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Discovering Your (possible) Loyalist Ancestors

If your family has been in North America long enough to have Patriot ancestors, it's possible that there are Loyalist ancestors in the family tree too. Learn how to determine whether your Canadian ancestors started out as unwilling Americans.


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If your family has been in North America long enough to have Patriot ancestors, it's possible that there are Loyalist ancestors in the family tree too. Find out what happened to those who picked the losing side in the War of Independence and how to determine whether your Canadian ancestors started out as unwilling Americans.

The United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada estimates that 40,000 to 50,000 American settlers and/or soldiers left the fledgling United States of America around the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris (also known as the Treaty of Separation) in 1783.

Those refugees and soldiers came to British North America, which then consisted of Quebec and Nova Scotia and which would go on to become Canada. German soldiers who had fought for the King also came to British North America, as did a few thousand African-Americans (many who would go on to Sierra Leone) and about 2,000 First Nations people, many of whom were from the Five Nations in New York.

Before, during and immediately after the Revolutionary War, Loyalists were heavily persecuted. Tarring and feathering, and loss of one's belongings and/or house were not uncommon. (To be fair, having republican sympathies in British-controlled areas made for an extremely unpleasant life as well!)

Once safely arrived in British North America, the different Loyalist groups applied for relief and land from the British government with varying degrees of success. Loyalist pressure was also instrumental in the creation of the Canadian provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick.

It is the land petitions of the Loyalists, along with muster rolls and other documents, which will help you determine whether you have Loyalist ancestors.

Getting Started

Like any other group, finding Loyalist ancestors means working your way back to the right time frame. The Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies writes that if you can trace back to 1770 - 1810, and have other indications that your ancestors might have been Loyalists, it's worth checking out some resources.

Libraries and Archives Canada (LAC) has several collections of Loyalist records. These include land petitions, provision lists and muster rolls for the Maritimes and Ontario, lists of refugees from New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and the Book of Negroes.

Although LAC does not consider the German troops who fought for the King to be Loyalists, they do hold a set of pension claims submitted by widows of officers who served in the King's German Legion. LAC can be found at

LAC also recommends searching the provincial archives of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario. The University of New Brunswick maintains a Loyalist Collection which is also extremely helpful:

The United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada

For maximum help in finding Loyalist ancestors, however, a visit to the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada (UELAC) website is a must. The UELAC is dedicated to preserving and continuing Canada's Loyalist heritage, and beyond their lofty goals are a lot of practical knowledge and advice.

For example, the UELAC has compiled a select index of the Carleton Papers, also known as the British Headquarters Papers, as well as the Book of Negroes.

The Carleton Papers, held at LAC, list the names of Loyalists who passed through New York City during the Revolution, Loyalists who fled or were evacuated, Loyalists who were part of a regiment disbanded in British North America and Loyalists ordered to British North America for various reasons.

It also includes the names of German troops who fought for the British, as well as sympathetic Americans who wrote to Headquarters, or who were imprisoned or had their property seized.

The index to the Book of Negroes is a valuable addition to the always-difficult field of African-American genealogical research. It lists the names of 2,831 African-American refugees, including Loyalist soldiers and freed or enslaved civilians.

Most importantly, the UELAC has compiled about 7,000 names in its Loyalist Directory. The list includes American colonists who joined the Royal Standard or showed loyalty to the Crown before the 1783 Treaty of Separation and then settled in British North America, soldiers who served in American Loyalist Regiments disbanded in British North America, certain Six Nations Native groups who descended from a Loyalist-like migration, and more.

The UELAC also has two publications: "The Loyalist Gazette" and the weekly e-newsletter "Loyalist Trails," as well as many articles on Loyalist history on their website.

The 27 branches of the UELAC do not perform genealogical research, but are a good place to ask for guidance if you hope to document an ancestor as a Loyalist. Become a member and a branch genealogist will guide you through documenting your connection to your Loyalist ancestor. Send in your proofs, along with a fee and completed application, and the UELAC Dominion Genealogist will review it.

"If all is in order, you will receive a certificate attesting to your Loyalist ancestry," writes the UELAC on its website.

Oh yes, a word about membership. If you are American, you can become an affiliate member but not a regular member. Regular membership requires an Oath of Allegiance to the Crown, something not permissible for your independent self.

But that doesn't mean you can't thoroughly enjoy learning about and documenting the history of those ancestors who chose King and Country over Uncle Sam. As the UELAC writes, "We can't do anything about the ancestors we have inherited, so why not celebrate them all."

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2012.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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