If your ancestors lived in Quebec in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, you can discover a great deal about them from the records of their land transactions, wills, marriage contracts, apprenticeships and other documents that were prepared by notaries.
The key to researching these documents is to find the notary your ancestor hired — not an easy task since so many notaries practiced in Quebec over these three centuries. But if your ancestor’s first language was English or a language other than French, the search might be easier. Many notaries practiced in French only.
The PDF link at the bottom of this introduction will take you to a relatively short list of notaries who practiced between 1760 and 1848, roughly the period when Quebec was known as Lower Canada and was under British rule. These notaries prepared documents for residents who were of British, Scottish, Irish and American origin (both Loyalists and non-Loyalists), as well as people with Germanic, Dutch or Scandinavian roots. In addition, they served Huguenots who had lived in England before coming to Canada.
Notarial records are stored in the archives of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), and you can find them either online or on microfilm at the various branches of the archives.
The BAnQ has 10 repositories across the province, the largest being in Montreal and Quebec City. The others locations are in Sherbrooke, Trois Rivières and other smaller cities. The larger a BAnQ repository is, the smaller the online content of notarial acts because members of the public can more easily visit the big city archives in person. That means that, if your ancestor used the services of a notary in Gaspé, for example, his records are more likely to be online than if the notary was based in Quebec City.
At least 70% of the documents written and recorded by notaries in Quebec are available online. The main online repositories are:
Ancestry.com – Drouin Collection of notarial acts
Ancestry.com – BAnQ Collection of notarial acts
FamilySearch.org – BAnQ Collection of notarial acts (different years than the BAnQ online database of notarial acts)
http://www.genealogiequebec.com/en – Quebec Genealogy (Drouin Institute online)
There is a list of notaries on the BAnQ website at http://bibnum2.banq.qc.ca/bna/notaires/index.html?a=v_z
You can search for a notary by place and browse his indexes by year. Starting with these indexes might be a good strategy, especially if the notary did not have a very busy practice, or if you know approximately what year your ancestor married, died or made a business agreement.
The URL http://bibnum2.banq.qc.ca/bna/notaires/fichiers/portail/html/liste.html takes you to another list. If a notary on this list has an asterisk, clicking on the name will allow you to view his documents on the BAnQ website.