The seventh in an eight part series to help people with potential UE Loyalist lines access the wealth of documentation available online for free, as well as offline sources that can provide further evidence linking generations.
Step 6: Search wills, obtain evidence linking generations
I'd hoped to expand my knowledge about wills across Canada, and retrieve more of them, while writing up this post, but the last few months did not unfold as planned. I do have extensive experience working with Ontario wills though, and have applied my training and experience as an archivist to identify will collections across the country. While I've personally used the Ontario and Saskatchewan probate files, I strongly suspect there are more will series out there than those identified below. So, this step is comprehensive but likely not complete at this time.
Hopefully, by the end of Steps 4 and 5, you have several UEL related names as well as place information.
Given that UELs were compensated with land (typically 200 acres), there is a strong tendency for property transfer records to exist for most of the individuals in the first three generations. Typically, there is a will for the UEL (unless they died very early), possibly his/her widow/er, their male children, sons-in-law, some daughters, and grandchildren, that either went through probate or was registered with a land transfer process at the municipal level.
Primogeniture was not the normal practice and therefore it is common for younger sons and daughters to be listed in the will. Depending on timing, the daughters may be referred to by their married names, either in the will or in the probate process documents, and this can prove a link between generations for those early 19th-century people whose baptism and marriage records have not survived.
Canadian wills and will indexes are not (yet, fingers crossed) generally available online. Quebec does not have a history of English Common law and therefore wills are handled differently there. Definitely check what is online first (if you are fortunate to have family from these jurisdictions within the given time span) as these are by far the easiest wills to access:
- Nova Scotia Probate Records, 1760-1993 (1,395,009 images, some indexes by county on reels)
- Saskatchewan, Probate Estate Files, 1887-1931 (1,903,391 images, database indexed)
- Manitoba Probate Records, 1871-1930 (802,992 images, indexed within the reels)
- British Columbia Estate Files, 1859-1949 (783,176 images, limited indexing)
- Early New Brunswick Probate, 1785-1835 (database index of published abstracts)
- Ontario Probate Court Records - Surnames A to G (pre-1859)
- Ontario Probate Court Records - Surnames: H to N (pre-1859)
- Ontario Probate Court Records - Surnames: O to Z (pre-1859)
- If you find a person in the above Ontario Probate indexes, the Archives of Ontario website provides instructions for ordering microfilms via interlibrary loan; however, it may be easier to order the film to your local Family History Center from the following collections: Probate registers, 1793-1858; and estate files, 1793-1859; Probate minute book, 1795-1847; probate record books, 1789-1901; probate estate papers, 1858-1900; index, 1877-1953
- Ontario Surrogate Court Index 1793-1858
- In Ontario after 1859 you need to get access to the right index for the right county (and at the right time: the court clerk would use an indexing book until it was full, then start a new one, so the indexing is in unpredictable 10-20 year stretches, if it exists at all). In the 1980s June Gibson transcribed the indexes by county, sorted alphabetically by last name, up to 1900, and they were published by Generation Press. Many libraries have copies of these publications and they are much easier to use than the microfilmed index books, so if the will you need is post 1858 and pre-1901, start by searching library catalogues you can easily visit for "Surrogate Court index 1859-1900 June Gibson" (plus the county you need). The indexes are also still in print (both paper and e-edition) and available from Global Genealogy, so you might find buying a copy is cost effective. Once you have the will number, you can figure out how to order the right Ontario Archives or FamilySearch microfilm that contains the actual probate or administration file.
There are also centralized or county court probates which are indexed and available on microfilm:
- Prince Edward Island. Probate Court. Probate records, 1807-1958; indexes, 1786-2000
- Ontario surrogate court indices going beyond 1900 are retrieved by using the county-specific finding aids for "Post-1859 to 1970" on the Ontario Archives website then figuring out how to get access to the right county index microfilm either through Ontario Archives or through FamilySearch. For FamilySearch, search the catalogue for the county of interest and then check what they have available under probate. For example, Prince Edward County has a testator index up to 1947 available on one film. The availability and means of indexing by the clerk is highly variable by county and you won't always find there is a good index, although the actual probate files are often available up to 1930 or so.