Most wills and estate files hold at least some interesting and useful genealogical information. If you want to see how substantial an estate your ancestor had, who was named as a beneficiary in a will (and maybe who was left out of the will!) or if you're hoping to find the names of close relatives who might have been named as executrices, executors, witnesses, beneficiaries and the like, here are some sources I've found helpful for British Columbia wills and estate files.
British Columbia Archives
The British Columbia Archives has information sheets on-line which explain how-to find a will (from 1861-1981) or probate records (various dates, 1859-1986) in the Archives in Victoria.
These are all PDFs**
Probate Records: http://www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/general/guides/ag_prob.pdf
There is a brief section on Probate in the British Columbia Archives guide, “Genealogical Resources for British Columbians”, but unfortunately, this guide seems out of date.
The British Columbia Archives does have a good basic and an advanced search system which should allow you to find the reference for an estate file or will, either by entering the person’s name or by locating, then browsing in a will or probate file finding aid.
I just did a search for a great grandfather who died in 1935 in B.C. and, as an example, found:
Microfilm # B08809 Saggers, David Probate File # P - 19956
in the finding aid for GR-1415, BRITISH COLUMBIA. SUPREME COURT (Vancouver). Probate/estate files [1893-1931](nos. 1-28,115). Transferred from Ministry of Attorney General, 1982.
This reference, I believe, identifies the artist, Emily Carr's estate file:
Microfilm # B09166 Carr, Emily File #304 Year 1945
in the finding aid for GR-2083 BRITISH COLUMBIA. SUPREME COURT (Victoria).
Microfilm (neg.), 1941-1950, 16 mm, 36 reels [B09153-B09188]Probates/estate files (nos. 411/1941 - 66/1950). Transferred from the Ministry of Attorney General, 1990.
Use the B.C. Archives Basic Search Page:
The B.C. Archives has an excellent search facility on-line for deaths from 1872-1974
and other resources, for instance, coroner’s reports, that might be helpful when researching wills and estates. (Some of the BMD records are available as 'pay for view' but this is too expensive. Look around the WWW for B.C. lookups & copy services available for nominal amounts.)
See the B.C. Archives Genealogical Resource page: http://www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/textual/general/genealog.htm
Cloverdale Branch, Surrey Public Library
The microfilmed indexes to B.C. wills & estate files are at several libraries including the Vancouver Public Library and the Genealogy Collection at the Cloverdale Branch of the Surrey Public Library. The Cloverdale Library has indexes to 1981 and B.C. wills from 1861-1946 on microfilm. (Apparently, there are some Victoria estate files on microfilm at Cloverdale. You will need to check in the library’s guide to their genealogical holdings or with a librarian there.)
The Cloverdale Library website has a self-help guide for British Columbia genealogical sources which includes a brief, but up to date, section on B.C. Estate Records. http://www.spl.surrey.bc.ca/Programs+and+Services/Genealogy/Genealogy+Resources+and+Holdings/default.htm
There are many glossaries of terms used in wills & estate records on the WWW. Some are more specialized than others. This one from “Estate Planning for the B.C. Farmer, Sixth Edition” would be useful for looking at more modern wills where the testator had been a farmer or owned a farm. The glossary defines some terms as they would apply to agricultural estates, for instance, “Rights or things: The term given to items such as livestock, inventories and accounts receivable of a “cash-basis farmer” that are given special treatment in the final income tax return of a deceased individual.”
First Nations Wills & Estates
There are also articles on-line dealing with special topics, wills and estates of Native Canadians, for instance. “Wills for First Nations Persons”, and “Estates Under The Indian Act”, written by Roger D. Lee were posted in 2002 and 2003 to the Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia website. These articles mention some history as well as current concerns, which may explain why there might be fewer wills by native Canadians. Also there is an article posted on the Sto:lo Nation Land Department website, “Wills and Estates”.
Roger D. Lee 2002
Roger D. Lee 2003
Sto:lo Nation: http://www.snlands.com/wills.php
Historical wills or estate files for Native Canadians may be in RG10 Department of Indian Affairs at Library & Archives Canada. These are indexed and can be found by using the Government of Canada Files Search at ArchivariNet . This is easy to use but can be ‘hard to find’. There is now a guide to Aboriginal Genealogy at the Canadian Genealogy Centre website. Estate files are mentioned in this, but in passing. There is a mention of RG 10’s estate files & wills in FAQ under ‘How to Guides, Aboriginals’, though.
Researching Your Aboriginal Ancestors: PDF & HTML versions
I entered “will” as a key word in ArchivariaNet’s Government of Canada Files search page, using “INDIAN AFFAIRS RG 10” as the group. There were 273 entries found for named individuals. There are other entries though under other record groups. A will for a “Chief Shingwankoons” is in R216-255-0-E ( with other “miscellaneous documents of obscure origin” ).
An example of the RG 10 entry information is:
“WEST COAST AGENCY - OPETACHESAHT BAND - ESTATE OF THE LATE PRIVATE EDWARD JOHN CLUTESI (COPY OF WILL)” Volume 6802, Reel C-8528 File: 452-834.
[Private Edward John Clutesi died serving in Canada’s armed forces during World War II.]
ArchivariaNet Government of Canada Files search page: http://www.collectionscanada.ca/archivianet/02010502_e.html
U.B.C. Law Library Catalogue
The on-line catalogue of the University of British Columbia’s Law Library includes many books & other materials, concerning wills, estates, inheritance, etc. (Not only for British Columbia)
“Wills and estates: a summary of unreported decisions of the British Columbia courts, 1947-1977”, prepared by Patricia Buck. (Vancouver: Butterworths, c1978.)
“Anglo-Saxon wills”, edited, with translation and notes, by Dorothy Whitelock and Harold D. Hazeltine (Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1930).
(There is on-line access to legal periodical indexes, including historical articles, but this is restricted unless you are associated with U.B.C. or are in the Law Library.)
U. B.C. Law Library Website: http://www.library.ubc.ca/law/
A few of the B.C. lookup & query/research services:
Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, British Columbia
B.C. Archives Independent Research Agent Register
Britsh Columbia Genealogical Society Query Information Page