Unwritten Histories

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A Guide to Online Resources for Teaching and Learning Loyalist History

A Guide to Online Resources for Teaching and Learning Loyalist History

The Coming of the Loyalists by Henry Sandham (1925). Public Domain. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Welcome back to yet another resource guide! This time, in collaboration with the Atlantic Loyalist Connections blog, our latest resource guide focuses on the history of the Loyalists, broadly defined as those individuals who chose to leave the US for various reasons following the American Revolution.

Once again, I have stuck to sources that are produced by institutions, museums, archives, and historical societies. This is again to ensure that the sources presented are authentic and their provenance clear. In order to keep this guide to a manageable size, I have excluded websites that are narrative-based,  rather than providing primary sources and/or learning tools. However, unlike previous guides, the nature of this area of study is such that my sources as transnational in nature, and come from Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. Also in the interest of keeping this guide manageable, I have focused most of my sources on the experiences of Loyalists after they left the United States. That said, I have included some materials that relate explicitly to the experiences of Loyalists (rather than  American colonists in general) during the American Revolution.

There are a couple of issues I would like to address before diving into the guide itself. First, a note on terminology:

The easiest way to think of the term “Loyalist” is to compare it to how we use the term “Kleenex” today. For instance, all Kleenexes are facial tissues, but not all facial tissues are Kleenexes. Further, we often call facial tissues “Kleenxes” as if it were a generic term rather than a brand name. What do I mean by this?

First of all, the term “Loyalist” is a bit of a misnomer. Many of these people would have referred to themselves as Tories or Royalists, especially since the term “Loyalist” only dates to 1775.

Second, the people whom we now refer to as “Loyalists” were a collection of groups of individuals with very different backgrounds, political leanings, and motivations to leave the (newly-formed) United States. Some of these people have been given names, like the Black Loyalists* (Africans and African-Americans who fled behind British lines in exchange for the promise of freedom and land), the United Empire Loyalists” (a sort of honorific that was granted after-the-fact in 1789 by then governor-general of British North America, Lord Dorchester), and the Late Loyalists (Americans who chose to come to Canada after the War of 1812, most often in search of free land and to escape the political climate and racial discrimination of the early Republic). However, when most people say the word “Loyalist” they are referring to the United Empire Loyalists. In my analogy from above, Kleenex is the United Empire Loyalists, while facial tissues are Loyalists – all United Empire Loyalists are Loyalists, but not all Loyalists are United Empire Loyalists.

Third, there were many other groups of people that are included in the category of “Loyalists” that do not fit so easily. First of all, there are the thousands of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) and other Indigenous peoples who were expelled from New York after the American Revolution, and were resettled by the British in Canada. Most famous of these are the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk), under the leadership of Thayendenagea (Joseph Brant). Similarly, there roughly 2,000 enslaved Africans and African-Americans who were brought to Canada by their Loyalist owners. Both groups did not really have much of a choice about moving to Canada, nor were they “loyal” to the British Crown.

The second issue I would like to draw your attention to are some of the limits of this resource guide. First of all, many of us commonly assume that the Loyalists all came to Canada. While the majority did, they were free to go anywhere in the British Empire. Many chose to resettle in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and (in the case of name Black Loyalists after they got fed-up with the Canadians) Sierra Leone. However, far less is known about these individuals, simply because their small number has meant that they attracted far less attention. Consequently, I could not find any primary sources relating to their experiences that met the criteria for inclusion in this guide. I hope that in the future, this oversight will be corrected.

Of course, then there is the matter of historical representation and privilege. As I discussed in my previous guide on Black History in Canada, history is always political, and certain aspects will always be highlighted over others. This is particularly the case when it comes to the histories that do and do not reflect how we as a country like to see ourselves. These principles apply equally to Loyalist history. You will notice below that nearly all of the sources relate to two specific topics: the United Empire Loyalists and the Black Loyalists. This is largely due to the influence of the many historical societies and organizations dedicated to preserving their history. In the case of the former, “Loyalist” ancestry is often a marker of status, while the latter reinforces the idea of a progressive Canada. As a result, other “Loyalist” histories are almost entirely invisible.

As I’ve said before, it is important that we remember the experiences of all of the people who are included under the umbrella of “Loyalist,” even when these experiences make us uncomfortable. We need to recognize that part of the reason why some white Loyalists came to Canada was because they were permitted to bring their slaves with them, thereby perpetuating the institution of slavery. We also need to recognize that Indigenous peoples played a hugely significant role on both sides of the American Revolution, as allies to both the Patriots and the British (though many communities tried to remain neutral, they were often forced to take a side). Further, during the treaty negotiations after the end of the war, the British broke their promise to their Haudenosaunee allies by giving away the bulk of their lands to the Americans. As a result, those who allied themselves to the British were forcibly expelled from their homelands and driven into exile. While leaders like Thayendenagea negotiated with the British for land grants, what they received was often far less than they were promised, and their contributions and losses still remain largely unrecognized. As I mentioned in my previous guide, we must continue to reflect on our behaviour and fight against racism and colonialism in its varied forms, including the marginalization of Indigenous peoples and people of colour in the field of history, by ensuring that our history is truly representative of the diverse nature of our past.

As always, this guide is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all of the online sources of information on Loyalist history. Instead, it contains links to primary source collections and databases, online exhibits, media, and other resources that will be most helpful to educators, particularly at the university and college levels. All of these documents come from verified sources and/or official archives and institutions. If there is something you think should be added to this list, please let me know in the comments below.

* Please see Barry Cahill, “The Black Loyalist Myth in Atlantic Canada,” Acadiensis XXIX, no. 1 (Autumn 1999): 76-87 and James G. St. G. Walker, “Myth, History and Revisionism: The Black Loyalists Revisited,” Acadiensis XXIX, no. 1 (Autumn 1999): 88-105 for a fascinating debate on this subject. Thanks to Melissa N. Shaw for this suggestion!


Since this blog post is a bit of a monster, you can simply click on each one of those headings below to navigate to a specific section of this page.  To return to the top of the page, click on the link that says “Back to the Top,” located at the bottom of each section. Here’s how the blog post is arranged:


Online Exhibitions

  • Rose Fortune (Historica Canada)
    • This 45-minute documentary and accompanying lesson plans detail the life of Rose Fortune, who was born into slavery in the US and brought to Nova Scotia by her Loyalist owners, where she eventually secured her freedom. She appointed herself policewoman for the area where she lived, and played an important role in the Underground Railroad. Some of the group projects are more appropriate for a younger audience, but “Life and Times of Rose Fortune,” “Create a Heritage Minuet for Rose Fortune,” “Traditional gender Roles,” and “The True Meaning of Freedom” would all work well in a university setting.
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  • Richard Pierpoint (Historica Canada)
    • This Heritage Minute and educational guide focuses on the life of Richard Pierpoint, who came to Canada originally as a Black Loyalist. The education guide contains several lesson plans that examine the transatlantic slave trade, Black Loyalists, the experiences of Black soldiers, oral traditions, and media literacy. While many of the discussion questions are aimed at a younger audience, they could easily be adapted for use in a survey class. Also check out this PDF of supplemental activities.
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  • Contested Terrain: Aboriginal Land Petitions in New Brunswick, 1786-1878 (Atlantic Canada Virtual Archives – University of New Brunswick)
    • This virtual exhibit focuses on the experiences of the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Peskotomuhkati following the arrival of the Loyalists in New Brunswick. The exhibit is centred around a collection of petitions either by Aboriginal peoples or regarding land owned by Aboriginal peoples from the period. They are digitized, transcribed, and fully text-searchable. Also included are short essays on the historical context, an image gallery, biographies of noted individuals, a bibliography, and a collection of lesson plans. The lesson plans for secondary students are varied in terms of quality. The first one, which is in board-game format, is very disturbing. I would probably avoid it, but you may find parts useful.
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  • Loyalist Women in New Brunswick, 1783-1827 (Atlantic Canada Virtual Archives – University of New Brunswick)
    • This virtual exhibit is designed to serve as a corrective to the heavy focus on the history of male Loyalists. It is centred around letters and primary sources created by five individual women and one family. The women are, Deborah Cottnam, Polly Dibblee, Sarah Frost, Hannah Ingraham, and Sylvia Johnson. The family is the Edward and Mary Winslow family. Again, this exhibit contains additional information, such as biographies of the individuals profiled, a section on historical context (containing some more primary sources, and including image gallery), and some lesson plans. One is a transcription project, while the second allows you to create your own historic newspaper (which is really cool, but no longer works. 🙁 ). Though they are designed for students in grades 5 through 7, you could easily build an exercise off the basics here.
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  • Edward Winslow Letters (Atlantic Canada Virtual Archives – University of New Brunswick)
    • Winslow was a descendent of the Mayflower pilgrims and a noted individual in his time. After the American Revolution, he brought his entire family to New Brunswick. This virtual exhibit contains information about the Winslows, their historical context, and a collection of family letters; it also contains a collection of lesson plans, though they are not easily adaptable for a university or college setting.
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  • Spy Letters of the American Revolution (Clements Library, University of Michigan)
    • This project originated out of the Sir Henry Clinton collection out of the Clements Library and is designed to help educators teach a more nuanced history of the American Revolution. The exhibit is divided into several sections: The Gallery of Letters (digitized images and transcriptions of spy letters), Stories of Spies and letters (narratives with primary sources as illustration), Secret Methods and Techniques (how to hide a spy letter), People of the Revolution (biographies with links to relevant letters), Routes of the Letters (maps), Timeline (self-explanatory), The Sir Henry Clinton Collection (about the collection), and the Teacher’s Lounge. The Teacher’s Lounge contains teaching tools organized into four areas: classroom activities, interpreting primary sources, curricular themes, and study questions. They range from juvenile (make your own spy letter with invisible ink, though that is totally cool), to some in-depth discussion questions. There is much here that can be adapted for a university or college classroom.
  • The Most Gentleman-Like Government on Earth (Heritage Branch, Province of New Brunswick – Virtual Museum of Canada)
    • This online exhibit examines the success of the government that was established in New Brunswick after the arrival of the Loyalists, particularly with respect to the balancing of collective and individual rights. The exhibit walks you through the history of New Brunswick, and considers the roles that disparate groups, including the Loyalists, Free and enslaved Blacks, the Acadians, the Maliseet, the Mi’kmaq, the Passamaquoddy, and New England Planters, played. There is one classroom activity that comes with this virtual exhibit: it asks students to consider how the government sought to balance of all these groups by asking students to role play the Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick and select an Executive Council.
      • Aussi disponible en Français

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Primary Sources


  • The Winslow Papers (Atlantic Canada Virtual Archives – University of New Brunswick)
    • This is a virtual exhibit/document collection about the same family noted above. It contains a complete electronic version of the Winslow Family Papers, including over 3,600 documents from 1695 to 1866. They can be searched individually or you can browse them (both options in the search section). Also included on the site is the “trails” section, which contains historical context on a number of themes, together with a short list of relevant primary sources. The site is poorly organized and difficult to search, but contains a wealth of information if used properly.
  • Travels with Elizabeth Simcoe – A Visual Journey Through Upper and Lower Canada (Archives of Ontario)
    • While technically referred to as an online exhibit, this site is really a collection of transcriptions from Simcoe’s diaries, along with some additional primary documents (usually paintings) and explanatory texts. It’s very pretty, but not necessarily the most useful collection, especially as you can access one of the published versions of Simcoe’s diaries in their entirety for free here, while the other is available as an e-book.
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  • Black Loyalists (University of Sydney – Australia)
    • This website was supposed to be part of a multi-year project, but since the last update was in 2010, I have no idea what lies in store for the future. As of this writing, this website contains biographical and demographic information concerning around 1,000 people from Norfolk, Virgina and the surrounding area who appear in “The Book of Negroes”. Information for each individual has been compiled from multiple historic documents, including the aforementioned “Book of Negroes,” but also the “Birchtown Muster of Free Blacks,” “The Washington-Carlton Correspondence,” and more. You can browse through their index of Black Loyalists, or search by “owner,” “places” and “groups.” Most of the entries are sparse, but a few contain detailed information, which are marked as “Featured.”
  • The Loyalist Link: The Forest and the Sea (Shelburne County Museum/Virtual Museum of Canada)
    • This is a Community Memories site developed in association with the Virtual Museum of Canada. It examines the impact that Loyalist immigrants had on the town of Shelburne, NS. There are three tabs containing useful material on the upper right of the screen. The Gallery and the Thumbnail Gallery are essentially the same thing; they allow you to view objects, documents, and artwork from the collection. The third tab, “Stories,” contains four distinct narratives: “The Port Roseway Loyalists,” “The Loyalist Link: Early Industries,” “The Loyalist Link: Forestry – Lumbering,” and “The Loyalist Link: The Sea – Shipbuilding.”
  •  The United Empire Loyalists of Remsheg: Refugees from the American Revolution (Wallace and Area Museum/Virtual Museum of Canada)
    • This Communities Memories site examines the impact of the Loyalists in and around Wallace, Nova Scotia. Again, there are three tabs containing relevant material in the upper-right hand of the screen. The Gallery and Thumbnail Gallery contain images of objects, documents, and artwork, as well as some explanatory text. The “Stories” section contains five narratives: “The Story of the United Empire Loyalists of the Remsheg Grant, 1783,” “Loyalist Celebrations, 1984-2008,” “The British thought the new settlers would want to live together in a village named Fanningboro,” “Monuments Honouring Loyalists in Local Cememteries,” and “The hunt for the beginning point of the Remsheg Grant survey 1783.”
  • The Loyalist Collection (University of New Brunswick)
    • UNB is a centre for Loyalist Studies in Canada. This website is a catalogue of more than 600 records dating from 1750 to 1850 regarding the Loyalists. Documents come from all over the world, including Canada, the US, Britain, and the West Indies. However, only some of these documents are digitized. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a way to search only for digitized documents. There are four subject guides that do help, however, which deal with the following subjects: “Health and Medicine,” “Religion,” “Piracy and Privateering,” and “Black History.” These guides list the types of materials contained in the collection on the relevant topic, so you might be more successful searching for digitized documents with them.

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Textual Documents

  • Black Loyalist Refugees, 1782-1807 Port Roseway Associates (LAC)
    • This is an online database containing nearly 1,500 individual references to the Muster Book of Free Blacks, listing all those who settled in Birchtown, Nova Scotia. You can search by name, and clicking on one of the resulting entries will bring up a digitized image of the page containing information about that individual. Some entries are more complete than others. To access the database itself, click on the tab marked “Search: Database” on the left-hand side of the screen.
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  •  Loyalists in the Maritimes – Ward Chipman Muster Master’s Office, 1777-1785 (LAC)
    • This is another online database containing information about Loyalists who settled in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI. The database contains more than 19,000 references to individuals from the Muster Master’s office. Most of the entries refer to soldiers, but you will also find information about other people. You can search this database by name, place, or group/regiment. As in the previous case, clicking on search results will bring up a digitized image of the original document. Some entries are more complete than others. To access the database itself, click on the tab marked “Search: Database” on the left-hand side of the screen.
      • Aussi disponible en Français
  • African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition – Black Loyalists (1783-1792) (Nova Scotia Archives)
    • This is a short history of Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia, along with a collection of 32 digitized documents. The documents include passports, petitions, slave ads, and, most notably, the “Book of Negroes.” (There is also a transcribed version of the “Book of Negroes” on another site, which you can see here.)
  • Gideon White Family Papers – Loyalists of Shelburne (Nova Scotia Archives)
    • Gideon White and his family came to Shelburne, Nova Scotia following the American Revolution, and played an important role in shaping the world he lived in. While you can search the entire collection of materials at the link above, I would direct your attention instead to the two menu items, “Digitized Documents” and “Virtual Exhibit.” The former contains 83 digitized documents from the collection, while the latter is a collection of images and maps that depict Shelburne as it would have looked to Gideon White and his family.
  •  Fort Havoc – Wallace Hale Fonds (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick)
    • Wallace Hale is a retired amateur archivist who has made substantial contributions to the online collection of the New Brunswick Archives. Fort Havoc is a reproduction of his website containing transcriptions of important Loyalist documents. Included in the online collection are genealogies, Loyalist reference documents (primary source), Loyalist reference text (historical secondary sources), Loyalist documents specific to New Brunswick, a scrapbook of articles by Rev. William Odbur Raymond, and several ship passenger lists.
  • Carleton papers – Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772-1884 (Library and Archives Canada)
    • This database contains more than 30,000 pages of records kept by the commanders-in-chief of the British Army during the American Revolution. Included in these papers are financial accounts, depositions, letters, orders, petitions, proceedings, and more. There are even lists of horses that were borrowed by British soldiers during the war. These documents are searchable by keyword, given name(s), surname, rank, and regiment. Use the link above to find out more about this collection as well as suggestions on how to search it effectively. Then click on the “Search: Database” tab on the left side of the screen. If you would like to simply access the database, click here.
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  •   Loyalists – General (Library and Archives Canada)
    • This is a list/guide to all of LAC’s holdings regarding Loyalist history. While I have listed the specific databases above that deal strictly with Loyalists above, this website contains information about other fonds that contain information relating to the American Revolution and the Loyalists, such as British Military and Naval Records, land petitions, muster rolls, and published sources. However, most of these documents are not fully digitized or require a subscription to Ancestry.com to access. Your mileage may vary.
      • Aussi disponible en Français
  • Marianne Grey Otty Database (The Loyalist Collection – University of New Brunswick)
    • Part of the Loyalist Collection at UNB mentioned above, this database contains transcribed documents from the Anglican Church records at Gagetown, New Brunswick. The original documents come from the records of traveling ministers who worked across the province from 1786 to 1841. Documents in this collection include marriage, baptism, and death certificates as well as anecdotal notes and photographs. The majority of individuals referenced in this collection were Loyalists and/or their descendants. The documents were transcribed by local historian Marianne Grey Otty prior to her death in 1963. The database’s home page contains information on how to search the database as well as a map of Gagetown. The database can be searched by first and last name, year, location, and event type. To access the database directly, click here. While the entries are limited in terms of information, you could have students do qualitative and quantitative analysis of this population sample. It may also be worth it to look at the “Other Notes” section, which contains some interesting remarks…
  • Black Loyalists: Our History, Our People (The Black Loyalists Heritage Society)
    • I’ve been going back and forth on whether to include this website or not. It is linked on many different archival websites as a reputable source, but the documents that it contains are entirely transcribed rather than appearing as digitized images. That said, the documents it does contain are great, ranging from autobiographies, to letters, to official documentation. So I guess this is a use-at-your-own-risk type situation. I can’t link to the documents directly, since this website is still running on frames, but you can easily find them by clicking on the “Documents” tab in the menu on the left-side of the screen.
  •  The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies
    •  This website is very much like the one above, in the sense that it is described as reputable by archival sources, but it makes me uncomfortable. In this case, that is because the site is designed for historical re-enactors and genealogists. As with the previous site, this one contains transcriptions rather than digitized texts, and, again, it contains some really interesting documents. So I’m including it, but use it at your own risk. The website is also a bit of a pain to navigate. You have to use the menu on the left side of the page to switch between sources, but once you have navigated to a page, you can open other links from there.
  •  Land Petitions/Grants (Various)
  • American Memory Timeline (Library of Congress)
    • This is a neat collection of primary sources developed by the Library of Congress for the use of teachers at all levels. The section devoted to the American Revolution contains a wealth of primary sources. Documents relating to Loyalist history can be found throughout, but mostly in the section entitled “Revolutionary War: The Home Front.”
  •  Early Canadiana Online
    • Most of you will already be very familiar with this database, but for those who aren’t, it collects together a vast array of primary and secondary texts published relating to Canada prior to 1950. However, it is an absolute pain in the arse to use. Depending on your level of patience, there is a great deal to be found, even by just searching for the term “Loyalist.” However, if you are like most educators and have neither time nor energy, this website (from Canadiana) collects many of the most significant of these documents.


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Lesson Plans/Teacher’s Guides

  • Making the Revolution: American, 1763-1791 (America In Class – National Humanities Center)
    • This website, from the National Humanities Centre in the US, contains a series of lesson plans themed around the subject of the American Revolution. These lesson plans are organized around primary sources that are included with each lesson plan, freely available to download, making life a little easier for educators. There are several lessons that are specifically themed around the Loyalists, including:
      • Loyalists I: Civil War: This lesson plan considers political opinions before the American Revolution became a full-scale rebellion, focusing on the years 1775 to 1775. Primary sources from both sides are included, as well as a list of great discussion questions.
      • Loyalists II: Traitor!: This lesson plan examines anti-Loyalist sentiment, both violent and non-violent. There are lists and descriptions of incidents, publications, and even a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, plus discussion questions.
      • Loyalist III: Join – Or Else: This lesson plan focuses on the “Committees of Safety,” organizations designed to enforce support for Congress. The plan compares the actions of these Committees in Virginia and North Carolina from 1774 to 1777, based around travel journals and letters from witnesses. As with all of these lessons, this one includes discussion questions.
      • Loyalist IV: Backcountry: This lesson plans focuses on Loyalism in the southern American colonies, particularly those who lived in the backcountry of South Carolina. The primary sources involved in this lesson plan include reports from the South Carolina Council of Safety on attempts to recruit these men for the patriot cause, accompanied by discussion questions.
  • Loyalists and Loyalism in the American Revolution (History Teaching Institute – The Ohio State University)
    •  This website is designed to give educators lesson plans and professional development materials on a range of topics, including Loyalist history. This page lists several ideas for classroom activities, with links to relevant primary sources. Some of the topics discussed include comparing and contrasting ideologies, accounts and cultures, the role of religion, the Black Loyalists, and confiscated property. Just be warned that some of the links no longer work, though a simple Google search can find replacements in most cases.
  • Black History in Canada Education Guide (Historica Canada)
    • This is one of the latest learning tools developed by Historica, and is focused mostly on the novel and made-for-tv movie, The Book of Negroes. The guide includes a detailed timeline of Black history in Canada, as well as a number of important themes, including slavery, human rights, and (briefly) Canadians of Caribbean descent. Each theme contains a basic explanatory text as well as a selection of discussion and research questions, many of which are fantastic and would work in any university classroom. You should also check out the accompanying website, which contains more information as well as some discussion questions.
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Social Media




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You made it to the end! Well done! I think my poor hands are about to fall off. I hope that you have found this list to be useful. If you find this post interesting or useful, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice. And as always, don’t forget to check back on Sunday for another new Canadian history roundup. See you then!!

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  1. I have not seen much information on Port Roseway and the Loyalists that settled in Shelburne Nova Scotia. Ferguson and Ackerman are very common Loyalist names. Jane Ackerman was born in Shelburne in 1805 but I have not been able to trace her parents journey to Shelburne. I have seen general information about Port Roseway.

    • Andrea Eidinger

      March 25, 2017 at 12:35 pm

      Then be sure to check out The Loyalist Link: The Forest and the Sea (Shelburne County Museum/Virtual Museum of Canada) and Black Loyalist Refugees, 1782-1807 Port Roseway Associates (LAC), linked above. I’m not a genealogists, so I can’t really provide any suggestions about family research though. Sorry!

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