Quebec’s Notarial Records

Our French-Canadian ancestors left us a rich resource in the Catholic parish registers. While these provide us with a great skeleton of vital information (showing us when and where our ancestors were born, married and died), there is much more to learning about our ancestors’ lives than that.

Quebec’s legal system is much more complicated than those elsewhere. It is a compromise born out of the dual histories of France and Britain in North America. While the criminal law follows British law, the civil code is founded in the French tradition, the “coutume de Paris.”

The notarial system handles all aspects of contract law; any agreements between people. Notaries would also prepare testimony and other documents that might be used in the court system. Among the types of records you might find with the notaries are:

  • Marriage contracts (prenuptial agreements that might include dower, disposition of the estate, etc.)
  • Purchases and Sales of both real and personal property.
  • Wills
  • Estate Inventories
  • Division of estates
  • “Gifts of the Living” donating property to friend and relatives
  • Guardianships
  • Depositions
  • Employment contracts

There is no provincial-wide index to these records at the moment. Ancestry is working on one, but it is a long way from complete. Eventually the database will include records as well as indexes. At the moment, however, it includes only some indexes to some of the notaries. It is, however, a prime resource and should be consulted.

The Parchemin Index provides abstracts of all notarial records through 1799. While an excellent resource, it is not available online to anyone; one must go to a library in person to access it. Select libraries in Canada offer access. To the best of my knowledge, the New England Historic Genealogical Society is the only library in the US that provides access. If you can’t visit in person, you can always hire a researcher to go there to search the index for you, or hire NEHGS’ research services to do so.

In addition to the records available on Ancestry, you can find limited collections elsewhere. Perhaps the largest is on FamilySearch, which has some nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century records available for browsing. Genealogy Quebec has some notarial records from the Drouin Collection. And the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales de Québec (BANQ) also has some records available online through the Pistard portal.

Many indexes have been published in book form as well, such as the Inventaire des contrats de mariage du régime français conserveś aux Archives judiciaires de Québec and Inventaire des testaments, donations et inventaires du régime français conservés aux Archives judiciaires de Québec, both by Pierre-Georges Roy.

If you do find records in any of the indexes and they are not available online, you can order a copy directly from BANQ. Send them a request that includes the name of the notary, date of the record, record number, and the party or parties involved in the record.

These records have been woefully underused because they have been difficult to access and understand. But they contain a wealth of information about your ancestors. Imagine this: Shortly after a couple marries (marriage contract) they hire people to build their house (employment contracts). When the they die, their will or wills tell you how the property will be distributed (testaments) and how the house is furnished (inventaires). How much more vivid is the picture you have of your ancestor’s live now?

If you are interested in learning more about how to use notarial records, check out our upcoming Genealogy Masterclasses on notarial records that deal with vital events and property and business records.

Genealogy Professional Podcast

I listen to many podcasts. They cover a wide variety of subjects, including genealogy, history, education, business, music, film, politics, current events, and comedy. One of my favorites genealogy podcasters has always been my friend Marian Pierre-Louis.

Among her many activities is the Genealogy Professional Podcast. It targets professional genealogists as well as those transitioning from hobbyist to professional. She interviews professionals who make their living as genealogists in a variety of ways. She has covered a wide variety of professionals from around the world in almost 50 interviews. Among them are:

  • Blaine Bettinger
  • Audrey Collins
  • Lisa Louise Cooke
  • Cyndi Ingle
  • Thomas MacEntee
  • Megan Smolenyak
  • Mary Tedesco

You can see a complete list of her guests with links to the individual podcast on her Episodes page.

I had the pleasure of appearing on her most recent episode, discussing my wide and varied career as a professional genealogist. My path has certainly been very different from most. From working at a large non-profit to a small startup; researching, writing, editing, teaching, speaking, and more, for more than twenty years I’ve had the pleasure of doing work that I love and helping people reconnect to their families. You can find out more about my interview on the page for episode 49. Thank you to Marian for having me as a guest.

If you are thinking about becoming a professional genealogist, you should definitely take a listen to this podcast. And thank you to Marian for having me as a guest.

Ste. Marie de l’Incarnation et les Ursulines de Québec

In 1639, Marie de l’Incarnation left France for the wilderness of Nouvelle France. At forty years old, she had already lived an interesting life. She had no way of knowing what a lasting difference she would make in the world.

Marie Guyart was born at Tours, France, 18 October 1599, daughter of Florent Guyart and Jeanne Michelet and baptized there in the parish of St. Saturnin the following day. From the age of seven, when she had a vision of Jesus, she felt drawn to religious life. Ignoring her wishes, her parents made her a match with a silk worker named Claude Martin. Married at 18, she became a mother a year later and a widow just months after that. She lived with her parents for a time, then her sister. In 1631 she joined the Ursuline convent, and in 1639 she went to New France, where she founded a convent in Quebec City.

The Jesuits had been teaching young native boys their European Christian values for years. Now the Ursulines took upon themselves the education of young native girls in these ways. They were the first female religious order from Europe in North America. After three years in the lower town, they moved to the upper town and built a new monastery. The land was donated to the nuns by the Company of New France. The Ursuline convent has been located on this property ever since.

Since its founding, the Ursulines have been dedicated to teaching. From the natives, to the children of colonists, to the children of wealthy merchants, the nuns have taught girls of all ages. More than two dozen convents and monasteries were founded, starting in Trois-Rivières in 1697 and ending in Yagi, Japan, in 1974. Many members of our ancestral families joined the Ursulines to continue their mission of teaching.

From small beginnings, the Ursuline Convent is now a large complex of buildings. In 2014They remained a cloistered order until the 1960s. Unfortunately, that was a harbinger of greater changes to come. The sisterhood is dwindling. The numbers of those joining religious orders in general has diminished greatly since that time, and the Ursulines are no exception. Today there are only 40 nuns living at the convent, the youngest of whom is in her 60s.

A recent story broke the news that the sisters have made a difficult decision. After 375 years of living on the same land, the remaining Ursuline sisters will move into a modern assisted living facility in 2018. In 2017 the Musée des Ursulines de Québec was founded. It will work to preserve the monasteries and convents, artifacts, and the archives of these valiant women. In these archives is doubtless a great deal of information about those in our ancestral families who became Ursulines.

Little could young Marie Guyart have known what a difference she would make around the world. After more than thirty years toiling in her new home in Canada, Marie de l’Incarnation passed away on 30 April 1672, just two weeks after Easter. Pope John Paul, II, beatified her in Vatican City.  More than 340 years after she died, Pope Francis canonized her on 2 April 2014, making her now Sainte Marie de l’Incarnation.


For more information about Marie Guyart and the Ursulines of Quebec, visit the following resources:

The Canadian Encyclopedia entry for the Ursuline Convent

The Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Marie de l’Incarnation

The Musée des Ursulines de Québec



The Massachusetts Real Estate Atlas Digitization Project

Maps are a vital part of genealogical research. Recognizing their historical and genealogical value, the Massachusetts State Library initiated a major project to digitize a part of their collection.

The Massachusetts Real Estate Atlas Digitization Project, supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is working to digitize the collection of about 200 atlases. These volumes provide 6,500 maps of areas throughout the Commonwealth.

To date the project has digitized 167 of the 200 volumes; almost 85% of the collection! The earliest published volume digitized to date is an atlas of plans to subdivide the estates of William C. Barstow in East Boston, created in 1857. The earliest maps, however, are much earlier. In 1894 an atlas of Boston was published with maps created in 1819–20. This excerpt shows the Granary Burying Ground (labeled simply Burying Ground), and the house on Unity Street (at the corner of the alley just up from Love Lane) built by Benjamin Franklin’s sister and brother-in-law, later owned by Franklin himself.

The largest part of the collection is comprised of 50 atlases of various parts of the city of Boston in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The most recent of all the materials in the online collection is a 1938 atlas for Back Bay and the central part of Boston.

Maps are not limited to Boston, however. You can find towns across the state in these atlases. This small section of a map of the town of Seekonk in an atlas of Bristol County published in 1895 shows the eighteenth-century farmhouse where my family lived while I was in high school.  No names are present, but the small black squares on the mapeach represent a building.

The files are available in both PDF and jpg format. While neither is searchable, it is very easy to browse both versions. The PDF files are on the DSpace platform that holds all of the digital collections of the library. The jpg files are on Flickr. If you have ancestors in Massachusetts, visit the library’s page for the Massachusetts Real Estate Atlas Digitization Project and check out these resources.


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.

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.

Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passage

Lineage societies have long played a role in honoring the history of our nation. We tend to think of them as old (sometimes stodgy) organizations. But new lineage societies are formed all the time. One of the newer ones and one that is long overdue is the Sons and Daughters of the U.S. Middle Passage (SDUSMP). It is a non-denominational, interfaith nonprofit, 501 (c) 3 charitable organization “dedicated to the memory, education, and historic preservation of artifacts and landmarks of slavery in the United States and its economic, psychological, and cultural impact on today’s society.”

The Middle Passage was part of the Atlantic slave trade, the segment of the triangular trade where millions of people were taken from their African homelands and shipped to the New World as slaves. SDUSMP is focused on those who were sent to the British colonies that became the United States, as well as the early years of the country when the slave trade was still active. (You can read and download the Society’s first newsletter for free).

The organization’s objectives are Historical, Education, Memorial, and Patriotic (from the website):

  • To promote the connection of descendants of the Forced American Heroes, the American slaves of African descent, to their ancestors through genealogy research;
  • To proclaim, through education, the role played by the Africans forcibly brought to United States in creating our great nation, including their patient endurance of the cruelties of American slavery, their resourceful intellect; their extraordinarily strong will and spirit, and their connections to their descendants who have gone on to make our country even greater. We want to especially commemorate the connections to all military soldiers;
  • To educate the nation and world about the contribution of the enslaved and their descendants;
  • To cherish and to strengthen the family ties among the members of the SDUSMP; and
  • To collect, protect, and preserve the materials necessary for a complete history of slavery, and to mark the places of the sacrifice of these men, women, and children; our ancestors.  This is including, but not limited to, historically significant sites such as churches, battle sites, freedom trails, grave sites, plantations, and museums.

Membership is open to any person 18 years of age or older who can prove that they are a blood descendant of someone who was an enslaved person in the United States or those colonies that became the United States. Discover more about the organization and becoming a member at

On May 20, 2017, the society will host a conference in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. The daylong program will run from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., following by an awards banquet starting at 5:30 p.m. The event is open to all, with members receiving a discount. The program includes a variety of topics including, DNA, enslavement, documenting stories with video, forgotten patriots, and more. Find out more on the SDUSMP website.

Five Books for Your Reference Shelf

Despite the easy availability of information, good genealogists know that sometimes old school books are still the best way to learn and get information. Here are five books that deserve a prominent place on every genealogist’s reference bookshelf.

Elements of Genealogical AnalysisElements of Genealogical Analysis: How to Maximize Your Research Using the Great Migration Study Project Method
Robert Charles Anderson, FASG
(Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014)

Thirty years in the making, this book is an inside look into the strict research methodology used by those involved in the Great Migration Study Project, the scholarly project to document the origins of this group of seventeenth-century immigrants to New England. The first section is devoted to analytical tools for sources, records, and linkages. The second section discusses the problem-solving sequence from problem selection to problem resolution.


Going to the SourcesGoing to the Sources: A Guide to Historical Research and Writing, Fifth Edition
Anthony Brundage
(Malden, Mass.: John Wiley & Sons, 2013)

First published in 1989, this work is a great introduction to the process of historical research. While it focuses on the study of history, the skills are also applicable to genealogy. And good genealogists know that history is a major component of our research. It is brief, only 7 chapters and 5 appendixes in 176 pages.



Money and ExchangeMoney & Exchange in Europe & America, 1600–1775: A Handbook
John J. McCusker
(Williamsburg, Va.: Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1978)

In modern America, our currency is guaranteed by the federal government. This has not always been the case, however, especially in the colonial era. Terms like bills of credit; pounds, shillings, and pence; sterling; old tenor; current tenor; Proclamation Money; Lawful Money and more are often found in the documents we use in genealogy. But do you really understand what each of these terms mean? And how money in the colonies was linked to money in countries around the world? McCusker does an excellent job of explaining money and the way it was used in simple terms that can provide a greater understanding of your ancestors’ lives.

Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records
Patricia Law Hatcher, FASG, FGSP
(Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2016)

This work is an excellent resource for understanding the records left behind by your ancestors concerning their real estate. Whether the ancestors lived in state-land states or public-land states, this book will help you find the records and show you how to interpret them to get the most information from them. Originally published in 2003 by Betterway Books and long out of print, it has been reissued by the Genealogical Publishing Company. Although not a complete revision, it has been reviewed for obsolete references and information which has been either updated or deleted.


Women and the Law of PropertyWomen and the Law of Property in Early America
Marylynn Salmon
(Chapel Hill, N.Carol.: University of North Carolina, 1986)

Researching women can be one of the most challenging aspects of research for American genealogists. Could women own property? Could they sign contracts? What happened to their property when they were widowed? What about unmarried women? Salmon cuts through the misinformation and explains what the real implications were based on the law, and how that can impact your ancestral research.