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Notarial records (actes notariés or minutes de notaire) are records prepared by a notary (notaire or protonotaire, but sometimes tabellion or scrivener). Notaries are important officials in Quebec, Louisiana, France, and other countries where a civil code based on Roman law is in force. Among other matters, notarial records deal with estates and inheritances. They are somewhat equivalent to probate records of North American states and provinces outside Louisiana and Quebec, but they include more document types. See Canada Probate Records.
In many countries where French is spoken, the legal profession is divided into notaires (notaries) and avocats (lawyers). Lawyers handle legal disputes, but notaries prepare acts and contracts and certify authentic copies of them. Some important notarial records are:
- Contrats de mariage (marriage contracts).
- Testaments (wills).
- Partages and successions (division of property among heirs).
- Inventaires des biens or inventaires apres décès (household inventories taken after someone’s death).
Less common are actes de tutelle (guardianship agreements) providing for the care of minor children at the death of one or both spouses. In many of these documents, names and relationships of all family members and friends present at the drafting are given.
Notarial records for each notary are usually arranged chronologically, so records of most value to the family historian are mixed with other written agreements, including conveyances of land and other property, bonds for the payment of money, and deeds of partnership, to name just a few. Some early marriage contracts were prepared by priests and may not be in the notarial records.
Notarial records or their equivalent were made in Quebec and all areas of French settlement, but few records from early western settlements exist. Notaries began practicing in French Canada about 1640. They ceased functioning in Acadia (Nova Scotia) by 1758 when Louisbourg fell but performed their traditional functions in Quebec after the British conquest. A list of early records in French North America outside Quebec is in:
Roy, Joseph-Edmond. The Notariate in the Western Settlements on the Mississippi, in Acadia, at Ile Royale, and Newfoundland, French Canadian and Acadian Genealogical Review. Winter 1972, 198–207. (Family History Library periodical 971 B2f.)
Records of notaries in Quebec whose practices began before 1850 are being filmed by the Family History Library. See the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the counties belonging to the judicial district where the notary lived (which may not include all the counties where the notary practiced). For example, you could look in the catalog under:
QUEBEC, STANSTEAD - NOTARIAL RECORDS
See also the Family History Library Catalog, Author/Title section, under the name of the notary. See Quebec Notarial Records for more about notarial records from that province.