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Military Records: Loyalist Lands

Was your ancestor a Loyalist during the American Revolution? This article is for you. Did your ancestor fight for the Americans? You may find help here, too.


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During the American Revolution, people who stayed loyal to the British Crown were called Loyalists. Most of these people lost their lands and property during or following the conclusion of the war. Some of the Loyalists returned to Britain, others migrated to Canada or Nova Scotia, and still others eventually to an oath to the new nation and then migrated elsewhere in the in the newly formed United States to begin their lives anew.

The British government of the time made an effort to recompense Loyalist losses. Under royal instructions of 1783, the Crown promised 100 acres of land in Canada or Nova Scotia to Loyalists, and an additional 50 acres to each of the Loyalists' children. Although not every Loyalist filed a claim for this land—nor recompense for land that had been confiscated—those that did had to provide detailed information on family and property. The descriptions included the identification of children and wives and even families related by marriage.

The Public Record Office in London holds the official files of Loyalist claims. To the best of my knowledge, there is no comprehensive bibliography available on the confiscated lands or recompense. However, there are a few books that provide information on the subject:

United Empire Loyalists Inquiry into the Losses of Services in Consequence of Their Loyalty. Evidence into the Canadian Claims 2 volumes; Alexander Fraser, editor; Toronto: The King's Printer, 1905.

Loyalist Literature: An Annotated Bibliographic Guide to the Writings on the Loyalists of the American Revolution; Robert S. Allen, Toronto and Charlottetown: Dundurn Press, 1982.

American Loyalist Claims: Abstracted from the Public Record Office, Audit SEries 13, Bundles 1-35 & 37; Peter Wilson, Washington, D.C.; National Genealogical Society, 1980.

Some of our readers whose ancestors fought on the side of the American colonists may be thinking that Loyalist records have nothing to do with their own research. Au contraire. Like the American Civil War, people and families were divided on the issue. It is estimated that about one-third of the colonists were opposed to the war and a break with the British Crown. While your direct ancestor may not have been a Loyalist, or did not fight in the war at all, it is possible that his brother or uncle was. And, don't forget those female ancestors! Perhaps her brother, father or uncle was a Loyalist. The family information in the documentation of claims may just be the boost to get you over that brick wall.

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Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

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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