When John was in his late 70's he sold his land to Ed Blatz and he and Marcia moved in to town.

I put these links and more that I found useful into an Alberta Genealogy Resource pdf to help you find out more about your adventurous ancestor in Alberta. Many ethnic groups came to get land in Alberta, including Ukrainians, Germans, Russians, and Americans.  Try a google search with Keywords Alberta ** Genealogy, substituting the ** for the group you want to find more about.

Relevant Links

Alberta Genealogy Resources


  1. This is great. My great grandfather had a farm in Alberta, but there is no one left to tell me where

    1. Thanks! I was going to them next... and Whitney, whose son married the daughter of Anne Seale. Good luck with your search. If you have problems let me know.

  2. This is fabulous information - thank you so much for sharing!
    (Just one teensy tiny thing that I hate to point out - there is an error...a said SW twice rather than SW and SE in your explanation of quarter sections. You may want to edit that just to avoid confusion for people who don't understand the way land sectioning works.)


Leave me a note to tell me you were here! Thanks for visiting.

By joining our Facebook group you get other genealogy news from time to time, and you can download pages of links that go with the posts. Use follow buttons at top right under search bar.

Copyright © Genealogy: Beyond the BMD
Division of Dianne at Home