Alberta Land Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Alberta Ancestors  by Arlene Borgstede. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Land Records[edit | edit source]

The Dominion Land Act of 1871 provided for the surveying of the Canadian Prairies in an orderly and precise manner, thereby making the land available for settlement. Using the U.S. Homestead Act of 1862 as a guide, the federal government proposed that settlers could homestead a quarter-section of land, 160 acres, for the sum of $10. The requirements for gaining ownership of this land were three years residency, construction of a dwelling and clearing of a stipulated amount of land (usually 15 acres).

The Dominion Land Survey was started in 1873. Using the township survey method, the Canadian West was systematically portioned into townships of 36 square miles and sections of one square mile. Each section was divided into four quarter sections. Within each township section, 8 and 26 were reserved for the Hudson’s Bay Company and 11 and 29 for sale to finance public schools. In addition, the Canadian Pacific Railroad was given every other unclaimed quarter section (odd numbers) as part of their agreement to make the prairies accessible to the new settlers.

Using the meridian passing through Fort Garry as the ‘1st Meridian’, surveyors numbered the ranges west, with the fourth meridian marking the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the townships north from the U.S.-Canadian border. Each quarter section within the 36 mile square was marked with iron stakes which soon became the symbol of freedom and hope for a better future as immigrant settlers sought out their own 160 acres of land.

Township Survey[edit | edit source]

Alberta Township Survey Example.jpg

The Federal Government retained responsibility for the distribution of homestead land until the provinces were formed in 1905. As the survey crews moved west, making new land available, land offices opened in major communities. Whether moving into the area as part of a colony or as an individual seeking a better life, the new settler had to study the surveyors’ maps, consider the lay of the land, the availability of water, transportation routes, accessibility to a community. He would then pay the $10 filing fee and be given the description of his homestead i.e. NW16.12.4.W4—the northwest quarter of section 16, township 12, range 4, west of the 4th meridian.

Homestead Records[edit | edit source]

The granting of homesteads generated paper records which can provide a limited amount of information for the family genealogist. An application for a homestead had to be completed and will give such data as age, place of birth, dates of entry, construction of residence, breaking of land and crops and livestock. It also asks where the applicant lived if not on the land, and members of his family (but not their names). To qualify for a homestead grant, the applicant had to:

  • be a male, 21 years of age; women could qualify if they were the sole support for their family
  • live on the homestead at least 6 months in each of their first three years
  • crop at least 30 acres, build a house and a barn for farm animals, become a naturalized British citizen

If, after three years, the applicant had fulfilled all conditions of the Homestead Act, he was recommended for patent and would receive title to the land. After filing for a homestead, the applicant could also file for a ‘pre-emption’ and would be allowed to purchase adjacent land from the government if it was available. The land was then registered in the Lands Titles Office, then records were kept up to date of all changes on the land, new owners, mortgages or other liens, etc.

Original homestead records (1885-1930) have been deposited at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Name indexes will provide the legal land description and an index of these land description will give the file number. Note the date of entry. Families generally arrived in the country within three months of this date.

Microfilm copies of the homestead records are held by Glenbow Archives, Calgary Public Library and some FamilySearch Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Transcribed Application for Homestead Patent[edit | edit source]

Used with permission of the family.

Alberta Application for Homestead Patent.jpg

School Land Records[edit | edit source]

Sections 11 and 29 of each township were set aside as ‘school land.’ The sale of this land was to finance public schools. Records of school land sales, which includes applications, testimonials and land patents are at the Provincial Archives of Alberta. A guide is available with an alphabetical name index which will provide the legal description of the land. To obtain a file number, check the legal land description index.

Canadian Pacific Railroad Land Sales[edit | edit source]

Although the early settlers were more interested in receiving a ten dollar homestead, later arrivals often had to look at buying their land. The Canadian Pacific Railroad held nearly every second section on the prairies and were able to guarantee transportation to major towns along their routes. The original contract documents no longer exist, but other records related to Canadian Pacific Railroad land sale, both rural and within townships, are held by Glenbow Archives.

Municipal Land Records[edit | edit source]

The land within a city, town or village is subdivided into lots, blocks and plans. The Provincial Land Record Offices holds the records for each transaction concerning the land. Municipal offices are responsible for setting tax rates and keeping tax rolls. Check with the local office first: some municipalities have transferred their records to archives.

Alberta Department of the Attorney General
Land Titles and Surveys, Historical Department
J.E. Brownlee Building
10365 - 97 Street
Edmonton, Alberta T5J 1W7
Telephone: (780) 427-2742
Hours: Monday to Friday 8:15 am-4:00 pm

This office contains records for all land from the 35th Township (Innisfail) to the northern border of Alberta.

For Land Records South of Innisfail[edit | edit source]

Alberta Department of the Attorney General
Land Titles and Surveys
620 - 7th Avenue, South West
Calgary, Alberta T2P 2R4
Telephone: (403) 297-6511
Hours: Monday to Friday 8:15 am-4:00 pm

When soliciting information from Land Titles Offices it is absolutely necessary to have the legal description of the land being searched. There is a fee per title. It is requested that a telephone number be included when writing.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Alberta Ancestors

offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.