Genealogy, Research tips, Resources Outside of Montreal

Notaries of Lower Canada 1760-1848

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:

http://www.banq.qc.ca/accueil/index.html?language_id=1  BAnQ online

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.

PDF:  Notaries of Quebec and Lower Canada 1760-1848

Quebec

Portrait of a Scandal: a Book Review

Portrait of a Scandal: the Abortion Trial of Robert Notman, by Elaine Kalman Naves, is many things: a non-fiction courtroom page-turner, a story about illicit love, a tale of Scottish immigrant families in mid-19th century Montreal, and an exploration of some of the social customs and beliefs of the times. The fact that the book describes abortion practices and life in Kingston Penitentiary makes it all the grittier, while the high-profile identity of the main individual — the younger brother of society photographer William Notman — makes the details all the juicier.

I wanted to learn more about life in 19th century Montreal, home to several of my ancestors. But this real-life story hooked me within a few pages, with the mysterious death of a young physician, Dr. Patton. I won’t be spoiling the book by revealing that Patton committed suicide because he mistakenly believed his patient, a student named Margaret Galbraith, had died as a result of the abortion he performed on her. Her lover, Robert Notman, was charged with procuring the abortion.

The book is full of strong individuals, from the young woman whose hopes of becoming a teacher were doomed the minute she fell for Robert, to the lawyers who argued the case with dramatic flourishes. Their story is in excellent hands. Author Elaine Kalman Naves is an award-winning author, having already written a memoir about her own family, a book about Montreal writers and numerous articles for The Gazette.

Many family historians would relate to Naves’ research process, from her frustration with the red tape she encountered at the McGill University archives to her pleasure following Margaret’s footsteps back to the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland. Much of the material has been culled from sources familiar to genealogists, including newspaper articles, family papers and city directories. Naves has brought these 150-year-old sources together in a way that makes sense to modern readers. And despite only having fragments of information about Robert’s and Margaret’s lives, she has succeeded in bringing these people back to life.

The bibliographic essay at the end of the book is also worth a look. Two of Naves’ favourite sources, Call Back Yesterdays by Edgar Andrew Collard, and Montreal: Island City of the St. Lawrence by Kathleen Jenkins, are probably on many Montrealers’ bookshelves, while the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online is only a Google search away.

Elaine Kalman Naves. Portrait of a Scandal: the Abortion Trial of Robert Notman. Montreal: Vehicule Press, 2013.