While most family historians are comfortable—or at least familiar—with libraries and their filing systems, archives are very different matter. Many of us will have never visited any archives before we became family historians.
Libraries, museums and archives have complementary roles. Generally, libraries collect published material (books, microform, published sound and visual recordings, and digital publications). Museums collect artifacts, and archives collect unique documentary material (manuscripts, photographs, artwork, sound and visual recordings). We must acknowledge the fact that there is overlap—many libraries hold some archival material and perhaps artifacts; museums often hold some documents and published material that supports their collections of artifacts; and the Archives of Ontario, for example, has a fine library and quite a few fascinating artifacts.
How are archival records organized?
Because of the diverse nature of their collections—and the varied users who need to access them—archivists deal with records quite differently than librarians.
Librarians work with published material, written or compiled by an author who has given the item a title, and probably explained the contents in an introduction. The library catalogue must include the title, author, publishing information, and some subject listings drawn from the book itself.
But an archivist may have none of these things. They must come up with a name for each collection of material or “fonds”; determine what person or organization created the records and when they were created; understand and evaluate the different types of records within the fonds; and, finally, decide how best to make the material available and useful for researchers. Almost like the author of a book, the archivist creates what amounts to a title, author, chapters, a table of contents, an introduction—and in the right circumstances, an index.
Rather than cataloguing, like a librarian, an archivist “describes” records. And it is important to consider this process to understand the best ways to locate just what you want.
The collection of records from one creator—an individual, a family, a business, an organization, or a government body—is designated as a “fonds”. It is given a name, usually that of the creator or collector, but sometimes more descriptive of the fonds’ contents. The archivist then writes a general description of the fonds and its creator. If the fonds is small, or consists of all the same type of document, the “description” may stop there. Many fonds at the Archives of Ontario have only a “fonds-level” description.
Archives of Ontario reading room with the reference desk in the foreground. The rotunda, which houses the microfilm scanners, is behind the photo wall on the left. (photo: Jane E MacNamara)
Most fonds, however, must be described in greater detail. For instance, a fonds created by a business might contain accounting records, correspondence, catalogues, and personnel records. Each type of record within a fonds is called a “series”. If a series is large or varied, it also may be broken into a number of logical “sub-series”. Many fonds at the Archives of Ontario are described to the “series level”.
A series (or a sub-series, if it has been broken down) is made up of “files” or “items”. These can be as small as a single page or as large as a 300-page ledger. A group of papers kept together in a file, for instance, would also be considered one item. A relative few fonds at the Archives of Ontario are described at the “items level”.
To summarize, every collection of documents at the Archives of Ontario will be described at the fonds level. The majority of those fonds are further described at the series and sub-series levels. Many fewer fonds are described at the “files and items” level.
What’s in the Archives of Ontario?
The collection includes more than
- 105,000 metres of paper records
- 4.4 million photographs
- 5,000 documentary artworks (paintings, drawings, caricatures, and posters) from as early as the 1790s
- 2,500 original works in the Government of Ontario Art Collection
- 350,000 architectural drawings
- 85,000 maps
- 30,000 hours of film, video and sound recordings including government films, home movies, and oral history recordings
- more than 1,500 gigabytes of electronic records
The Archives is a part of the Government of Ontario, and its main purpose is to look after the records of government. Approximately 70 percent of the holdings are Ontario government records. These government records are designated with a fonds number prefaced by the letters “RG”. Some of the most important fonds for genealogists are RG 80: Office of the Registrar General, RG 22: Court Records (which includes estate files), and RG 1: Crown Land Department Records.
The other 30 percent are private records—“private” by this definition meaning simply not generated by the Ontario government. These include records created by individuals, families, businesses, organizations and municipalities. The Archives of Ontario holds more than 2,600 fonds in this category. Private fonds are given a number prefaced by either an “F” or a “C”. The Archives of Ontario private fonds include an amazing array of material for family historians, depending on the area of the province and time period—including many municipal and religious records.
Beyond government and private fonds, is the “diffusion” collection. These are copies, usually on microfilm, of Ontario records at other institutions. The majority of this material is from Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Some of the most important items for genealogists are the films of census records for Ontario, and early land records, including the Upper Canada land books and petitions.
And although it does not fall strictly within our definition of what should be in an archives, the Archives of Ontario Library holds about 80,000 books, pamphlets, periodicals and government publications.
How do I find records?
Once an archival fonds is processed, its description is added to the Archives Descriptive Database (ADD), available on the Archives of Ontario web site (www.archives.gov.on.ca). Look for the “Accessing Our Collections” button. Then choose “Archives Descriptive Database”.
You can search the full fonds descriptions in the ADD by keyword (Option 1 on the search page). In most cases, this option will be the best choice to start with. Option 3, “Advanced Search”, will give you three options: clicking “Groups of Archival Records” will let you search the fonds, series and sub-series levels; choose “File/Item Descriptions” to cover those fonds described in greater detail; or search by “Record Creators” to find fonds linked to the creator. You’ll find an excellent orientation linked to the Help button on the main ADD search page.
Your ADD search results will lead you to the location of the records—either original documents or on microfilm. The records have not been digitized. Any records that are not on film can be ordered and viewed in the Reading Room.
More than 20,000 photos, maps, architectural drawings, and documentary artworks are available in the Archives of Ontario’s Visual Database, although this just scratches the surface of the more than five million images at the Archives. The Visual Database is also available on the Archives web site. Look for the “Accessing Our Collection” button. Try the keyword search first, with a few variables, but you may also find the (somewhat idiosyncratic) subject search and the advanced options useful. You can use the Reference Code you find to look for more details (and perhaps more images) in the ADD.
Archives of Ontario library with librarian Frank van Kalmthout (photo: Jane E MacNamara)
The Archives of Ontario Library is invisible. Researchers can’t visit the Library, but must access holdings through the BiBLION catalogue. You can request material on site, or via email in advance, and you books will be delivered to the Reading Room.
Archives staff members have created many other wonderful research guides, in the form of online and on-site finding aids to specific records, and online exhibits that function as thematic guides. Links on the “Accessing Our Collection” page will lead you to all of them.
This article was written to accompany the lecture “The Archives of Ontario… What’s in it for me?”.
I’ve written a number of other posts about research at the AO. To find them, click on “Archives of Ontario” in the word cloud at the right of this page, or on the tag at the bottom of this post.
This beautiful city—and the amazing Family History Library—has me hooked. I’ve been to Salt Lake City many times. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to do some of my own family research—with the odd diversion to some of the rogues and rebels I’ve found in other people’s families. (My ancestors were all very well behaved.)
I’m also looking forward to sharing the experience with friends who have travelled with the group before and introducing new group members to the Library and the intriguing city. Maybe you’d like to join us? We will arrive in Salt Lake on February 10, 2015, for one or two weeks. Most of the group will depart from Toronto, but we can accommodate other starting points.
The Salt Lake Temple, focal point of Salt Lake City’s Temple Square (photo: Jane E. MacNamara)
The first few days of the trip, February 11 to 14, will be buzzing with two big family history conferences—FGS 2015 and Rootstech 2015—that have combined forces for a one-time special genealogical event. But if you’re anxious to hunker down and get your nose into those old records right away, that’s OK. The Family History Library will be fully staffed and open extra long hours.
You’ll find prices and more details about the trip here. Our blocks of airline seats and hotel rooms are limited, so I’d advise booking soon. There are a handful of “repeat” travellers already on the list.
It is the middle of July, and in Ontario that means just about everything is ripe. Saturday morning at the market there were flats of perfect strawberries, early raspberries, glossy red, black and yellow cherries, translucent red currants, and tucked away on just a couple of farmer’s tables, a few pints of unassuming green gooseberries.
Tiny green gooseberries at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, July 2014. Photo ©Jane E MacNamara
Unloved, or just forgotten? Certainly out of fashion.
It wasn’t so for our ancestors. There are gooseberries native to Ontario. Catharine Parr Traill, who settled near Lakefield, mentions wild gooseberries in several of her books, and describes three varieties—wild smooth, thornberry or prickly, and small swamp gooseberry—in her 1885 Studies of Plant Life in Canada. In the 1857 Canadian Settler’s Guide (7th edition), she advises transplanting some wild varieties to a cool shady spot in the garden.
In his 1873, Toronto of Old: Collections and Recollections, Henry Scadding remembers dense thickets of “wild gooseberry bushes and wild black-currant bushes” in the lower Don Valley. In a Toronto horticultural exhibition described in the Globe in July 1849, Mr. Turner won first place for his gooseberries.
Gooseberries were an essential part of a northern household garden. Like currants (a close relative), gooseberries are very high in natural pectin, the ingredient that thickens jam and jelly. They could be mixed with fruit like strawberries or rhubarb which won’t set on their own. They could also be the featured ingredient in gooseberry jam or a tangy relish to eat with meat.
But back to the meager offerings of gooseberries this weekend at the market. There were two varieties, both un-named as far as the growers could tell me. The bushes had been fending for themselves for as long as they could remember.
Larger, bulbous green gooseberries and red currants at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto in July 2014. Photo ©Jane E MacNamara
But that was certainly not the case in 1876, when the Ontario government sent displays of the province’s products to the “Centennial Exposition” in Philadelphia celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
One of the displays was the “Fruits of Ontario.” This was, apparently a massive exhibit, occupying 200 feet of table space. Secretary of the Fruit Growers’ Association of Ontario D.W. Beadle wrote a fascinating report about how the samples were gathered and the quantities involved—well worth a read if your ancestor was a fruit grower. Beadle’s closing words explain that the aim of the exhibit was to “dissipate a very prevalent impression that we dwell in a cold, frozen, most inhospitable region of snow and ice”. He felt that the effort had done more to “break down unfounded prejudices” then could have been done by “an army of Emigration Agents, or a whole circulating library of books of information on the climate and productions of Ontario.”
Part of this impressive 1876 exhibit, were samples of 25 varieties of gooseberries!
||Wm. Saunders of London
||Charles Arnold of Paris
||P.E. Buck of Ottawa, J. McMullen of Ottawa
||Allen Moyer of Indian Station, Charles Arnold of Paris, P.E. Buck of Ottawa, Wm. Saunders of London,
||R. Kettlewell of London
||John Arnold of Paris
||D. Arnott of Arva, H. Beltz of London
||Charles Arnold of Paris
||Allen Moyer of Indian Station, P.E. Buck of Ottawa, Wm. Saunders of London, M. Kelly of London
||Wm. Saunders of London
||John Carnie of Paris
||J. Lamb of London
||W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
||W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
||W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
||W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
||W.H. Read of Port Dalhousie
||R. Kettlewell of London
||J. McMullen of Ottawa
||R. Kettlewell of London, J. McMullen of Ottawa
||John Carnie of Paris, J. McMullen of Ottawa
||R. Kettlewell of London, J. Lamb of London
||Wm. Saunders of London
||Wm. Saunders of London
||Charles Arnold of Paris
Mr. Beadle noted that the summer of 1876 had been particularly hot and dry. This had damaged or diminished crops in some part of the province—accounting for the dominance of places like London on the gooseberry list.
So what happened to all this diversity of gooseberries in Ontario? Why did their popularity wane? Was it a change in culinary styles? Did another fruit or product take their place?
Do some of these varieties survive on family farms? Does a descendant of grower R. Kettlewell of London still have some Roaring Lion bushes?
 Well maybe they’re not completely out of fashion. Martha Stewart grows gooseberries on her farm and you’ll find several recipes on her web site. Be wary that she’s not referring to “cape” gooseberries with a papery covering, which in Ontario we’d call ground cherries.
 The Globe, 21 July 1849, page 4.
 Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture (Chairman of the Advisory Board of Ontario,) on the Products, Manufacturers, etc., of Ontario, exhibited at the International Exhibition, Philadelphia, 1876. Sessional Papers No. 33. Legislative Assembly: Toronto, 1877. (The Google Book version starts on digital page 187.)
 Beadle’s report to the Commissioner of Agriculture starts on page 85.
 Charles Darwin wrote about the varieties of gooseberries developed in England by examining lists published in horticultural show catalogues from 1573. He credits the close to 300 varieties and increase in berry size to the existence of a network of “fanciers” from the late 1700s that held many annual gooseberry shows. Darwin himself grew some 54 varieties of gooseberry. The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, 2nd edition, Vol. 1. New York: D. Appleton, 1876. pages 376–378
This is my third post about the David William Smith papers at the Toronto Reference Library. The first two posts, A Toronto farm, 1799–1800 and A tale of two Isaac Gilberts, drew from Smith’s service as Upper Canada’s first Surveyor General and his personal land ownership.
First page of a three-page letter from Eliza Mathews to her friend Ann Smith (mother of David William Smith), written in 1764 in Kilkenny, Ireland.
In addition to the documents created and received while in Upper Canada, there is considerable correspondence received by Smith while he was on leave in England, and after 1802 when he returned there for good.
The David William Smith papers also include some selected correspondence of his father John Smith, Commander of the 5th of Foot at Detroit and Niagara, and letters to D.W. Smith’s mother, the former Ann Waylen.
It is one of these letters to Mrs. Ann Smith from her friend Eliza Mathews that caught my eye and then my imagination. It was written in September 1764, just three weeks after the birth of her son David in Wiltshire, England. Eliza, having recently moved to Kilkenny, Ireland, is also expecting a baby very soon and is missing her companion. Eliza writes, as she says, “just as I used to talk to you”. It is honest, enlightening, and endearing. I hope you enjoy the transcription that follows.
You can find the original letter in the Toronto Reference Library’s Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, Fonds S126, Series A10, folder 4, pages 251–254.
Kilkenny September the 24th 1764
I am rejoiced to hear of my D’r Diddles recovery, and the Diddles Diddle being well and hearty; tell [Tacky] I congratulate him upon his Papa-ship, and wish sincerely I could see you both to tell you what pleasure the news gave me when I heard it. You may imagine that a few month’s absense made me indifferent about you, but indeed you mistake, my regard is not less than at the time of our greatest intimacy. Fy! I abhor the suspicion nor do I think my D’r Smith w’d harbor it of me, therefore shall say no more of it.
Achs and pains, such as you have had yourself, prevented my writing as expeditiously as I ought to you, and even this you may look upon as a farewell, for [so]me time, for I don’t know how soon I may be confined; [d]ont you pity me, is it not dreadful; what but the highest love for your husband can make it [toler]able, nor nothing in my opinion but a return of love from him, can compensate for what we suffer; I know the generality of them only laugh at this, but that is miserable comfort to us, who experience the hardship of having children.
Good God how I pity some women, who I know heartily hate their husbands, and I am certain are as sincerely despised by them, and yet breed as fast as rabbits, what lives of misery they have, you can’t but have known some such couples—but I fear I am going on too rashly in declaring my sentiments, I forgot you have an unmarried sister with you who may perhaps come to the knowledge of this letter, and we sh’d be cautious not to say anything that would be likely to be a detriments to the matrimonial scheme; if she sh’d happen to see this, tell I spoke in general terms, for that I can assure her there are some particular people in the world, who never knew what happiness was, till the knot was tyed. I myself am one instance of it, among the many others to be found in the world.
My D’r Sam and I often wish you w’d take it into your head to come down and see our new house; there is a bed and room at your service as much, or more, than ever Mrs Robinsons was, and another for your Sister, perhaps not quite so good, but such a one as I believe she w’d dispense with for the sake of being in the house with you; I dont ask you, that there are the least public amusements going forward here for you, for in your life you never knew a place more barren of entertainment in that way; its all confined to domestic chearfulness and peace, if you have it not at home you have no other resource to fly to; do D’r Smith come down and see how we live, we can give you a Quadrille, a good fire, and a hearty welcome, whenever you please to accept it, and the sooner the more agreeable to us.
I have scarce looked at my paper since I began, so that I write just as I used to talk to you, that was with very little consideration and less coherency, so I fear you’ll find this letter, all I shall answer for it is, that it has truth to recommend it from first to last for that Diddle is my D’r Diddle and that I am hers and Mr Smiths sincere Friend is what I hope they will both believe. I am likewise [____] in the request, and assure yourself that I am your affectionate
Compliments to your Sister
Willy is [purely] and often drinks your health remember me to the gentleman of Reg’t [D___] for me at the Parade
 Eliza used abbreviations lavishly. This one is “dear”.
 Spelling and punctuation are Eliza’s. I’ve broken her letter into paragraphs for ease of reading.
In my last post, I showed you a sample of the fascinating papers of the Honourable David William Smith, Upper Canada’s first Surveyor General, in anticipation of a lecture at the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2014. The conference and the talk are now history themselves.
Letter to Surveyor General D.W. Smith from Secretary to the Executive Council John Small, 23 Feb. 1802, explaining the two Isaac Gilberts. (David William Smith Papers, S128 A7-4, p 373, Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, Toronto Reference Library)
As part of the presentation, I showed sample images from Smith’s various official roles as well as some personal documents. His service as a military officer/administrator for the 5th Regiment of Foot at Detroit and Fort Niagara, and his work as Surveyor General and member of the District Land Boards generated records of the widest interest—because they contain the most names. But beyond names, these documents let us see the process, the problems encountered in settling Upper Canada, and how the various players reacted and interacted. Smith’s land documents are an important complement to the Crown Lands record group at the Archives of Ontario.
I was very pleased to hear from audience member Nancy Cutway after my lecture, that I’d selected a sample document that shed some light on her family. (See the image at right. Click on it to zoom in.)
It is one of a number of reports written to David William Smith or commissioned by him, in his capacity as Surveyor General, that attempted to differentiate between grantees with the same or similar names.
Here’s what Nancy wrote. (It appears with her permission.)
MY Isaac Gilbert is the second one, Sgt from the Queen’s Rangers, who settled in Norfolk Co. But that confusion explains the erroneous information about him in E.A. Owen’s book Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement (1898).
Owen’s chapter on Isaac says (p. 261): “Isaac Gilbert was the son of an English emigrant who settled in the colony of New Jersey somewhere about the middle of last century. He was born in 1743, presumably in England. There are no records in the Gilbert family that throw any light on the history of the family previous to the settlement in Woodhouse; but, according to a family tradition, Isaac enlisted in the British navy during the War of the Revolution, and was promoted to some minor official position.”
… all of which is wrong. And I could never figure out why! From there forward it is more correct: Owens knew that MY Isaac—a native of Connecticut, great-grandson of Matthew Gilbert who was one of the “seven pillars” who established New Haven Colony in about 1630, and I have church records proving that descent—settled after the Revolution first in St. John NB (along with the rest of the Queen’s Rangers) and then came to Upper Canada. (Since these men had served under John Graves Simcoe, they moved almost en masse from St. John to Upper Canada when they learned of his appointment as Governor. Land records from New Brunswick and UE claims from Upper Canada bear this out. Despite Owens saying that Isaac did not receive a loyalist grant in Upper Canada, I have a copy of several documents, since he received that 400 acres referred to in your document, plus later wrote about another 300 acres, and could he swap some to make the properties contiguous.)
And Owens did have the family descendancy info more or less correct, as compared with documentation from other Gilbert researchers, including one who provided a copy of Isaac and Mary Gilbert’s family bible entries.
Your [D.W. Smith] document has now illuminated E.A. Owen’s confusion, and eased mine. Now I wonder how many other errors exist in Owen’s book which could be explained by some of those documents you mentioned which clarify individuals with similar names.
It is great to know that even in 1803, civil servants got confused.
My choice of that particular document was accidental, but I’m glad I could bring Nancy Cutway and her Isaac together! If you’d like to connect with Nancy about her Isaac Gilbert—or the other one, please comment below.
 The David William Smith papers are designated S126, in the Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at the Toronto Reference Library.
 A few other reports I noted are: B6-1 page 59–60 A letter about two Mary Links and two Elizabeth Empeys, B6-1 pages 63–77 Twenty-five pages each with two or three cases of duplicate names, and A7-3 pages 209-210 Forename confusion about Willet or William Carey.
Over the last six months or so, I’ve been digging into the papers of the Honourable David William Smith, Upper Canada’s first Surveyor General, part of the amazing manuscript holdings of the Toronto Reference Library. I’ve dipped into this intriguing collection several times before, but this time I’ve systematically opened every Hollinger box and file folder to discover the treasures they hold. I’ll be speaking about it at the Ontario Genealogical Society Conference on Sunday, May 4.
I confess that I love looking at manuscripts. David William Smith was an interesting (and blessedly organized) fellow, but the value of his collection of papers goes way beyond what he was all about. As with most manuscript collections, we learn just as much about the people and society around the central figure—the “little” people and the mundane events that don’t make the pages of history books.
Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at the Toronto Reference Library (photo by Jane E. MacNamara)
The document below (front and back) is an account of expenditures made by neighbour and friend John McGill to maintain Smith’s home and farm in the Town of York. Smith’s home, Maryville, was located at the corner of today’s King Street and Ontario Street, and the farm was Park Lot 5—a narrow 100-acre lot from Sherbourne Street to George Street between Queen Street and Bloor Street. (Smith, at the time held many other parcels of land, but it makes sense to me that at this time agriculture would be focused on these two.)
McGill was paying the bills because Smith was on leave in England. He departed in late July 1799—after leaving precise instructions for his assistants in the Surveyor General’s Office, instructions which are also preserved in his papers.
We can see from the document, that Smith had sheep to be shorn, and hogs and poultry to be fed. He grew potatoes and turnips (the latter likely as livestock feed), and a portion of the hay required to feed his animals over the winter.
DW Smith farm account, S126, box 3, folder B4, pages 59 and 60, Toronto Reference Library
Smith had help. I don’t think he was ever the actual “man behind the plough”. He seems to have maintained a Richard Hide as manager, supplying him with barrels of flour and salt pork. The account notes that Hide was sick in August 1799 and John Connelly stepped in to assist.
The other expenditures are for casual and skilled labour, cartage and for materials—like stone needed for a new well. They tell us about Smith’s home and farm, but they also give us solid if brief information about the workers and suppliers—specifics for an era when York was a scant six years old, and information is very scarce.
|Names listed in account for David William Smith’s farm, 1799–1800
||1799 July, August
||1799 July, August, September
||cartage of stone
||clear turnip ground
||cartage of stone for well
||cartage of hay
|Gilbert, W. Pitt
||55 barrels of lime
||pork and flour for his use
||1799 October, 1800 May
||Indian corn for hogs and poultry
||barrel of flour
||hauling and stacking hay
 The manuscript collections can be viewed in the new Marilyn and Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, on the Toronto Reference Library’s fifth floor.
 From the David William Smith papers S126, box 3, folder B4, pages 59–60, Toronto Reference Library
 David William Smith papers S126, box 4, folder B7-1, pages 1–28, Toronto Reference Library
This past weekend, I spoke at Gene-O-Rama, the annual conference of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. My topic for the keynote lecture was “Inheritance Interrupted: World War I reflected in Ontario Estate Files”.
Over the last few months, in preparation for the talk, I’ve dug pretty deeply into records spanning 1914 to 1919 and found some really good reasons why all Ontario researchers should pay special attention to estate files from this period.
It isn’t difficult to imagine that a war that caused the deaths of some 60,000 young Canadian men and women would affect the plans families had to pass on the goods and property they had accumulated over a lifetime or perhaps several lifetimes. The War years saw fathers or mothers acting as executors for their sons and daughters, and young wives administering their husbands’ estates—decades earlier than they expected. That wasn’t the way things were supposed to happen. It was supposed to be the other way around.
How soldiers’ estates were handled
Will written by Private Robert Spencer Forbes of Thessalon, Ontario, on a preprinted form (See note 3.)
Members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were encouraged to write a will before they went into action. It was not a requirement. Some men had made a civilian will before they left home. Many others made use of preprinted forms supplied in England before they were shipped off to France. The wills written by soldiers were collected by the Battalion Paymasters for safekeeping by a special branch of the military set up for the purpose, the Estates Branch. The Paymaster was also to compile a list of the locations of wills for men who had made an earlier will. The list was also submitted to the Estates Branch.
The Estates and Legal Services Branch of the Overseas Military Forces of Canada, operating in London, England, and later in Ottawa, was the depository of some 250,000 soldiers’ wills. When the Estates Branch was notified of a death, they made four copies of the soldier’s will. One copy went to the Canadian Record Office to be added to the soldier’s service file. The original will was sent to the family so it could be probated.
The Estates Branch also oversaw sending the deceased soldier’s effects to his family in Britain or Canada. When a man was killed, an officer was to collect his identity disc and any personal items. The items went to his company’s headquarters, then on to the Battalion Paymaster who sent them to the Estates Branch in London. If the soldier’s family was in Canada, they were passed to the Estates Branch in Ottawa and then on to the family. If the family was in Britain, the Estates Branch distributed the items according to the terms of the will.
Once the soldier’s will was back in the hands of his next of kin in Canada, it could be probated, just like any other will, in the surrogate court where the soldier had lived. To learn more about finding Ontario estate files, consult my book Inheritance in Ontario and/or articles on this site tagged Estate Files.
Changes to procedure during this period
Succession Duty Act
The Act had been in effect since 1892, but it was tightened up just before the War in the spring of 1914. The Affidavit of Value and Relationship: is a four-page document that lists the assets and the relatives or other people who will inherit, with their relationships and locations—often with full addresses.
For example, the affidavit for Private Egerton Fernley of Onondaga Twp., listed his foster siblings:
- Christopher William Burrill of Cainsville, Ontario
- Jennie Rebecca Burrill of New York
- Mrs. Annie Down of Smithville, Ontario
- and Violet Edith Beale of Saskatoon (not a sibling)
Enemy Alien Affidavit
The War Measures Act came in to effect in September of 1914. One of its provisions was to stop the flow of money to enemy countries and citizens of those countries. An Order-in-Council by the Ontario government, in December 1915, formalized the process in the surrogate courts. It required that the administrator complete an affidavit saying that the deceased had not been a German, Austro-Hungarian, Turkish, or Bulgarian subject. They also had to explain how they knew that the deceased wasn’t an enemy alien. This affidavit can contain some very interesting genealogical information.
For instance, Mary Ann Forbes of Thessalon says of her late husband who was killed on November 14, 1917, in action with the 12th Canadian Machine Gun Company:
“That I know the father of the late Robert Spence Forbes, and knew his mother before her decease. That they are of Scotch descent and I am informed and believe that my late husband was born in Scotland and was, therefore a British Subject.”
In another example, Paolo Cuischini of Sault Ste Marie, explains how he knows that his friend Gaspari Donati, who died in 1916 on active service with the Italian army, was not an enemy alien:
“That I knew both the father and mother of the deceased and they were both Italian subjects. My home was about a mile and a half from theirs in the municipality of Mondolfo, Province of Pesaro, Italy. The said deceased was also an Italian subject.”
Special provisions for soldiers
Through the War years there were a number of allowances and exceptions for men and women on active service written in to the legislation. One of the most interesting allowed for letters to be admitted as wills. The actual letters will be included in the estate file.
Private William Wauchope of Toronto, who was killed on April 24, 1915, wrote to his siblings just three months before on January 26, 1915:
“Just a short note in reply to your welcome letters, one yesterday, one today, very glad to hear from you. You all appear to be worrying more about my money than I am myself… If I don’t come back I trust you will all agree to divide whatever is to my account between Charlie, Jack and you while Martha has the lots, so the longer the Germans let me live, the more you will have to get.”
If you had ancestors who died in Ontario during the War years, be sure you’ve looked for their estate files. They will provide more insight into how the turmoil impacted on your family, as well as (with a little luck) some unexpected treasures.
 The preprinted military wills form neglected to ask for an executor, so the courts could not grant Letters Probate. The soldier’s wishes were acknowledged, though, with a grant of Letters of Administration with Will Attached. (The additional paperwork required for administration is a bonus for historians.)
 Estate file of Egerton Fernley, 1917, #4647, RG 22-325 Brant Co. Surrogate Court, film MS 887-116, Archives of Ontario
 Estate file of Robert Spencer Forbes, 1918, #1231, RG 22-360 Algoma District Surrogate Court, film MS 887-27, Archives of Ontario
 Estate file of Gaspari Donati, 1918, #1225, RG 22-360 Algoma District Surrogate Court, film MS 887-27, Archives of Ontario
 Estate file of William Wauchope, 1917, #32499, RG 22-305 York Co. Surrogate Court, film MS 584-1910, Archives of Ontario (The four-page letter, written from Salisbury, England, also mentions other family and friends and William’s impressions of the battlefield he is about to enter.)
In contrast to the last couple of posts, where I’ve attempted to lead you step by step through a set of records, this time I’m writing about records that mystify me. I can’t give you a straightforward route into them, because I haven’t found one. I have used chancery court records, and I’ve been lucky to find printed extracts of the few cases I’ve looked for—because those cases set precedents and the legal community needed to know about them. But there is so much more!
Ontario’s Court of Chancery was formed in 1837 and continued until it was merged into the Supreme Court of Judicature in 1881. It settled disputes about things like real estate, trusts, inheritance, dower, alimony, the care of infants (ie: everyone under 21) and mentally incompetent individuals, and fraud, particularly connected with real estate transactions or bankruptcy. If you think about that list of subjects, you can see the potential for family history information—rich little deposits of sworn, notarized, and largely undiscovered genealogy gold.
The records of the Court of Chancery are at the Archives of Ontario. There is one group of records that are identified by the surnames of the parties involved in the Archives Descriptive Database. That is RG 22-409 Equity Civil Suits Case Files. Knowing that it might be worth seeking out a still very generic “Smith v Jones” is the tricky part.
Most files contain at least two items, a detailed “Bill of Complaint” from the plaintiff and an “Answer” from the defendant. There may also be supporting affidavits and other documentation.
Equity civil suits case file, Newburn vs Newburn, RG-22-409, file 179/1874, Archives of Ontario
For example, file 179/1874 Newburn v Newburn, tells of a son John who emigrated from Ireland to Canada, and lost touch with his family for many years. He eventually visits his two sisters, also in Canada, and decides to visit his father John back in Castlefield, Co. Sligo. From there the father’s version of the story is at odds with the son’s, but the property in Ireland was transferred to the son and sold. Son, father, and father’s new wife all sailed for Canada. Whether the proceeds of the sale belonged to the father or the son was the question, but the file provides names, married names, and locations of all parties in Canada, a timeline for the family’s emigration, and a location in Ireland. Conveniently, they even argued about the numbers of pigs and cows.
Affidavit by Dr. Uzziel Ogden, Equity civil suit case file, Ince vs King, RG 22-409, file 188/1874, Archives of Ontario
File 188/1874 Ince v King, is a complaint by Thomas Henry Ince, a barrister who lived on Roxbrough Street in Rosedale. Ince claimed that noxious smells and water pollution from Joseph King’s nearby glue factory were making it impossible for his family to enjoy their home. Ince produced affidavits from a number of doctors and local officials, and King countered with just as many from neighbours and employees, saying that the factory didn’t make them sick. The detailed descriptions of their homes in relation to the factory are a unique resource. Turns out a number of open cesspools were the more likely cause of the stench.
Sketch map of Rosedale showing King’s factory on the west side of Yonge Street (100 yards from Thomas Ince’s home), cesspools to the east, and Yorkville Creek to the south. Equity civil suit case file, Ince vs King, RG 22-409, file 188/1874, Archives of Ontario
Bill of complaint, Equity civil suit case file, Ford vs Beasley, RG 22-409, file 208/1874, Archives of Ontario
File 208/1874 Ford v Beasley is an action by Keziah Eliza Ford, a widow from Hamilton, against family members Thomas and Sophia Beasley and George Burton. She makes a claim for a portion of a trust set up by her late brother Richard to care for his wife and daughters. Only one daughter, Agnes, survives and she is a “lunatic”. The file states the family connections, dates of death for Richard and his family, and details Agnes’ condition.
There are some 4100 case files in this series. They are not microfilmed and are stored offsite, so you will need to order them a day or two in advance of your visit to the Archives of Ontario.
Archives of Ontario box 109503
The entry for RG 22-409 in the Archives Descriptive Database links to an online list of records, but they must be browsed page by page. Instead of using the list, I recommend searching for your surnames of interest in the Archives Descriptive Database at the “Advanced Search” level. Select “Files and Items” and narrow the results by entering RG 22-409 in the Archival Reference Code field.
It is a bit of a stab in the dark—but it could be very worthwhile.
To give you a taste of the genealogical treasures to be found, I’ve extracted the main names and summarized the “matters” for one box of files in the table below—some 68 cases of the 4100 in the series.
RG 22-409 Equity Civil Suits Case Files: Box 109503 (© Jane E. MacNamara)
||James Stratton Barwick, Jane Crawford Barwick, Frederick Drew Barwick, Agnes Margaret Cameron (née Barwick)
||Hugh C. Barwick
||Failure to distribute the proceeds of the sale of a lot in Blanford Township
||Andrew Norton Buell
||Isabella Liscombe, executor of the estate of Margaret Watson (deceased)
||Mortgage debt on several lots in the Town of Whitby
||John Newburn the elder
||John Newburn the younger
||Dispute over the proceeds of the sale of John the elder’s property in Castlefield, County Sligo, Ireland, before his emigration to Canada
||Canada Permanent Building and Savings Society
||John Leech and heirs of James Leech: Mary Ann (widow, now married to William Thompson), infants William, James, Henry, Thomas, David, Emma, and Mary Ann
||Mortgage debt on property in Manvers Township
||William Bell and his wife Margaret
||Mortgage debt on property in Lindsay
||John Bain, barrister of Toronto
||George Mearns and the Hon. John Simpson
||Concerns the will of James Mearns of Darlington Twp, who died in 1845.
||Michael Scanlan, tinsmith of Toronto
||Elizabeth Coxwell, spinster of Toronto
||Mortgage debt on property on Alice Street, Toronto
||Charles W. Lount of Bracebridge
||Failure to provide accounts for the sale of properties in Flos, Innisfil, Medonte, Mono, Mulmer, Tay, Tiny, Nottawasaga, and Oro townships
||Royal Canadian Bank
||William Martin of Cartwright Twp., and his wife Mary
||Mortgage debt on property in Cartwright Twp.
||Royal Canadian Bank
||Mary Martin of Cartwright Twp
||Mortgage dept on property in Cartwright Twp.
||Benjamin Halleck of Meaford
||James Beattie Powell of Elizabethtown, his wife Anna, their son Robert Beattie Powell of New York City, and Edward C.K. Garvey
||Fraudulent deal to exchange Halleck’s land in Elizabethtown for Garvey’s land in the United States (which never materialized)
|188/1874(two fat files)
||Thomas Henry Ince of Yorkville
||Joseph King of Yorkville
||Noxious smells and water pollution from King’s glue factory (many affidavits from neighbours, physicians, local officials)
||Charles Stanhope Watson and Samuel Waddell
||John James Mason assignee of Edward and George Magill of Hamilton
||Seeking the court’s opinion about the distribution of funds from bankrupt hardware merchants
||Frederick E. Seymore aka E.F. Seymore
||Mortgage debt on property in Tilsonburg
||Charles Baillie of Montreal
||Dispute over ownership of property in Percy Twp involved in the bankruptcy of the hardware store of Benjamin Franklin Lewis and Jasper Terwilligar in Warkworth
||Robert K. Chisholm of Oakville
||Kate T. Sumner and husband William C. Sumner
||Mortgage debt on property in Owen Sound
||Thomas Cowdry of Toronto, physician
||John Bethune McKinnon and George Stevenson
||Dispute over the sale and cutting of timber on property in Moore Twp
||Hannah Roe Woodward, widow of Cholmley Woodward, of Oro Twp.
||William Hueston of Howick Twp. and his wife Mary
||Mortgage debt on property in Howick Twp.
||Annie Bowes, widow, of Toronto
||Arthur Todd of Yorkville
||Mortgage debt on property in Yorkville
||James Breakenridge McLean of Elizabethtown, farmer
||Wellington Shepherd McLean (his son)
||Dispute over assignment of a mortgage on land in Elizabethtown purchased from William Franklin Coleman
||Josiah Barker Rogers of Aurora
||Mortgage debt on property in the Village of Aurora
||Michael Daintry Cruso of Cobourg
||Thomas Armstrong Winton Gordon of Fergus and his wife Elspeth Georgina Gordon
||Mortgage debt on two properties in Fergus
||Donald Alexander McArthur of the Village of Alexandria, merchant
||Albert L Catlin, William R Hibbard, Alexander Cameron, and the Montreal and City of Ottawa Junction Railway Company
||Recovery of money advanced to pay workers while the railway line was built near Alexandria
||Mary Ann Sullivan, widow of Brighton Twp., and infants John, James, Mary Ellen, Daniel, Michael, Elizabeth Ann, and Patrick Sullivan
||Levi Fairbanks the younger of Whitby, auctioneer
||Agreement to purchase of property in Brighton Twp.
||Charles Alexander Switzer, bookkeeper of Toronto
||Completion of an agreement to purchase property on Vanauley St., Toronto
||John Edward Rose of Toronto
||Thomas Mulholland, William Richards, Harriet Richards, Susannah Carter, George Washington Carter, Sarah Richards, James Burkett
||Mortgage debt on a property on Vaughan Rd. in York Twp., purchased by the Connexional Society of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada
||David Galbraith, merchant, of Toronto
||Frederick Schwarz, tobacco manufacturer, Hamilton
||Claim on Hugh Wallace’s portion from the proceeds of the recent dissolution of the partnership of Schwarz & Wallace
||Albert Boltwood Wright and John Charles Fitch, merchants of Toronto
||Peter Bordean or Bordeau of Haldimand County and his wife Nancy Bordean
||Allegation that Bordean transferred land in Village of Canfield to his wife to protect it from a judgment in the Court of Common Pleas
||William Chaplin of St. Catharines, and Edward Jones of Toronto and Welland Vale Manufacturing Company
||William Henry Rodden and his son William Albert Rodden
||Claim that the patent for a “balloon tine” hay fork invented by Rodden was purchased from the trustees in bankruptcy
||Edward Blong of Toronto
||Mortgage debt on property in Arthur Twp.
||Thomas Douglas Ledyard of Toronto
||William Blackwood of Montreal, and Alfred Francis Wright of Toronto
||Sale of land in Prince Arthurs Landing, Thunder Bay District
||William Purdy, contractor, of Toronto
||Seeking his share of profits in dissolved partnership for work on the Provincial Lunatic Asylum and the American Hotel
||Keziah Eliza Ford, widow, of Hamilton
||Thomas Beasley, Sophia Beasley, George William Burton
||Claim on the residue of a trust set up by her brother Richard George Beasley of Hamilton, which provided for his wife and daughters, now all dead. The last surviving daughter, Agnes, had been a lunatic and the file included details of her condition.
||William T Munro of Toronto
||Norman and Donald McInnis
||Request that a bankruptcy discharge for a dry goods merchant in Walkerton be set aside because a piece of property in West Hawkesbury Twp. was transferred to the owner’s brother keep it off the list of assets
||Clarkson Jones and Hon. Adam Crooks
||Neil Campbell of Stayner, baker
||Mortgage debt on a property in the Village of Stayner
||Thomas Burke of Niagara and Donald Milloy
||Donald Milloy of Toronto, executor of the will of Nicol Milloy
||Debt collection case transferred from the Court of Common Pleas after the death of original defendant Nicol Milloy
||William Griffith of Toronto, merchant
||James Watson Henderson
||Mortgage debt on a property in Artemesia Twp.
||Elizabeth Beatty of Toronto, married woman
||Luke Beatty her husband
||Requesting alimony and child support. Includes a list of his considerable assets
||Joab Scales of Toronto
||Sale of land on Wellington Street, Toronto
||Janet Douglas, widow of Toronto Twp., William J. Montgomery and Jessie Montgomery of Etobicoke
||Mortgage debt on a property in Harwick Twp.
||Peter Raymer of Markham Twp.
||Mary Raymer, Henry and Esther Robson, George and Matilda Eckardt, Samuel and Hannah Shank, Colin D. and Elizabeth Reesor, Andrew and Susan Reesor, Christina Raymer (widow of John Noble Raymer), her children Annie Raymer, Albert Reesor Raymer, Ida H. Raymer, Fanny A. Ramer, E. Naomi Raymer, Franklin H. Raymer, and Ira S. Raymer
||Division of the property of the late Martin Raymer in Nottawasaga Twp. (100 acres). The plaintiff and defendants are all entitled to a share. The plaintiff wants the land sold and the proceeds divided.
||James Park of Toronto, merchant, and Alexander Shields of Malton, executors of James Shields
||John Kerr, assignee of insolvent Robert Fowles
||Mortgage debt on property at Queen and Portland in Toronto
||John Conn of Bracebridge
||Warring Kennedy and Thomas McMurray
||Collection of the purchase price of land sold to McMurray which he has transferred to Kennedy
||Dr. Alexander Hamilton of Barrie, and Rev. Abraham James Broughall of Toronto, and James Beaty of Toronto
||Henry William Cuff
||Mortgage debt on property on Jarvis St., and a leasehold water lot, both in Toronto
||John Gordon of Goderich Twp.
||Donald Fraser and Donald Bruce the younger
||Dispute over timber rights and subletting of leased land in Goderich Twp.
||Managers of the Ministers Widows and Orphans Fund of the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Canada
||John Wurtle Marston, David Buchan, John O’Brian, Peter O’Brian, trustees of the Presbyterian Congregation of L’Orignal
||Mortgage debt on the church property in L’Orignal
||Alexander Manning of Toronto
||Cyrus Johnston, William F. Johnston, Walter Sanderson, David Preston, Margaret Jessie Dupont, Charles L. Dupont, Sarah Johnston, Mary Agnes Johnston, Collins H. Johnston, Melinda Johnston, Talitha C. Johnston, George W. Johnston (the last six infants under 21)
||Mortgage debt on Campment d’Ors Island, near St. Joseph Island (1,260 acres). Island was granted to James Walker in 1861. Mortgage was originally held by Lawrence Heyden.
||Nicol Kingsmill of Toronto
||Niven Agnew and his sister-in-law Catherine Agnew
||Removal of a “fraudulent” mortgage held by Catherine Agnew on Niven Agnew’s property in Village of Delaware, Caradoc Twp., so a lien can be placed on the property
||Margaret Ramsay Munro widow of Galt, Mary Richie Logie widow of Hamilton, Susan Leaming Hamilton widow of Galt
||William Lynn Smart, Eleanor Herbert Mary Charlotte Smart, John Alder Newton Smart, William Catherinus Gregory Smart (the last three infants under 21)
||Division of property in Hamilton bequeathed in the will of Mary Crooks (mother of the plaintiffs). Defendants are widower and children of another daughter of Mary Crooks.
||William Barclay McMurrich of Toronto
||Thomas Beatty, hotel keeper of York Twp.
||Mortgage debt on a 13-acre property in York Twp. (mortgage was part of a trust for Eliza Ann Helliwell, held by Thomas and George Taylor and William Mills Morse)
||John C. Secord of Niagara Twp.
||John Lees Alma
||Dispute over payment of mortgage principal for property in Niagara Twp. to Alma and whether he was mentally capable of discharging the mortgage.
||Alexander Smith of Toronto, labourer
||Mary Carruthers and John Carruthers, Horace Thorne, James J. Foy
||Recovery of debt of deceased William Carruthers from sale of property on Oak St. in Toronto.
||Thomas Monkhouse of Pickering, merchant
||Walter Forsyth of Whitchurch Twp
||Mortgage debt on property in Whitchurch Twp., assigned by Emma Forsyth of Uxbridge
||Robert W. Johnstone of the Village of Prince Albert, Reach Twp., gentleman
||Mary M. Huckins and husband John M. Huckins, bookkeeper of Port Perry
||Mortgage debt on property in Port Perry
||John Manly of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and Allan McQuarrie of Sault St Marie, Michigan, explorer
||Thomas Ryan, Scott and Thomas Ryan the younger
||Recovery of property purchased in the name of Thomas Ryan in McDonald Twp, Algoma District in trust for the defendants
||Trust and Loan Company of Canada
||Adam Lloyd of Rawdon Twp., gentleman
||Mortgage debt on a property in Rawdon Twp.
||James B. Boustead of Toronto
||Margaret Brown of Toronto, administratrix of the estate of her husband Charles Brown of Saint John, New Brunswick
||Seeking Charles W. Brown’s portion of his father’s estate as part of the bankruptcy of C.W.’s failed wine and spirit merchant business
||John Strathy of Toronto
||Janet Wilson (widow of Joseph Wison), William George McLean Wilson, Thomas Gallo Wilson, Janet Elizabeth Wilson, Joseph Silverthorn Wilson (the last 4 are infants under 21)
||Mortgage debt on property on Vanauley St., Toronto
||Leo Noecker, Jacob L, Eidt, Adam Johnston
||William Murray, miller, of the Village of Mildmay, Bruce County
||Dispute of Murray’s right to raise his dam beyond height the 12-foot limit on title
||Elizabeth McDermott, wife of John McDermott of Town of Mara
||Peter John O’Connor, John McDermott, Bridget O’Connor, Mary Ann O’Connor, Margaret O’Connor (last 3 are infants under 21)
||Dispute over the estate of Elizabeth’s father John O’Connor of Medonte Twp. The defendants are her siblings.
||Clarence W. Moberly of Toronto, civil engineer
||Edward King Dodds and Ernest Peel
||Recovery of debt owed to building contractor Richard Dinnis (and assigned to Moberly) for work done at Carleton Park Race Course
||George Brewster of Orangeville, and other creditors
||David Ellis and his wife Sarah Ann Ellis
||Claiming property in Orangeville, fraudulently transferred to Sarah Ann, when David Ellis absconded to the United States.
||William H. Howland of Toronto, merchant
||Mortgage debt on property in Sunnidale Twp.
||John Brown, farmer, and William Coe, gentleman, both of Madoc Twp.
||John Beck of Buffalo, NY, mining captain and John Maule Machar of Kingston, barrister
||Removal of a “cloud” on the title of a property in Marmora Twp. caused by an agreement to sell subject to mineral rights
||James Moran of Toronto, cabman
||Margaret Stock of Toronto
||Dispute over the “pestilential waters and fluids” from Margaret’s cow shed that flow into Moran’s cellar. They lived side by side on Mutual St. in Toronto.
||Northern Extension Railways Company
||George Robinson, North Orillia Twp.
||Dispute over sale of land for the construction of railway station at Severn River
||Sarah Harper, wife of defendant.
Plus separate suit by Jane Harper of King Twp., widow
||Recovery of alimony due to Sarah, and tells of her abuse. Jane Harper’s suit is for mortgage debt on property in King Twp.
||Margaret McMurray of Edwardsburgh Twp., widow of John
||James McMurray (son of the plaintiff)
||Dispute over the discharge of a mortgage on property sold to James by his late father John in Edwardsburgh and South Gower Twps., and Margaret’s dower rights to the land
||Erie and Niagara Railway Company
||Great Western Railway Company
||Dispute over the use of the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge, and a station in the Village of Clifton. Includes affidavits of David H. Thomas (yard master, New York), Henry Edward Osgood (passenger agent, Detroit), Andrew H. Trew (Tonawanda, civil engineer), James Angus (chief engineer, St. Thomas), William Henry Perry (Buffalo), William Alexander Thomson (Niagara Twp., director), William Moss Kasson (Buffalo, land valuator), Louis Dedrich Rucker (Grosse Isle, Michigan, railway manager), Charles William Winslow (accountant, St. Thomas), Thomas Wilson
© Jane E. MacNamara
In part one, we started with the 1895 death of prominent Toronto tobacconist Joab Scales and located his name in the indexes produced by the York County Surrogate Court. When we were unable to decipher the illegible grant number, we consulted the court’s register to find it. We took the newly found grant number 11255 to the User’s guide, and found that the estate file identified by that grant number is located on microfilm number GS 1, reel 1051.
The estate files for York County have been filmed in numerical order by the grant number. The grant number is handwritten on the “jacket” or cover of the estate file, which is just about always filmed at the beginning of the file.
The estate file for Joab Scales contains 26 pages. A digitized version is included at the end of this article so you can read the full estate file. I’ll summarize the documents below and some of the information that can be gleaned—or inferred— from them.
Particularly interesting in this estate file are the changes in Joab’s family situation and how he responded to them with his will and codicils.
There are 16 documents in Joab’s estate file, some with multiple pages, adding up to the 26 images on the microfilm. I’ve listed them in the order in which they appear on the film—although it is not chronological.
1. The first document is the jacket of the estate file—where the contents of the file were summarized so the folded bundle of documents could be easily retrieved. It identifies: “Will and two codicils of Joab Scales” filed January 4, 1896. Note the grant number 11255 at the top and bottom of the page. The other number at the top of the page is the register number and page—you’ll find a picture of that page of the register in the first part of this article because we used it to find the grant number. The law firm Armour & Williams is noted at the bottom. The paragraph written vertically, states that this document is identified by “D” elsewhere in the estate file.
2. Memorandum of fees, January 7, 1896. This document is of no great genealogical value, but it does show some of the process. Note that the will had to be transcribed three times, one of those for the Surrogate Clerk. More about that later.
3. Listing of documents submitted to the court, January 7, 1896. Again of no genealogical significance, but it might identify any missing documents.
4. The Office of the Surrogate Clerk of Ontario was established when the court system was reformed in 1859. Its role was to ensure that only one grant of probate or administration was issued. Document 4 is certification from the Surrogate Clerk that no one else has applied for a grant of probate, nor has any caveat been lodged against the application. It is dated January 6, 1896.
5. This typewriter-written document is the petition for a grant of probate from John Woodford Scales and Charles William Peniston, dated December 1895, and signed by their solicitor. It doesn’t say who John and Charles were, in relation to Joab Scales, but we do learn that:
- both John and Charles are from Toronto
- Joab died 4 December 1895 in Toronto
- Joab lived in Toronto at the time of his death
- John and Charles are named as executors in the will
The document also lists the dates that the will and codicils were written and estimates the value of the property as “under Twenty one thousand” dollars
6. The next document is an affidavit stating Joab’s date of death and residence by John Woodford Scales. We also learn that John is a merchant and we get his signature.
7. The inventory of Joab’s real estate holdings at the time of his death lists six properties for a total value of $19,200:
- 90 Gould Street
- 20 St. Patrick Street
- four stores on Church Street (numbers 275, 277, 279, 281)
The four stores on Church Street, referred to as Scales Block, are circled in red on this detail from the 1890 insurance map of Toronto. The orange colour indicates brick or masonry construction. (image from Toronto Public Library)
8. Item 8 is another affidavit by John and Charles that the Inventory of real estate is true and complete, and under $21,000 dollars.
9. The next document is a brief inventory of “moveable” property, including an affidavit of its validity by John and Charles.
10. John pledges, in the next affidavit, dated January 2, 1896, that the will and codicils are authentic. (2 pages)
11. The next document is an affidavit by John and Charles that they will “faithfully administer” the estate. It is dated January 2, 1896.
12. Joab’s lawyer Edward Douglas Armour, QC, was one of the witnesses to the signing of his will and all three codicils. As part of proving the will to be authentic, he signed an affidavit on December 30, 1895, that he knew Joab Scales and witnessed the signing of his will and the codicils. (2 pages) Because of this apparent long-term business relationship between Joab and his lawyer, it might be worth investigating whether the papers of Edward Douglas Armour, or his firm Armour and Williams, are available at a local archives.
13. The next and biggest document in the file (seven pages) is the actual will. The last will and testament of Joab Scales was signed on August 18, 1888. The will is rich with family information, but noticeably absent is any mention of his wife. Since she would have considerable claim on the estate, it is reasonable to assume that she had died before Joab. The main provisions of the will are as follows.
- Joab’s son Christopher Columbus Scales got the store and premises at 249 1/2 Church Street; a gold-headed cane, portraits of Joab and his wife and their deceased daughter Laura.
- Joab’s daughter Mary Margaret Peniston got the proceeds from the rents and eventual sale of 20 St. Patrick Street. If sold, the money was to be invested to provide an income for Mary. After her death, $500 each would go to Mary’s sons Clifford L. Peniston and Harry Scales Peniston, and the rest to be divided between her other children and grandchildren.
- Mary Margaret Peniston was also to have the family bible, the piano, bedroom furniture, silverware, plated ware, chinaware, glassware and cutlery, as well as portraits of Joab and his wife, Mary and her husband, and her two boys. She also got the rosewood suite from the drawing room, a what-not cabinet, and a bronze figure of Mercury.
- Joab’s son John Woodford Scales got the store at 255 Church Street. When he died it went to his widow. When she died or remarried, the trustees were to sell the store and divide the proceeds amongst John’s children. John was also to get the portraits of himself and his wife, and portraits of his sister Rowena Tello and her husband “to do what he pleases with.”
- Clause 5 left the store at 253 Church Street in the hands of the trustees to earn income for the potential support of Joab’s daughter Rowena Lucinda Tello. They could sell it right away or rent it out. Apparently, Rowena was in an asylum for the insane at the expense of her husband. (The husband’s name is never mentioned, and you don’t have to read too carefully between the lines to understand that Joab did not approve of him.) The trustees could pay any arrears for her treatment, but they didn’t have to. When Rowena died, the trustees were to pay $500 each to any of her sons and daughters who were 21 years old, or who were married. If any of the Tello children entered a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, they were cut out of the will. The 253 Church Street property was also to produce enough income to pay $1000 to Charles Henry Scales and $500 to Robert Scales Peniston as well as $500 to each of his executors. If Rowena recovered, she was to be paid the income “for her sole and separate use.”
- Joab’s son Charles Henry Scales got a house and property at Dalhousie and Gould Streets. Charles also got a portrait of himself and his deceased brother Robert.
- The store at 251 Church Street was to be sold to provide $200 legacies for his granddaughters Carrie and Sally (daughters of Christopher Columbus Scales), granddaughters Maud, Laura, and Mary (daughters of Charles Henry Scales). Maud was the subject of an earlier article. Any residue from the sale of the store was to be divided between Joab’s four children Christopher Columbus, Mary Margaret, John Woodford, and Charles Henry.
- Joab’s diamond breast pin was left to Harry Scales Peniston. (No other bequest says as much about Joab’s social status, or his relationship with his grandson.)
- Joab’s three sons were also left his three bronzes. (Mary got Mercury, but the sons had to decide who got the other statues. Annoyingly, Joab doesn’t tell us what the were.)
- Joab appointed his son John Woodford Scales and his grandson Charles William Peniston as executors and trustees. (Additional research into the ages, locations, and occupations of these two might show why he gave them this responsibility. He also specified that he wanted two people to act, so if either John or Charles was unable or unwilling, another administrator would need to be appointed by the court.)
14. The final three documents are codicils to the will of Joab Scales. A codicil is a signed and witnessed document that adds to or changes the provisions in a will. The first codicil is dated June 27, 1889 (less than a year after the will was signed). The codicil is written after the signatures on the final page of the will and continued on an additional page. It replaced clause five, which provided potential support for Joab’s daughter Rowena. Rowena had evidently died between the 18 August 1888 when Joab’s will was signed and before the June 1889 date of this codicil. Other provisions of clause five remained the same, including the exclusion of any of Rowena’s children who joined a Roman Catholic order. The codicil indicates that 253 Church Street is now 279 Church Street.
15. A second codicil dated September 1890, changed the terms in which Christopher Columbus inherited 249 now 275 Church Street. The property would be held by the trustees to provide an income for Charles and his family until the youngest child was 21. After that Christopher would get the property outright. Similarly, Charles Henry Scales would not get the Gould and Dalhousie property until his children were all 21. He also lost his $1,000 legacy, which was to put towards house repairs and maintenance. Did this reveal Joab’s lack of trust in his sons’ business acumen?
16. A brief, third codicil dated 31 December 1891 revoked the legacies to Carrie and Sally Scales and directed that they should be paid to grandson Harry Scales Peniston. (Now, about this time, the lovely Carrie or Caroline had moved to New York and had taken to the stage. Read more about her in my post on her cousin Maude. Joab would have been unlikely to approve. I don’t know why Sally or Susan was denied.) Harry was to get anything left over after all the various legacies were paid.
Download an image of the complete Joab Scales estate file. Like all estate files, this one shows the progress of the estate through the court, but not how quickly or how well the assets were distributed. If the heirs or creditors were unhappy with the administration, they could take the matter back to the Surrogate Court. There is no record of that occurrence in the estate file, so it would seem that Joab chose his executors well.
For much more information about searching for Ontario estate files and other probate records, see my book, Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and Other Records for Family Historians.
Most Ontario counties have published indexes to estate files for the period 1859 to 1900, and some indexes go beyond those dates. But York County is an exception to the rule. It was the most populous county, containing the City of Toronto, and the prospect of creating a modern index was, and is, daunting. Those of us with ancestors in York must use the contemporary indexes created by the courts themselves. The indexes and estate files are on microfilm at the Archives of Ontario and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, and are available on interloan from both places.
The case we’ll follow is Joab Scales, the tobacconist grandfather of Maude Scales Darby that I wrote about last time.
Knowing the date of death makes the search much easier. Ontario civil registration records tell me that Joab Scales died of heart failure in Toronto on December 4, 1895, age 76. By law, no one could apply to administer his estate until at least seven days after his death—if there was no will, the wait was two weeks. So the search should start with mid December records and continue, if necessary, for up to five years.
The first step, if you’re at the Archives of Ontario, is to consult the printed User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm to find the index. This finding aid is divided by counties, and it is important to read the introduction on the first page of each county. The introduction for York County, in the picture below, tells us that for 1896, we need to look at the Original Index Volumes, and record the Grant number. Right below the introduction, we see the Original Index Volumes listed. The year 1896 will be on the first one: GS 2, reel 232.
Archives of Ontario. User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, p. 157
The next image is from the Original Index Volumes on film GS 2, reel 232. The index is semi-alphabetical by surname—a page or several pages were designated for each letter of the alphabet. As an estate file came before the court, it was added to the appropriate page. For the more “popular” letters, the alphabetization was refined by designating pages for letter combinations. This detail is from a “Sca” page, and you can see that names have been added chronologically.
York County Surrogate Court Index, 1887-1919, detail of “Sca” page, RG 22-303 GS 2 reel 232, Archives of Ontario
Joab Scales’ name is listed fourth. The grant was of Letters Probate and issued on 7 January 1896. The York County introduction told us to record the Grant number, which is the first column.
Oh, dear: 112?? We’ve been thwarted by the clerk’s misguided attempt to fix his mistake.
We have a couple of choices. (Giving up is not an option.) We could look at all estate files that begin with 112—possibly 99 files averaging 20 pages each—or we could use the Register Book information shown on the right side of the index image. It tells us to look on page 586 of Register Book 26.
So, back to the User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, the York County section, for a listing of the Registers. In the time span that includes 1896, we see that volumes 25, 26, and 27 are all on film MS 583, reel 013.
Archives of Ontario. User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, p. 158
On the film, we scroll through until we find Volume 26. (Remember there were three volumes on the film and therefore duplicate, even triplicate page numbering to be wary of.)
York County Surrogate Court register #26, cover page, RG 22-302, MS 583, reel 13, Archives of Ontario
Now, we’re looking for the page 586 that was listed in the filmed Index for Joab Scales. The Register Book recorded the essential information in brief: who died, that the will was proven, who was appointed to administer the estate, and that the administrators had sworn to do so diligently. Format varied over the years, but in 1896, the clerks filled in the blanks in a preprinted form with three names on a page.
York County Surrogate Court register #26, page 586, RG 22-302, MS 583, reel 13, Archives of Ontario
Here’s a detail shot showing the entry for Joab Scales in the middle of the page—lots of good genealogical information, including his date of death and the names, occupations and residences of his administrators, who may be relatives. The document also states that they were executors named by Joab in his will. This increases the probability that they’re related. But most importantly, for our purposes, it provides the final two digits in that illegible Grant number: 11255.
York County Surrogate Court register #26, page 586 (detail), RG 22-302, MS 583, reel 13, Archives of Ontario
Armed with the Grant number, we go back, once more, to the York County section of the User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm—this time to the list of Estate Files. We locate our Grant number 11255 in the right time period, 1895–1896, and the final column tells us it is on film GS 1, reel 1051.
Archives of Ontario. User’s guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, p. 177
So now we’re breathing down the neck of that illusive Joab Scales estate file. Stay tuned for the next episode!
For much more information about searching for Ontario estate files and other probate records, see my book, Inheritance in Ontario: Wills and Other Records for Family Historians.
 Ontario death registration #2847 for 1895, as viewed on Ancestry.ca, August 9, 2013. (Joab had been born in Kentucky. His doctor and informant was Dr. W.J. Hunter Emory. He was a Methodist.)
 It is unlikely, but not impossible, that you’d find an estate file more than five years after the death.
 Unfortunately, most of the Register Books microfilms are not available on interloan from the Archives of Ontario. However, most of the same Register Books were filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah and are available for interloan from familysearch.org/search/catalog/24422