Monday, 9 July 2018

Probate Records Part 7: The Territories and some Final Tips

In this last segment, we're going to take a look at The Canadian Territories.

The Yukon
Probate in the Yukon used to be handled by the Territorial Court. Today it is handled by the Yukon Supreme Court. It sits mainly in Whitehorse, but does travel to other communities if needed. The central registry for Supreme Court proceedings is located in Whitehorse. The contact information is on their website here.

The Yukon Archives has estate files from 1897-1950. They can be be viewed at the Archives. The records held there are mainly from when the Territorial Court handled the records.

The Northwest Territories
Probate is done through the NWT's Supreme Court. Like the Yukon, the Supreme Court sits mainly in Yellowknife, but will travel to other regions as needed. Requests for access to probate files is done through the Court Registry - Office of the Clerk.

The NWT Archives has a collection in their holdings of estate files from 1926 to 1947. However, due to privacy laws, access is restricted. It is part of the RCMP fonds, so I would imagine any permissions for access would have to come through them.

Because the borders of the Northwest Territories changed so drastically through the years, it would be a good idea to check with the Manitoba, Saskatchewan  and Alberta Provincial Archives in your search. I know Manitoba especially has records relating to the Northwest Territories.

This territory is unique in that there is one unified Court in the Territory called the Court of Justice. Like the other territories, the court primarily sits in Iqaluit,but routinely travels around the territory to give it's residence a chance to resolve legal matters locally.

Since Nunavut only came into existence in 1999, you will not find "historic" probate cases. For this you will have to refer to the records of the Northwest Territories.

General Sources and Tips
To finish off this series of posts, here are some general sites and tips for finding wills:

1. CanLII- The Canadian Legal Information Institute is a non-profit site that has court decisions from across Canada. I typed in "estate" in the keyword search, and got over 96,000 decisions from across Canada. You can also first narrow down by the province or territory of your particular interest.

2. Check the Canada Gazette to see if there is mention of your ancestor's probate. This is especially true if your ancestor was part of the government, or had significant assets.

3. Always check in land records for your province of interest. Wills were sometimes registered in Land Registry offices to prove an heir has title to land.

4. Though Provincial Archives are your best source for looking for wills and probate, don't overlook local Archives and Societies. They might have an index, or some might have microfilms or transcriptions of the Provincial Records.

5. Whether in Provincial or local Archives, look beyond the obvious Court fonds. If the Archive has a collection such as "McDonald family fonds", be sure to check that collection out as well. I've seen more than one that have wills or estate papers in the collection.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Probate Records Part 6: Alberta and British Columbia

In this installment of Probate Records, we're going to look at sources in Alberta and British Columbia. If you missed the earlier installments, you can find them here:

Part 1: An introduction to the records

Part 2: Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island

Part 3: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

Part 4: Quebec and Ontario

Part 5: Manitoba and Saskatchewan

Probate in Alberta, as with other provinces, is handled by the provincial Court of Queen's Bench. When looking for probate records in Alberta, the most important information you need to know is where your ancestor died. There is no central place for court records, so you will have to contact the courthouse where the probate took place. If you are unsure, both Family Search Wiki and Library and Archives Canada suggest getting a search done by the Succession Duties Department . Searches can be done for a fee. Their contact information is:

Succession Duties Department
Public Trustee's Office
10365-97 Street
Edmonton Alberta T5J 3Z8

Once you have the judicial district, then you can contact the courthouse. The Court of Queen's Bench has an interactive map of courthouses here.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta's website states that they have files and indexes available to view onsite. If you can manage a visit there, it might save you some leg work contacting a far away courthouse.

Unfortunately, I could not find any other sources online or otherwise for Probate in Alberta. If you happen to know of any please comment below.

British Columbia
The Supreme Court of British Columbia handles Probate Cases. From a genealogy point of view, BC is much more user friendly on accessing information compared to other parts of Canada. There is a central registry that you can contact to find where your ancestor's probate records can be found. If the records you are looking for are before 1982, then the BC Archives at the Royal BC Museum should have them. They also have some files dated after 1982. Courthouse Libraries BC has a great information page on probate files and where to find them here. The BC Archives also has a reference guide here for the records in their possession. This guide is from 2010 though, so some changes may have been made since then. I did a search of their holdings and you can access it here. Take note that on the left side of the screen there are several subject group that have probate in the title, so check through them all to find the area and year ranges.

Other place to find Probate and Wills:

1. The Abbotsford Genealogical Society has indexes of wills filed in BC from the 1860's to 1940. These have been arranged alphabetically by surname and can be viewed online. They also have an index of wills filed by non residents of BC. Using the index you can find out which of the over 60 volumes of books the name is found in, and what page. You can then request a copy of the will through them. Or if you can make a visit there, they do have the volumes microfilmed.

2. Family Search has the browse only digital collection British Columbia Estate Files, 1859-1949. This is divided by jurisdiction. Some estate files were handled by the County Court, so some locations are further divided by County Court and Supreme Court. Ancestry also has this collection, but it is the same as the Family Search one, and is not indexed.

3. Family Search also has the browse only collection British Columbia Wills, 1861-1981. This collections has indexes from the central registry up to 1981, but the wills themselves only go to 1939.

For the last post in the series, we'll wrap things up with the Territories and some general tips, strategies and finding aids.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Probate Records Part 5 - Manitoba and Saskatchewan

In this series of blog posts, we are travelling west across Canada looking at probate. This post we're looking at Manitoba and Saskatchewan. If you're just joining in, you an find earlier posts here:

Part 1 gives a short overview of probate
Part 2 looks at Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island
Part 3 looks at Nova Scotia and New Brunswick
Part 4 looks at Quebec and Ontario

The probate process in Manitoba officially started in 1871. It falls under the Probate Court division of the Court of Queen's Bench. There are some earlier probate and wills records before 1871, but they are much fewer. Each regional courthouse is responsible for the keeping on records for their particular area. These are routinely transferred to the Archives of Manitoba under the following criteria:

  • Records over 60 years old from the Eastern Judicial District in Winnipeg
  • Records over 20 years old from outside of Winnipeg
The Winnipeg Courthouse has a central index. The indexes are divided by year, then alphabetically. A search can be requested, but you will need to provide the deceased's name and date of death. Copies of some of these indexes are also at the Manitoba Archives. The Manitoba Archives' website has a great explanation on the two step process in obtaining probate here.

Some other resources for finding probate and wills are:

1. 1763-1921 Wills of Hudson Bay Company officers are held at the HBC Archives, part of the Provincial Archives

2. Family Search has the searchable online collection Manitoba Probate Files, 1871-1930. They also have several microfilms listed here.
3. Ancestry has the same collection as Family Search, but it is browse only by district.

Probate cases go back to 1883. Like Manitoba, probate cases are handled by the Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatchewan. Now, I have read conflicting information on these records. Some sources say that records pre 1930 have been transferred to the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, while others have said that they are all still in the custody of the individual courthouses. If indeed older records have been transferred to the Archives, then they can only be accessed onsite. They does not seem to be an inter library loan program, and I could not find anything on their website suggesting they have been digitized. 

In any case, there is a central index of all the province's probate files located at the Registrar's Office at the Regina Courthouse. By looking at the indexes, you can find out whether your ancestor's estate was probated, and where. The process  for getting a search done, and fee schedule is on the Saskatchewan Law Court's website here.

Some other sources to get probate information:

1. Family Search has the browse only collection Saskatchewan, Judicial District Court Records, 1891-1954. These are the docket books and indexes from the central registry in Regina.

2.Family Search also has a browse only collection called Saskatchewan, Probate Estate Files, 1887-1931. These cover the entire province. Narrow your search first by district, then year, then file number.

Next post we will look at Alberta and British Columbia

Monday, 18 June 2018

Probate Records Part 4: Quebec and Ontario

The past few posts we've been travelling across Canada looking at sources for Probate Records. Part 1 gave a brief overview of the records, Part 2 talked about Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, and in Part 3 we talked about Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This post we're looking at Quebec and Ontario. Both provinces are unique compared to other provinces.

Unlike the rest of Canada, Quebec has never strictly followed the rules of English Common Law. Wills and the records you would find in Probate Court files were historically instead done through Notaries.

Notaries played a very important role in the lives of people in Quebec. They were the ones who registered and kept records on all those events that we as genealogists crave. They handled the transactions for:

  • marriage contracts
  • deeds
  • indentures
  • wills
  • inventories of estates
  • guardianship records
Finding Notarial Records can be a little tricky. First you will need to have a good working knowledge of the French language. There were some English notaries, but the majority were French. The second thing you need to find out is what notaries were working in your ancestor's area. This is very important, because these are cataloged as a group of records in the repositories under the Notary's name. There are two books that you will want to get a hold of:
  • Laliberte, J.M. Index des greffes des notaries decide, 1645-1948. Quebec, Canada:B. Pontbriand, 1967.
  • Qunitin, Robert J. The Notaries of French Canada, 1626-1900: Alphabetical, Chronilogically, by Area Served. Pawtucket, Rhode Island, U.S.A.: R. J. Qintin, 1994.
These books can help you locate which notaries were in practice both in the area and the time period your ancestor lived.

Now, once you have the names of notaries you're interested in, you can now check out these various sources:

1.More recent records are kept by the judicial district office of where your ancestor lived. A list of the offices and contact information can be accessed here. I kept finding conflicting information for both year range and access rules, so your best bet is to contact them directly.

2. Ancestry has 2 collections on Notarial Records: Quebec, Canada, Notarial Records, 1637-1935 and Quebec Notarial Records (Drouin Collection), 1647-1942. Both are collections of the indexes to the records. Some will also link to the record it self, but not all.

3. Family Search has a browse only collection called Quebec Notarial Records, 1800-1920. First you narrow down by judicial district, then by notary, then by year range.

4. The Drouin Institute has an index of Notaries here. They also have a collection of notarial records here.

5. The Superior Court of Quebec does and has handled some Probate cases. These are called "Successions". You can see how the process is handled on their webpage.

6. BAnQ has a large collection of notary records. Click here and scroll down to the notaries section.

Searching for Probate in Ontario is unique. Unlike some of the other provinces, early Ontario settlers did not care a lot about probate. Unless there were significant assets, large amounts of land and/or minor children involved, a larger percentage of people than normal didn't go through the process. It was often much cheaper for them to register the will at the local land registry to make sure title passed to the heir.

Before 1793, the court only got involved if the deceased had no will. Wills were left with a notary, similar to Quebec. From 1793 to 1858, a central provincial Probate Court handled cases that involved property in more than one district. Those with assets in one district were handled at the County or District level Surrogate Court that the property was located in. After 1858, the Surrogate Courts handled all cases. These are called Estate Files.

Sources for wills and estates:

1. Records are routinely transferred to the Archives of Ontario (AO). They have a great information sheet on everything you need to know about wills and estate files here. This was just updated this month, so the information it contains is completely up to date. The AO also participates in inter library loan, if the file has been microfilmed. Not all of them are. I've used the service for other types of microfilm, and it is usually very quick.

2. Family Search has many microfilms pertaining to Probate. You can see a list of them here. They haven't been digitized yet, but you can order and view them at any Family History Center.

3. If you've determined that the AO does not have your ancestor's files in their possession yet, then you must go through the court house that handled the case. You can find all the contact information for the courthouses here,

4. Various branches of the Ontario Genealogical Society have microfilms and indexes of the AO's records for their particular branch's area. Contacting the branch can give you  a good leg up.

Next post we're going to keep travelling west and look at Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Probate Records Part 3 - Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

This is the third in a series of posts about Probate Records. In Part 1 I gave an quick overview of Probate Records and what information they can give us. In Part 2 we looked at Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. Now we're going to look at Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Nova Scotia
From what I could find, there was or is no law in Nova Scotia requiring the Probate Process. However, if your ancestor had any kind of assets, they could not be distributed or settled legally without going through the courts. The process is done was done through the provincial Supreme Court's Probate Court. A complete overhaul of the Probate Process was done and came into effect on 1 October 2001. You can find the differences in the General Information section on the Supreme Court's web site. According to the rules on public access, Probate files have no restrictions on access once settled, unless ordered by a judge.

Here's where you can access wills and probate records:

1. Nova Scotia Archives has wills and probate records microfilmed and available to view onsite only. Thee records go from the 1700's to the mid twentieth century. From some quick searchs of their holdings, these can be found not only in Court Record sets, but in Family fonds as well. I also saw at least one record collection that belonged to a lawyer, and involved his case files. Talking to Archives staff looks to be the best course of action when you visit. A brief description of what they carry is here.

2. Originals of all proceedings are kept by the Registrar's office of the Probate Court. The Nova Scotia Courts website has an online database of their decisions from 2002 on wards here. This only gives you the final decision of the court, but from there you can get the information you need to find the actual files. There are several Probate Court locations around the province. To locate which courthouse would possibly hold your ancestor's records, use the interactive map here.

3. Family Search has a browse only collection on their website called Nova Scotia Probate Records 1760-1993. They are divided by County, then by year range. It will take some time but it will be worth it.

4. Check out local genealogical and historical societies from your ancestor's area. Many of them have transcribed records. Some are available freely, while some may require a membership. Fees for membership can be well worth your while if you have many ancestors in a particular area.

New Brunswick
Probate was not mandatory in New Brunswick. Like Nova Scotia, there is a special Probate Division of the Supreme Court, and records are held there. You can access contact information of the Probate Courts in the province here.

Other resources for records are the following:

1. The New Brunswick Courts web site has a searchable index. You will need to input a last name, then click on advanced options to narrow it down to probate and the area your ancestor's file will be in. This is a work in progress. All cases from 2010 to now are indexed. They are continually adding earlier years. Clicking on the results will give you a brief description of the particulars, and where to access the complete file.

2. The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick has wills and probate files in their holdings. These are not online. You will need to access the County Guides to see your area of interest's holdings. Some records have been microfilmed, and the PANB participates in inter library loan. Remember that county boundaries were quite fluid for a lot of years. You may have to look at a different County to get the information you need.

3. The PANB also has an online database of brief abstracts for over 2,000 files here. It is indexed several different ways. It is nowhere near as good as having a look at the complete record, but can give you a good starting point on further research.

4. If your ancestor was a New Brunswick Loyalist, check out the UNB's Loyalist Collection. The microfilms can be accessed through inter library loan, and they also do some research for others.

5. As with Nova Scotia, there are many local genealogical and historical societies in the province. Do a Google search to see which ones pertain to your area of interest. You never know if one of their volunteers has put together a collection.

Next post we're going to continue west and look at Quebec and Ontario.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Probate Records Part 2: Newfoundland and PEI

Last post we talked about the information you can get from.a probate file. Most of Canada follows English Common Law's process of probate and administration. The FamilySearch Wiki has a good tutorial of the process here.This post, we're going to look at how to get probate/administration records in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

It was not mandatory that a will go through the probate process in Newfoundland. However, for the heirs to liquidate an estate, then they must have legal right to do so through the courts. If your ancestor was what we would consider middle to upper class, then they would probably have had a probate or administration process after their death. The same would hold true if there were minor children left behind.

Probate and Administration cases are handled by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland. There are 6 locations in the province:

  • Corner Brook
  • Gander
  • Grand Bank
  • Grand Falls-Windsor
  • Happy Valley-Goosebay
  • St. John's

There are several different ways to look for probate files in the province.

1. Registry of Deeds: If your ancestor had property before 1832, you might want to contact the Regsitry of Deeds Office. They have land registry books available to view on site that go back to 1825. If land passed between family members, there might be probate related records there.

2. The Rooms: This Provincial Archive had probate records from 1825- 1900. They are available to view on site. They do handle research requests for those searching at a distance, but they do follow certain guidelines. Your best bet would be to contact them directly to see if they can handle your request.

3. If you are researching from a distance, and have deep Newfoundland roots, you might want to consider a membership to the Family History Society of Newfoundland. Among other records, they have digitized collections of Probate and Administration records from the Supreme Court. These are available in their members only area. Membership is only $42/year.

4. Post 1900 files are still held in custody of the Supreme Court. The link to their information on Wills, Estates and Guardianship is here. About half way down the page is a request for a search form. The search is $20.00 in advance. Photocopies are $0.25 each.

5. If you're not sure where to find a file, check out the indexes at the Newfoundland Grand Banks.

6. FamilySearch has microfilms of various probate record sets. These are not digitized, but can be viewed at a Family History Centre.

Prince Edward Island
According to Family Search, estates in PEI were required by law to be probated. It did not matter if there was a will. The Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island Estates Division handles the probate process. There are 3 locations in the province:

  • Charlottetown
  • Summerside
  • Georgetown
Here are some resources for finding Probate Court Records:

1. FamilySearch has several microfilms on PEI probate. You can access their list here.

2.The Provincial Archives Record Office (PARO) holds the records for the province before 1930. These are not online, but can be viewed onsite. Some of the PARO's holdings are microfilmed and available through inter library loan, but I do not know if the collection of probate and Estate records are part of the microfilms. Scroll to the bottom on this link to find out what's available for researching from a distance.

3. Post 1930 records are held at Estates Section, Sir Louis Henry Davies Law Courts in Charlottetown.

4. The Island Register has a transcription database of early PEI wills. You can view what they have here.

5. Don't forget to contact the provincial Registrar of Deeds if your ancestor owned land. Probate related records could be on file there.

Next post we'll be looking at Nova Scotia and New Bunswick. This post, we're going to look at how to get probate/administration records in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Probate Records Part 1: A Forgotten Resource

When we do searches for our ancestors, we tend to concentrate mainly on their birth, death, and the years in between. What we sometimes forget about, is the record set that comes after death: probate records.

Simply put, probate records are the court records that have to do with the distribution of your ancestor's effects after their death. These fall into two categories:
  • testate: when the deceased had a will
  • intestate: when no will was made or found
The probate process could be a long one. There are many steps to it. Family dynamics and the size of the estate a person left could make the process last years. Family Search has a great wiki on the Canadian probate process here.

Probate records in Canada can sometimes predate civil registration in some provinces. It may be one of the only clues you have as to when someone died. They can contain a wealth of information. Along with the date and place of death, you can also find:
  • Spousal information
  • The deceased's will if there was one
  • Inventory of assets : This could be goods, land, and/or money
  • Details of debts
  • Names of heirs: Could be the deceased's children,but not necessarily. They could also be favourite extended family members, or no relation at all. 
  • Family relationships
  • Names of guardians for underage children
  • Names of witnesses: They could be family or friends.
  • Residences: If they had land in several jurisdictions, you can follow where they moved. 
  • Birth information: An especially handy tidbit if they were your immigrant ancestor.
Not all probate records will have a lot of information. Others can contain a genealogical gold mine. For example I came across a Manitoba probate record for a Elizabeth McDonald that was probated in 1910. Among the first few pages, I found the following information:
  • Elizabeth died 20 January 1903
  • Elizabeth was a resident and died in Michpicton, Ontario, but had property in the Eastern Judicial District of Manitoba
  • Elizabeth was the wife of Ewan McDonald, who died 4 September 1909 in Michpicton, Ontario
  • She had estate and assets "...within Manitoba worth no more than $3600.00 to the best of your Petitioner's knowledge and belief..."
  • Elizabeth died without a will
  • When she died, there were eight living children
  • Son Alexander A. McDonald lived in Winnipegosis Manitoba and was an accountant
  • Daughter Mary Helen McDonald resided in Winnipeg and was the petitioner to become Administratrix. She was unmarried.
  • Daughter Annie Catherine Lauder lived in Elphinstone, Manitoba. She was married.
  • Son Robert Campbell McDonald lived in Prince Rupert, British Columbia
  • Son Samuel Lawrence McDonald lived in Helen Mine P.O., Ontario and was a storekeeper
  • Daughter Gertrude Elizabeth Ewing lived in Prince Rupert, Bristish Columbia. She was married.
  • Son Kenneth McDonald lived in Isle a la Crosse, Saskatchewan and was a clerk
  • Son Hunter McDonald worked as a surveyor in Northern Ontario.
  • All Mary Helen's siblings gave written consent for her to be Administratrix, except Hunter, who "...was engaged in a survey in Northern Ontario, out of reach by communication by mail..."
  • Elizabeth had interest in property in Manitoba from the estate of a deceased Abt[?] Murray of the Parish of St. Clements in Manitoba. 

That's a lot of information in just half a dozen pages or so. Along with the whereabouts of the children, you get the added bonus of their signatures on the documents. They are many avenues one can follow. For instance, who is the mysterious Murray that Elizabeth was bequeathed land from?

Some points to consider:

Don't assume that all family members named in the records are the only ones. Children who died before their parents would obviously not have an interest in the Estate.

The majority of women will not have probate files, unless they died unmarried or a widow.

Quebec differs from the rest of Canada, as they did not follow English Common Law. Even among the English speaking provinces, the laws dictating how an estate was settled can differ between provinces.

Remember that our definitions of relationships now does not always apply to relationships back then. For instance, niece and nephew once also meant grandchildren. Also, the term "in-law" didn't used to mean just the spouse's family. It also referred to step relationships. For instance, a "son in-law" could also have been a stepson. Conversely, your sister in-law Ruth today could also have just been called a sister in the past. Or, she could have been referred to as your "good sister" Ruth.

Next post we're going to travel across Canada and look at each province's unique way of dealing with a deceased's estate.