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Finding an 1896 estate file in York County: A step-by-step example, part 2

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 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.

10 comments to Finding an 1896 estate file in York County: A step-by-step example, part 2

  • Guylaine

    Loved your article on Joab. Was wondering about Joab and Rowena and her unnamed husband. Such a romantic story, sorry about the Asylum and all that.

    Here is what I found about her unsuitable husband:

    Pedro Cornelius MANLY TELLO

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Thanks, Guylaine. He was a very interesting fellow! According to the 1870 Toronto city directory, Manly Tello was in the tobacco manufacturing business with his brother-in-law Charles Peniston on York St. Peniston was also a partner in the Scales tobacco business. Must have made for some tense family dinners!

  • Debra Burgess

    Hello Jane – My name is Debra Burgess and I am a PhD candidate in History at the University of Cincinnati. I have been happily hopping around your blog for the better part of an hour and even if my request turns out to end with you I have enjoyed the journey. Your exhaustive research and ability to follow threads wherever they take you is inspirational 🙂

    The subject of my dissertation is a comparison of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish orphanages in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh from 1880-1930. As part of my research, I came across Manly Tello – what an incredible character. I also came across a story from the annals of the Sisters of Notre Dame mentioning a man who came to visit them (a newspaper editor) in 1884. He told the Sisters that his wife played the piano and I am trying to determine if you have any information as to whether the first Mrs. Tello (Annie Rowena) was musical. I know this is an odd request, but it will close the loop on a research thread for me that I’m having trouble letting go of. I tend to follow my own rabbits down the hole too.

    Thanks for your help.
    All best,

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      Hi Debra. Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed reading about Joab Scales and kin! I can’t definitively say whether Rowena Tello played the piano, but there was a piano in her father’s home when he died. His daughter Margaret Peniston inherited it. Joab could certainly afford some luxuries and I think educating his daughters musically would have been important to him. Joab’s granddaughters were involved in the arts. Did you read about Maud Scales Darby?

  • Debra Burgess

    Hi Jane – Wanted to update my post from yesterday. The date of the mysterious man’s visit was 1878 and he stated he was a newspaper editor.

    All best,

  • Debra Burgess

    Hi Jane – I just did – the Scales family certainly experienced their share of tragedy. Have you written on the cause of Rowena’s death? She was so young and I am trying to confirm whether she spent time in an asylum. I would be grateful if you could point me in the direction of information you may have come across in that regard. Thank you so much.
    All best,

    • Jane E. MacNamara

      No, I haven’t investigated Rowena’s death. Her father’s will was pretty clear about the asylum, and that her husband couldn’t be relied upon to pay for her support. You could look for a death record between August 1888 (the will) and June 1889 (the codicil), probably in Cleveland. Try

  • Debra Burgess

    Her cause of death was listed as paresis. Date of death 03/08/1889. Ohio, County Death Records. She was originally interred in “Cath. Wood.” cemetery and then moved to Calvary in 1906, buried alongside Manly. Marie Tello Phillips Yaegle is also on the headstone. I would be inclined to think Marie had her mother moved next to her father after Manly passed in 1905. Thank you again for helping me close the loop.

  • Bob Peniston

    This is all very interesting. I’m not into genealogy, but am related to Robert Scales Peniston, he was my grandfather. Never knew him, but heard some things about him that can’t be found. My father Robert Louis told me his dad was instrumental in bringing hockey to St. Louis. We had quite a few hockey trophies, not like we’re familiar today, but silver cups and goblets. If anyone knows anything about R.S.P. please advise. I live in St. Charles, Missouri,

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