Guest blogger: Sharon Callaghan
Quebec notary records are valuable to family history researchers, because of the wealth and rich details of personal data found in them. Are you looking through these records and perhaps unsure of some things you’re seeing?
Many notary records are digitized in Ancestry’s collection, Quebec, Canada, Notarial Records, 1626-1935. This online collection includes Actes, Répertoires, and Indexes des noms digitized from notary records in a massive archived collection in Quebec’s library and archives, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec’s (BAnQ). Launched in 2016, this is the result of an agreement between BAnQ and Ancestry. Digitization continues to progress, so keep checking back if you don’t find what you’re looking for. New records are always being added.
Here are some tips that could help clarify some of the unknown while searching these very important records.
What are Quebec Notaries?
Notaries have practised since the early 1600s in New France. As public officers, Quebec notaries have extensive powers under the civil law of Quebec, which originated from France’s civil law. As such, their services have been continuously used by people at important points in their lives, such as contracting a business deal or a marriage, buying a home or making a will. Any Quebec ancestor, regardless of origin, language, religion, or gender could have had civil documents drawn up by a notary.
What are the Notary Records?
Quebec notary records are unique and are the most searched source in Quebec genealogy after vital records and censuses. Records are held at the archives centres of BAnQ. Their Greffes de notaires collection contains 300 years worth of notary records, which are fully open to the public. To give you a better idea of what you are researching, here is a review of what would be in an individual notary’s records.
- Acte – This is the actual notary document you’ll want to find for your ancestors. There are many different acte types, which can give you insight into ancestors’ lives. Notaries must fully identify information on people, places, events, and other documents mentioned in the acte. Each type of acte has a certain structure and format that is to be followed. For example, deeds of sale will be laid out in a similar fashion.
- Répertoire – These are registers in which actes are listed chronologically by the date on which they were created. They serve as a search tool to find complete reference to an ancestor’s acte. Each entry represents a separate acte. The details of the entry – acte type, name(s) of party involved, acte number (if available), acte date, as well as notary’s details – lead to tracking down the acte. Note that répertoires may be formatted differently depending on the notary.
- Index des noms – Created from répertoire entries, an index of names is a register with actes listed by the first letter of the family name of the party, or parties, then by date within letter entries. These also serve as a search tool for complete reference to an ancestor’s acte. As with répertoires, each index des noms entry represents a separate acte, with the details of the entry and notary leading to the acte Note, an index des noms may also be formatted differently by notary. As well, not all notaries maintained these indexes.
When doing a search in Quebec notary records, keep in mind the following tips:
- Always search for the maiden name of a female ancestor, regardless of marital status, because she could have had a notary acte drawn up for herself. It was normal for notaries to identify women by maiden name in their records, though a spouse’s name would be mentioned.
- If searching for an ancestor with a ‘dit’ (known as) name, such as with Gareau dit Vadeboncoeur, do a search for both names. It often happened that some of the children chose to use the ‘dit’ name (Vadeboncoeur), while others continued using the original name (Gareau).
- If an ancestor is found on a répertoire or index des noms page, check other entries on the same page. Different family members often went to a notary office, greffe, at the same time for their services. For instance, a husband and wife could be having their wills drawn up. The wife’s acte would be listed under her maiden name.
Types of Actes
When searching, always keep in mind that the title of the type of acte could be in the French term, even if it is otherwise written in English. Ancestry does give an English translation for the types of actes but, even then, the reason for it might still be unclear. For instance, the following examples may not mean what you think.
- Bail – is not for your ancestor to get out of jail (Notary’s powers only fall under civil law). Bail is the French word for lease. This type of acte could be done for numerous reasons, such as renting accommodation or a farm, or even leasing a cow for milk for your ancestors’ children.
- Donation – is not your ancestor donating to charity or such. The French word for that is Dons. A Donation type of acte is normally an agreement to give up title of something to another party, usually under certain terms. For example, an elderly farmer and his wife could parcel off the land to their children, who had to agree to take care of the parents for the rest of their lives.
- Engagement – is not your ancestor getting married. The type of acte for that is normally a Contrat de mariage (marriage contract), though it could also be something like a Promesse de mariage (marriage promise). This Engagement type of acte is usually to hire someone to work under certain terms specifying responsibilities/time, etc. Examples for this would be when voyageurs were contracted for expeditions or workers under apprenticeship. Early on, an engagement could have very well been negotiated for young children by a parent.
- Transport – is not your ancestor carting or hauling goods. The Transport type of acte involves giving up a right, a possession, or a debt to a third party. For example, it could be a person renting accommodations and paying the owner, who’s giving over rights to the lease to another person, with required conditions laid out.
Montreal-born Sharon Callaghan is a writer, genealogist and lecturer, and a long-time interest in family history led to her discovering mainly Irish and French roots. Her writing and family history endeavours benefit from an enthusiasm for history and research. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts in sociology with a minor in anthropology, after having served in the Canadian Forces. Sharon is the author of the historic nonfiction Paths of Opportunity and her articles have appeared in publications of genealogy societies.
She has lectured on Quebec resources, specializing in Quebec notary records and Quebec land records. See her website here.