For family researchers looking for ancestors in Quebec, notarial acts are much more than marriage contracts or wills. A notarial act can offer a detailed overview of all the members of a particular family through documents such as notarized after-death inventories.
In order to pinpoint where and when an ancestor settled within a particular region of Quebec, notarized land grants and land purchases, sales and leases can provide family lineage researchers with answers to their research stumbling blocks.
If your ancestor was a business person, notarial acts can describe the types of business activities your ancestor carried on, and the names of his partners or competitors.
All types of transactions that seigneurs carried on with their tenants in New France, between 1612 to 1760, and under British rule, from 1760 to 1854, were recorded by notaries. These records are a must for those with ancestors in rural districts of New France and British Quebec up to 1854.
In order to find the notarial documents relevant to your family’s activities, you first need to know the name of the notary who prepared these documents. Unless the notary’s acts have been digitized, you will need to scroll through his index to find the dates and act numbers so you can find the documents themselves.
In New France, there were three types of notaries: public notaries, also referred to as regular notaries; seigneurial notaries, appointed by the owners of vast territories called seigneuries; and royal notaries. In most cases, royal notaries were well-educated individuals who were considered to be of high integrity, and to have exemplary behaviour in family relationships and with business associates.
This is the group of notaries we wish to introduce to family history researchers in Canada and in the United States.
Royal notaries were appointed by representatives of the French Crown in New France, known as indendants. An intendant was an administrator appointed by either Louis XIII, Louis XIV or Louis XV, kings of France from 1621 to 1760, and by the kings of England during the reigns of George III and George IV.
The French intendants who appointed royal notaries were Louis Robert (1663-1665), Jean Talon (1665-1668 & 1670-1672), Jacques Duchesneau (1675-1682), Jacques de Meules (1682-1686), Jean de Champigny (1686-1702), François de Beauharnais (1702-1705), Jacques Rondot (1705-1711), Michel Bégon (1712-1726), Claude Thomas Dupuy (1726-1728), Gilles Hocquart (1731-1748) and François Bigot (1748-1760).
Following the British conquest of 1759 at the Plains of Abraham in Quebec, the authorities who appointed royal notaries in British Quebec were: Governor James Murray (1760-1768), Lieutenant Governor in Montreal Thomas Gage (1760-1763), Lieutenant Governor in Trois-Rivières Ralph Burton (1760-1766 and 1763-1766 in Montreal), Governor Guy Carleton (1768-1770 & 1774-1778 & 1786-1796), Lieutenant Governor Hector de Cramahé (1770-1774) and Governor Frederick Haldimand (1778-1784).
One of the best experts on royal notaries was André Vachon, a university professor, author and archivist. Born in Quebec City in 1933, he was archivist at the Archives de la Province de Québec (the precursor of the Archives nationales du Québec) from 1956 to 1961. For nine years, he was a professor at Université Laval and Université de Sherbrooke, and from 1971 to 1976, he was curator at the Archives nationales du Québec. He was also historian and managing director of Les Presses de l’Université Laval.
From 1967 onward, Vachon wrote 15 books, one of which should be considered of exceptional value to family lineage researchers. It is called L’Histoire du Notariat Canadien (The history of the Notaries in Canada)
In addition, Vachon contributed a series of excellent articles that were published over many years by the Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française. These are available online through Erudit, the largest French-language research platform in North America. Many of his texts addressed the subject of notaries in New France from 1621 to 1759, as well as notaries under the British regime.
For more details on Vachon’s career and the Andre Vachon Fonds at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, see http://pistard.banq.qc.ca/unite_chercheurs/description_fonds?p_anqsid=201402101331371539&p_centre=03Q&p_classe=P&p_fonds=840&p_numunide=835866
The following articles, researched and compiled by Vachon and his associates, describe most of the royal notaries of New France and those who served as royal notaries under the British regime in Québec.
If you want to find out which notaries served your ancestors in Quebec, the websites of Parchemin (Archiv-Histo) and of the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) are the best places to look. These sites list notaries who were described as royal notaries or as public notaries (regular notaries) or as seigniorial notaries.
Archiv-Histo (Parchemin) (https://archiv-histo.com/assets/publications/2015-Notaires-liste-Chrono-Tablo.pdf ) provides a research tool on the notaries who served in New France. There were 206 notaries working in New France from 1634 to 1759, and 2,086 notaries served in Quebec from 1760 to 1899.
Bibliothèque Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) (http://bibnum2.banq.qc.ca/bna/notaires/) offers readers a tool to research notaries by regions of Québec who served during the 19th century and a few within the 18th century in all regions of Quebec. These regions can be found on the left side of the front page under the heading of Par region.
These regions were:
>> Montreal Region
Island of Montreal plus Saint-Hyacinthe – Richelieu River Valley – Iberville – Joliette – Terrebonne – Beauharnois – Longueil – Laval – Labelle – Bedford
>> Quebec City Region
City of Québec plus Montmagny – Saguenay – Beauce
>> Central Region of Quebec (Mauricie et Centre du Québec)
City of Trois-Rivières plus Arthabaska County – Drummond County – St. Maurice County
>> Eastern Townships (Estrie)
City of Sherbrooke plus St. Francis Judicial District (Sherbrooke, Stanstead, Richmond, Compton, Wolfe Counties) – Bedford Judicial District (Missisquoi, Brome, Shefford,Counties plus the Upper Richelieu River Valley (Missisquoi Bay)) – Megantic County
>> Western Quebec (Outaouais)
District of Hull-Gatineau plus Gatineau County – Pontiac County – Labelle County – Papineau County under Hull-Gatineau District
>> Lower St. Lawrence (Bas-Saint-Laurent)
Regions of Rimouski and Rivière-du-Loup plus Kamouraska District, Gaspé County, Bonaventure County
>> Saguenay – Lac-St-Jean
Regions of Chicoutimi (Saguenay today) plus Roberval, Alma
>> North Western Quebec (Abitibi-Témiscamingue-Nord-du-Québec)
Abitibi County, Témiscamingue County
>> St. Lawrence Lower & Upper North Shores
Baie-Comeau & Sept-Iles regions from Tadoussac to the Labrador Border along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River
Please note: All articles by André Vachon and his associates on the Érudit site, as well as the content of Parchemin (Archiv-Histo) and of the BAnQ are in the French language only. Try using Google Translate, or another online translation service.
Jacques Gagné, “Finding Quebec’s Early Notarial Records,” Genealogy Ensemble, Jan.1, 2017, https://genealogyensemble.com/2017/01/01/finding-quebecs-early-notarial-records/
Jacques Gagné, “Notaries of Lower Canada, 1760-1848,” Genealogy Ensemble, April 29, 2018, https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/04/29/notaries-of-lower-canada-1760-1848/
Compiled by Jacques Gagné