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Genealogy and Family History

Explore your roots at VPL and beyond: resources and services for genealogists


Estate files contain documents used by the court to disperse a deceased person's estate, whether he/she dies with our without a will. Contents can include applications, the original will, affidavits, an inventory of the assets and valuations of property.

Wills often mention members of the family, will give an indication of the deceased's material wealth and will provide details on the final division of the estate.

Wills and estate records are a provincial and territorial responsibility.

Wills and Estates


The Vancouver Public Library owns microfilm indexes to all probated British Columbia wills covering the period 1861-1981. With these indexes, you can take the vital first step towards locating B.C. wills probated during this period. The indexes also cover probate files for the City of Victoria. The microfilm indexes at VPL tell you only that a probated will exists. The actual will, however, is not available at the Vancouver Public Library.

Over 100,000 digitized images of will indexes (1861-1981) and wills (1861-1939) probated in the province of British Columbia can be browsed online using FamilySearch's British Columbia, Wills, 1861-1981 database.

A complete set of probated B.C. Wills, 1861-1981, is available on microfilm at the Cloverdale Branch of the Surrey Public Library. Copies of wills from 1861-1981 can also be obtained from the B.C. Archives.

For more information on researching wills and estates, including books at VPL and online resources, see our Wills and Estates booklist.

The Abbotsford Genealogical Society

British Columbia Wills (1860s to 1940)

The Abbotsford Genealogical Society (AGS) has indexed the surnames from 62 original volumes of official wills probated in British Columbia dating from the 1860’s to about 1940. The index is arranged alphabetically by surname and contains over 27,000 entries. It does not include the entries for "stray wills". PDF copies of the indices are available online:

Non-BC Wills Indice - Stray Wills (all)

AGS index to 2,620 wills registered in British Columbia by non-residents (strays) during the time period of 1864 to 1939. PDF copy of the indice is available online:


Will and estate records are held by the Archives of Ontario.

Until 1793, Prerogative Courts dealt with estate matters, but almost no records are available from this period.

Between 1793-1858, estates were administered by Courts of Probate and District Surrogate Courts.

  • The Courts of Probate handled estates valued at £5 or more, with property in more than one district. A surname index to Ontario Probate Court Records is available on the Archives of Ontario website. Microfilms of the records can be borrowed from the Archives of Ontario on interlibrary loan.
  • The District Surrogate Courts dealt with probate matters involving real property in one district only, and handled many more cases. Record-keeping varied from place to place; the amount of material available varies. A surname index to Ontario District Surrogate Court Records is available on the Archives of Ontario website, and microfilm copies of the records can be obtained via interlibrary loan.

In due course, the District Surrogate Courts were replaced by County Surrogate Courts, and the Courts of Probate ceased to exist. The County Surrogate Courts assumed sole administration of probate and estates in 1859. New numerical series of files were begun, and new legislation required more detailed and standard recording practices.

The original estate files have been microfilmed to 1939 (York County even later), and a microfilm index is available. Thus, to obtain County Surrogate Court estate files, two steps are required:

  1. Look in a microfilm index for a reference number to an estate file.
  2. Use the reference number to find a copy of the estate file on microfilm.

Both the microfilm index and the microfilm estate files can be ordered from the Archives of Ontario on interlibrary loan.

In some cases, however, the first step - checking the microfilm index - can be bypassed by consulting the Surrogate Court Index of Ontario, Canada, 1859-1900, a 27 volume set of books available at the Vancouver Public Library.

Note: since these printed indexes were compiled, the numbering system for the related microfilms has changed.

To identify the revised/new microfilm number:

  • Search the appropriate county volume of Surrogate Court Index of Ontario, Canada, 1859-1900 (Ref. 929.3713 A11G4s).
  • If you locate a name of possible interest, note the estate file number (e.g. #755) and the year.
  • Go to the Ontario Court of Probate and Surrogate Court Records: Wills and Estate Files page on the Archives of Ontario website.
  • Scroll down to the area flagged "Between 1859 and 1970."
  • Click on the name of the county in which you are interested.
  • Scroll down to the listing of Estate Files. (This is followed by a range of years specific to that county, e.g. Estate Files - 1842-1930).
  • Based on the number and year of the estate file that you want, determine the number of the microfilm that you need to borrow.

For more information on locating Ontario will and estate information, see Ontario Court of Probate and Surrogate Court Records: Wills and Estate Files - A Pathfinder.

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