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Finding an 1896 estate file in York County: a step-by-step example

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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

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

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.[4]

Archives of Ontario. User's guide to Surrogate Court microfilm, p. 158

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

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

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

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.[5] 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

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.

[1] 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.)

[2] It is unlikely, but not impossible, that you’d find an estate file more than five years after the death.

[3] The equivalent information can also be found here: http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/microfilm/surrogate_court_york_t.aspx#index. The films are available on interloan from the Archives of Ontario or from familysearch.org.

[4] 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.

[5] The equivalent information can also be found here: http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/microfilm/surrogate_court_york_t.aspx#estate1. The films are available on interloan from the Archives of Ontario or from familysearch.org.

 

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