Probate Records Part 4: Quebec and Ontario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources for wills and estates:

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

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

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

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

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

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