Five in the News

With this post I am reintroducing a popular feature from my days at Mocavo. A weekly roundup of interesting stories of interest to genealogists. This week’s stories include ancient explanations for eclipses and explorations of trigonometry, maritime mysteries of the Pearl Harbor survivor USS Indianapolis and Confederate submarine Hunley, and the historic significance of twentieth-century Black Beaches of Maryland.

How Maryland Black Beaches are Becoming Staples of American History
Between the 1920s and 1960s, there weren’t many beaches where African-Americans could freely enjoy themselves without encountering discrimination. So, Carr’s Beach and just a few other beaches in the D.C. area became a safe space. Legends such as James Brown and Jackie Wilson would perform at Carr’s.

How 5 Ancient Cultures Explained Solar Eclipses
Solar eclipses have been fascinating—and often terrifying—humans throughout the course of history . . . As millions prepare to witness the phenomenon, find out how some early cultures and religions tried to explain and understand a solar eclipse.

This 3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Clay Tablet Just Changed the History of Maths
A Babylonian clay tablet dating back 3,700 years has been identified as the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, suggesting the Babylonians beat the ancient Greeks to the invention of trigonometry by over 1,000 years.

How the USS Indianapolis, WWII Navy Ship with a Dramatic History, was Finally Rediscovered
On July 30th, 1945, the Indianapolis was at sea, having just completed a top-secret mission delivering key components of the atomic bomb Little Boy to a naval base in the Northern Mariana Islands, when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Just 15 minutes later, the ship that survived the Pearl Harbor attack was underwater. . . Ultimately, only 316 survived the ordeal. For decades, the final resting place of the Indianapolis was lost to the ocean.

Solving the Mystery of What Killed a Civil War Submarine Crew
The dead submarine crew hadn’t moved from their stations for nearly 150 years when the vessel was raised from the ocean in 2000. Whatever killed them happened so suddenly that they never made a run for the escape hatch. What’s more, they had no obvious physical injuries.

Power Tips for Using Word

This blog post was inspired by a Facebook post made by my friend (and colleague in the Boston University Certificate in Genealogy Program) Julie Michutka about styles in Microsoft Word. Even as a Mac user, I understand that Word provides a great deal of functionality that isn’t offered by other word processors, and is very useful for genealogical writing. Here are five tops to help you use Word smarter. Note: These options may not be available to those operating older versions of Word.


1. Styles List
We know that styles are a much better way to format a document than individual commands. Styles help maintain consistency throughout a document. This comes in very handy when working with a document that is longer than just a few pages. On the Home tab, click on the Styles Pane to open a list of styles. The default list is Recommended styles, but other options include Styles in use, In current document, or All styles. This allows you to quickly apply styles, especially those you have used before. At the bottom of the pane are two boxes that can be selected. Selecting Show styles guides will change the list to Styles in use and add color codes. These codes will also appear on the left side of the document, showing you which styles are used on each line of the document. Selecting the Show direct formatting Guide will highlight sections of text that have been manually formatted.



2. Use Word as a Whiteboard
We often think of writing in a Word document as beginning at the top of the document and typing text in from top to bottom. You might occasionally insert text boxes to put callout text in the document. But there are other ways to write more creatively.

You can use a Word document as a digital whiteboard. You can type anywhere on the page simply by double-clicking wherever you want to write. It is not necessary to put line or paragraph breaks, spaces or tabs to type text in multiple areas.


3. Multiple Views
When working with a long document, there may be times when you want to view different parts of it at the same time. This is especially important in writing compiled genealogy, where you might want to see the entry for someone in a child list, and their own sketch later in the document as an adult with his/her own family. Instead of scrolling back and forth, you can easily see different sections of the document at the same document. There are two options for doing this.

By going to the View tab and selecting New Window, Word will open a second window for the same document. Any changes in one window will appear in the other window as well. Closing one of the windows does not lose the changes, as you are working in a single document from two different access points. If you like, you can continue to open up additional windows for multiple access points. Once you have the different windows open, select Arrange All to organize them on your desktop.

If you don’t have a large monitor, you can access a different part of a document in the same window. Just select Split on the View tab. This will split the window into two panes, and you can scroll each pane independently. Once again, it is two views into the same document, so changes made in one pane will appear in the other. To go back to a single pane, go back to the View tab. The Split button now says Remove split. Select it and the split disappears. Mac users can also access this functionality in the Window option on the menu bar.


4. Smart Lookup
Sometimes when we are writing we transcribe words or phrases that we might not understand, or we need more information about. Perhaps we want to elaborate a bit for the benefit of the reader. Our habit, of course, is to open our internet browser and go to our favorite search engine to see what we can find. Word offers you the opportunity to look right from Word.

Select a string of text, then control-click (Mac) or right click (Windows). In newer versions of Word, you will see an option for Smart Lookup. Select that option, and you will get internet search results in a pane on the right side of the Word window. You will also have an option to Search with Google or Search with Bing. Selecting those options will open your internet browser with search results for the term. Older versions offer only the search options.


5. Customize Your Ribbon

Word comes with eight standard tabs: Home, Insert, Design, Layout, References, Mailings, Review, and View. Each tab comes with a standard set of command buttons. But these are not the only buttons available.

Mac users with Word 2016 should go to the menu bar and select Word>Preferences. Then choose Ribbon and Toolbar.
Office 365 users and Windows users with Word 2016 should go to the File tab and select Options then choose Customize Ribbon.

The box on the left will show you  list of command buttons that can be added to any of the tabs. To make it easier, the best choice is to select from the dropdown box Commands Not in the Ribbon. This will display only the command buttons that are not already on a tab. Simply choose the command and select the tab you would like to add it to, then click the right arrow. You can also delete commands from tabs that you never use, if you want to make more room on the tab for other commands.

If there are tabs you don’t use, such as mailings, you can remove the tab from view by unchecking the box next to the tab name. You can also create your own tabs and give them whatever name you like.

Evaluating Online Trees

Online family trees can be very helpful for clues to your research. Over time, they have gotten better with the ability to attach documents, to help support the data in the tree. Unfortunately, for the most part, there is no place for creators of trees to explain their methodology in creating the tree. It is incumbent upon us to dig a little deeper for information that might be there, but does not make itself readily apparent.


On Ancestry, for example, a preview pops up on the search results. In this example, we can see that this tree has information for Frederic S. French, with exact dates and places of birth, marriage, and death.The preview shows that there are 5 records attached to this tree. Unfortunately, Frederic’s parents are not known. Looking further, however, reveals a different story.


Clicking through to the tree itself shows us that the parents’ names are “Unknown.” Among the five attached records, however, are the marriage record for Frederic and his wife Mabel E. White, and Frederic’s death record.



Frederic married Mabel, twenty-one years his junior, 28 July 1913. The record clearly states that Frederic’s parents were Benjamin H. French and Esther M. “Crummitt”, both born  at Somerville, Maine, and living in the village of Windsorville [a village in Somerville]. It is curious that the information on Frederic’s parents, clearly available on the form, is not included in the family tree. 


Their daughter Muriel was born seven months later. Tragically, Benjamin died of heart failure just over a year after her birth, on 29 April 1915. The death record clearly states that Frederic’s parents were “Benj.” French and Esther “Crummett,” both born at Somerville.

It is difficult to understand how this situation can occur. We might be tempted to cast disparaging assumptions upon the creator of the tree. After all, how could the creator have possibly missed this information in the records that were attached to the tree? Since the dates and places of birth, death, and marriage are included in the tree, the creator clearly examined them. Looking a little more closely, however, the answer seems to present itself.


The title of the tree shows that this tree is called the “Pridham/Vannah Tree.” Mabel’s mother was Jennie Vannah. The tree likely follows the full information only for direct descendants of the Vannah family. Examining the records of Mabel’s parents, Elmer E. White and Jennie Vannah shows an identical situation to that of the French Family.


Their tree shows no parents for Elmer. He and Jennie married at Boston in 1885. The marriage record is attached to the tree. The index and the actual record show that Elmer’s parents were George White and his wife Sophronia. But it, too, was not included in the online tree. This would seem to validate the theory that only the information pertinent to Vannah descendants was included in the online tree.



These same decisions are made for articles and published books all the time. But for some reason, when it comes to online trees, we sometimes make rash judgements. We may think that the tree was created by a newbie or a name collector who is omitting valuable information. In truth, it may be someone who is working on a specific project, and including only the information applicable to the project. Like any resource, you should take the time to do some extra looking at the bigger picture before evaluating the entire tree.

Postal Abbreviations for Genealogists

Today we are quite used to addressing our mail with a two-capital-letter abbreviation for the U.S. state or Canadian province/territory. These codes, however, have not been around forever. They have not even been around for the entire existence of living people. It was not until 1963 the the U.S. Post Office required the use of uppercase-two-letter abbreviations. Prior to that time, abbreviations were longer and of mixed case.

In the early Federal period, states and territories were given one- or two-letter abbreviations, based on their names. States and territories with two-word names were given two-letter abbreviations, usually the first letter of each word. New York, for example was N.Y., and S.C. stood for South Carolina. States with one word might have a single letter abbreviation. In instances where there would be no confusion, a single uppercase letter was used: Ohio, for example, was O., and Pennsylvania was P. But in some cases there were letters that started the names of multiple states. These locations were given two-letter abbreviations, an uppercase letter followed by a lowercase letter. Examples include Va. for Virgnia and Vt. for Vermont.

Chart of postal abbreviations. (Table of the Post Offices in the United States, 1831)

It is important to remember, however, that not all abbreviations are necessarily recognizable to modern researchers. It is critically important when researching in old documents, especially letters, to look at the time period in which the source was created, and to research the history of that time. One should also look in old postal directories to determine the meaning of the abbreviation. Confusion can creep in when we are unfamiliar with the history or the place names of the time. For example, those unfamiliar with history might think that O.T. is the abbreviation for Ohio Territory. In reality, that area was the Ohio Country or the Northwest Territory. It was never the Ohio Territory. The use of O.T. in the early nineteenth century referred to the Orleans Territory, part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the same year that Ohio became a state. Confusion can also creep in when looking at old-style abbreviations that are the same as modern day abbreviations. Today, the abbreviation MS stands for Mississippi, but in days past, Ms. was the abbreviation for Massachusetts.

The 1811 postal guide shows many these early abbreviations, but it was not until 1831 that the post office printed a separate chart just for the abbreviations. In 1874, the USPO published a list of abbreviations that remained relatively stable for the next 90 years, until the introduction of zip codes and two-uppercase-letter abbreviations in 1963.

It is important for genealogists to be aware of these old-style abbreviations not only for research, but for writing as well. We do not use the modern abbreviations in genealogical writing because they are harsh, and in the internet age the equivalent of shouting. They interrupt the train of thought of the reader. So we use the old-style abbreviations to make it easier for the reader to focus on the text. One exception to this is in footnotes. Some journals follow the Chicago Manual of Style, which states that the modern abbreviation can be used for sources. Many genealogical journals, however, continue to use the old-style abbreviation to make it easier on the eye for the reader. Following is a list of the old-style abbreviations used in genealogical writing:

United States








Neb. or Nebr.







New Hampshire



Cal. or Calif.

New Jersey



Col. or Colo.

New Mexico




New York




North Carolina




North Dakota













Ore. or Oreg.




Pa., Penn., or Penna.



Rhode Island




South Carolina




South Dakota





















Va. or Vir.







West Virginia

W.Va. or W.Vir.




Wis.or Wisc.











British Columbia






Prince Edward Island


New Brunswick








Northwest Territories


Yukon Territory

Yuk. or Y.T.

Nova Scotia


5 Alternative Sources for Death Information

The Social Security Death Index used to be the go-to place for genealogists to find information on those who have died recently. Unfortunately, Congress has now removed our access for the most recent three years, providing us with major problems in trying to find deaths in this time period. Indexes to death records are not always available online. And obituaries are not published as frequently as they used to be.

I was recently contacted by a friend. He had seen posts on Facebook indicating that the wife of his ex might have passed away, but he wanted to be certain before sending condolences. Since the death would have been in New York City last year, accessing a death record was out. No obituary could be found. So, the question became “Where to look next?” Here are five resources I checked, ultimately leading to confirmation of the death.

1. Funeral Homes
As newspapers charge more and more to publish obituaries, funeral homes and mortuaries are taking their place as publishers of these notices. While most have websites that leave this information open to search engines, not all do. Look for funeral homes in the area where your subject lived, and check for obituaries and death notices there.

2. Probate Records
When someone dies owning property, a record of the estate is usually created in the probate courts. Many localities have made indexes for modern records available online. Check these to see if a person’s estate has been entered into probate. When dealing with common names, one has to be very careful to use more evidence to confirm that the person is the subject of the search. You might need to view the probate record to determine if the identification is correct.

3. Land Records
Nowadays, many people create trusts to minimize tax penalties on estates. Unfortunately, these trusts can escape registration in the probate system, removing that as a resource for us. However, if your subject owned real estate, you may be able to find information there. Many localities are making not only their deed indexes accessible online, but also images of the records themselves. Look for information in these transactions. Often a surviving spouse will sell the property, and there will be a notation that the other spouse is deceased. Survivors will also often take out a mortgage, or refinance an existing mortgage, on the property. This can give you evidence of the death of one of the property owners.

4. Find a Grave/Billion Graves
More and more, contributors are adding information to these sites about recent burials. These are not always accompanied by photographs, but often have at least bare bones information on them. Some comes from death notices in small community newspapers that might run death notices or news items that are more difficult to find in the massive results of a search engine.

5. Church Notices
This is the record that actually lead to the confirmation of my subject’s death. Funerals rarely get notices in church bulletins because they usually happen too quickly. Depending on the denomination, however, there might be a later scheduled memorial service. In the Catholic church that my subject was a member of, a mass was said in her memory. While it does not confirm the exact date of death, it does show that she was deceased by the time the mass was said. Another clue can be the date of such memorial masses, which often occur near to the anniversary of the death.

The Money of New France

Part of researching our ancestors’ lives is looking at their economic situation. How much real estate did they own? What did it cost? What personal property did they have and what was its value? Part of determining this information is having an understanding of the currency of the period and what the value of that currency is.

In the colony of New France, the monetary system is a bit complicated. The system was based on the livre. Just as British currency was divided into pounds, shillings, and pence, the livre was subdivided into sols and deniers. The major difference between the two currencies was that there was no livre coin. There were twelve deniers in a sol, and twenty sols in a livre. When written out, it was often abbreviated. Instead of saying 10 livres, 5 sols, and 3 deniers, it would be written as 10ll.8s.9d.

These denominations were the same in France as they were in the French colonies, such as New France and Saint Domingue. But the value of the money was different. Until 1717, the monnaie du pays or argent du Canada was worth less than the monnaie de France or argent de France. The value was lessened and reduced by one quarter. It was not until 1717 that the monies were equalized in value.

During this time there was no paper currency, only coinage. And coins were not minted in New France. They were brought into the colony by the King’s ships. This would cause shortages if a ship was delayed, especially if the next ship could not come until the following Spring.

In the late 17th century, The intendant Demeulle used playing cards as a form of paper currency. He signed  cards, declaring them to worth varying amounts of money. This did not cause inflation, as it was not meant to increase the amount of money in circulation, only as a temporary way of paying the government’s bills. When the next ship arrived, the cards were turned in for coins. This system was used until 1714, but in 1729 French-Canadian merchants demanded a return to the system in order to keep the economy moving. Some of this card money is still in private hands, and very collectible. This card was expected to sell at auction for $8,000.

To find out more about French-Canadian currency, see “The French Colonies and the Exchange on Paris” in John J. McCusker Money and Exchange in Europe and America, 1600­–1775 (Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978 (280–90) and “Economic Life” in Marcel Trudel Introduction to New France (Pawtucket, R.I.: Quintin Publications, 1997) 184–89.

Five Reasons Why Cyndi’s List is Better than Google

In today’s world, Google has replaced many things. Instead of turning to a dictionary or encyclopedia, we often first turn on our computer and hop on a search engine (most frequently Google). While this can be helpful, it isn’t always necessarily the best and easiest way to find what we are seeking quickly. For genealogical purposes, Cyndi’s List is always at the top of my list (even higher than Google). Here are five reasons why.

1. The Google Algorithm
Google and other search engines base your results on specific search algorithms. These include information from your previous searches to that Google can determine what you are searching for. Anyone who has seen strange search results appear (or bizarre advertisements show up on your Facebook page) knows how inaccurate these algorithms can often be. You never have to worry about that with Cyndi’s List.

2. Which Would You Rather Navigate?
I did a Google search for the term “Massachusetts genealogy” which returned more than 662,000 hits. With ten hits per page, that is more than 66,000 pages of results that need to be sifted through. There is no apparent order to the results. The top ten results were:

  • the Family Search wiki page for Massachusetts
  • the Massachusetts State Archives genealogy page
  • a Massachusetts research guide on the NEHGS website
  • links to Massachusetts resources on AccessGenealogy
  • Massachusetts GenWeb,
  • Massachusetts records on
  • a search page on for Massachusetts
  • the Massachusetts Genealogical Council
  • an outdated Massachusetts vital records website
  • Research guide on Massachusetts vital records at the University of Massachusetts library

On Cyndi’s List, however, I navigated to the Massachusetts page in two clicks and had results grouped in more than 30 categories, making it easy for me to look for resources that would be helpful to me for a specific question. And if you don’t want to navigate through the easily-browsed pages, you can also search Cyndi’s entire list.

3. Cyndi’s Results are Already Vetted
When you are faced with the results on Google, you must look at each one to determine if it is a real resource, or a fake site looking to troll you. If it is not a real website, Cyndi won’t link to it in the first place. And if a website starts providing false or plagiarized information or other less than ethical materials, it will quickly be barred. Will Google do that for you?

4. Actual Support
Cyndi’s List has a very detailed FAQ; a number of them actually. These will well you with virtually any problem or question you might have. And, these FAQs are available from a link at the top of every page. In the rare event that you have a problem or question not addressed by the FAQs, you can send an email (although with the volume of messages she gets, it may take her awhile to get back to you.

5. Cyndi Ingle
The final reason Cyndi’s List is better than Google: Cyndi herself. Behind this list is a single individual. For more than twenty years she has worked to make this comprehensive resource available for free to everyone. She is incredibly knowledgeable, not only in genealogy, but in technology, and business as well. For any opportunity you have to use her list, or see her in a webinar or a live speaking engagement, you should run to be the first one registered for a seat and learn from her.

A couple of final notes. First, as you know, Cyndi provides access to her site free of charge, and has done so for more than twenty years. It costs a great deal of money to keep that going. Please consider supporting the list financially. You can make purchases from websites such as Abe Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and eBay by clicking on her affiliate links, and she will get a small remuneration for your purchase. Or you can make a donation directly. Any amount will help keep this valuable resource available for free to all.

Second, I want to acknowledge that Cyndi and I have been good friends for many, many years. This friendship has no bearing on what I wrote above. If I didn’t think it was one of the best resources around, I wouldn’t write about it. I believe in providing valuable resources to genealogists, and this is one of the best ones available anywhere.


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Genealogie Quebec: A Valuable Resource for French-Canadians

I had the pleasure of meeting the team from Genealogie Quebec at the New England Regional Genealogy Conference a couple of months ago. As two of my grandparents were born in Quebec, and the parents of my other two were born there, my roots quickly go back to Quebec, I’m always on the lookout for tools to help me with my research. Sebastien Robert and François Desjardins helped explain the site to me, and graciously provided me with access to review it and pass information along to you.

First, a bit of history. Genealogie Quebec is the online portal for the Drouin Institute. Founded a century ago by Joseph Drouin, this is one of the most important organizations in the history of French-Canadian genealogy. The institute microfilmed parish registers across Quebec, as well as other areas in nearby Canada and the United States that were of significance to French-Canadians. Teams were hired to abstract information to create indexes to parish registers that for decades were the major easy source into the registers. The institute also compiled genealogies for hire, and published a number family histories.

Some of these resources (such as digital images of the microfilmed parish registers) have been available online for some time. But now all the various resources have an online home, and at considerably lower cost than other websites, at Genealogie Quebec.

The institute is collaborates with a number of other groups to provide access to a variety of information. Among them are:

  • Société de Généalogie Canadienne-Française
  • Société de Généalogie de l’Outaouais
  • Société de Généalogie de Québec
  • Société de Généalogie de Saint Hubert
  • Société de Généalogie des Cantons de l’Est
  • Société de Généalogie des Laurentides
  • Société d’Histoire at de Généalogie de Trois-Pistoles
  • Programme de Recherche en Démographie Historique

The Lafrance is the largest database, with 3.4 million records dating from 1621 to 2008. The vast majority of these (about 80%) are for the period 1621 to 1861. Catholic church records for the periods 1621­–1849 (births and deaths) and 1621–1916 (marriages) are indexed and linked to images of the original records.

The Drouin Collection contains 12 million records for the period 1621–1967 for parishes in Québec, French Ontario, and Acadia. These are not searchable, but easily browsable as they are organized by parish name, then chronologically for the parish.

The database of marriages and deaths for the period 1926–1997 contains almost 2.5 million marriage records and more than 2.8 million death records. Fully searchable, the marriage records contain original documents. For deaths of Catholics to 1967, getting the date from the database easily allows one to go to the Drouin Collection images to find the death/burial record. Genealogie Quebec is currently the only place where these records are available online.

Other data sets include:

  • obituaries
  • death cards
  • cemeteries, and tombstones.
  • 1881 Québec Census index
  • miscellaneous notarial records
  • compiled genealogies
  • Loiselle Index
  • Connolly File
  • Kardex

There are some issues on the site. One drawback is that the databases must be searched individually; there is no overall global search. Some of the information listed can be difficult to find. And some, like the Québec Directory, is still listed even though it is no longer available. And the user guide is only available in French at the moment.

Overall, however, these issues are minor compared to the value one gets from all the information available on the site. You can try it for 24 hours for $5 (with a limit of 75 image views) or for an entire month for $13 (limit of 75 image views per day). A year-long subscription is $100 (limit of 1,050 image views per week). Although there are limits to the page views, they should be more than sufficient for most users. And the use of the indexes and non-image databases is unlimited.

Check out the website at today to try it out for yourself.

ASG Scholar Award

For 77 years, the American Society of Genealogists is the most prestigious organization in our field. Membership is limited to 50 individuals who are leading published scholars in the field of American genealogy. It promotes the highest standards of scholarship in the field.

Each year they present the ASG Scholar Award. This annual scholarship provides a stipend of $1,000 toward tuition and expenses at one of five major education programs:

Applications are being accepted now for the 2017 award. To apply, submit the following:

  • a résumé that emphasizes activities relating to genealogy and lists the applicant’s publications in the field, if any (prior publications are not necessary).
  • a manuscript or published work of at least 5,000 words, demonstrating an ability to conduct quality genealogical research, analyze results, and report findings in an appropriately documented fashion. If the submission is to be returned, it should be accompanied by an envelope or bagging with sufficient postage.
  • a statement (100–150 words) which (1) identifies the individual’s choice of program and (2) explains why the individual feels that attendance will enhance his or her growth as a genealogical scholar.

Applications should be sent to ASG Vice-President Joseph C. Anders, II, at by August 31. The award recipient will be announced by October 15, 2017.

This is a great opportunity to not only hone your writing skills, but to also get financial assistance to get high-quality genealogical education. Find out more on the ASG website.

Marriage Contracts in Quebec

Today our notion of marriage is built on the concept of finding a life partner, falling in love, and getting married. This romanticized idea of marriage is perpetuated in modern popular culture, especially music and the cinema. But this ideal is a modern creation, and has not always been the case.

Prior to the twentieth century, marriage was considered an alliance between families. Fathers controlled who their children married. Not only did they look to make matches that would ensure their’ children’s financial security, they looked for alliances between families that would increase their social status as well.

In 1556, Henri II declared that all men under 30 and all women under 25 would now need parental consent to marry. In cases of disagreement about a potential marriage, the opinion of the father would prevail. In addition to the consent of the parents, the Catholic Church required the presence of a priest as well as witnesses to the marriage.

This tie to economics led to the development of marriage contracts. These ensured  that all parties lived up to their commitments, financial and otherwise. The settlers of New France brought this tradition with them to the colony, and it remains a common part of Quebecois marriages today.

About the time of the marriage, the parties would go to a notary and sign a marriage contract (contrat de mariage). This document would set out what the bride’s dower would be, what the groom would bring to the marriage, and penalties for either if they were the cause of the marriage not taking place. They also might include a distribution plan for the couples’ assets after their deaths.

For genealogists, marriage contracts are an extremely valuable resource. They often list the names of parents and other family members, as they are often involved in the contract. They can be used to document a marriage where no church record survives. They can give you an economic picture of your family at a given point in time. They can help document a place of residence for your ancestors at a particular time. They can also, based on the language of the contract, give you an idea of how well the two families got along, and if there were any distrust between or suspicion between them.

Notarial records are notoriously difficult to locate. There were no regulations concerning jurisdictions for notaries. One could use a notary anywhere in the province. Thus, records could be located far distant from where the parties lived. has a database with indexes to many (although not all) notarial records. The records themselves are not yet online there, but if you can locate a record in their index, you can find which branch of the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales de Québec ( holds the records for that notary. With this information, you can write to that branch and get copies of the records. The information that these records provide are well worth the effort to locate them. You can also find images of some marriage contracts online at

For more on the history of marriage contracts in France, see Larousse de la Généalogie: À la recherche de vos racines  (Paris: Larousse/Vuef, 2002) 128–31.