Thursday, July 13, 2017

French Canadian Marriage Contracts

I received two microfilms for French Canadian notarial records from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, which fill in some gaps in the Catholic Church marriage records. Fr. Tanguay had not consulted these records. Without seeing a marriage contract for one of my ancestral couples he made a wrong inference regarding Michel Lambert's parents. The Catholic Church marriage record, dated 29 Nov 1708 Lotbiniere, Quebec, Canada, left out the names of the parents of Michel Lambert and Catherine Louise Grenier. The marriage contract does contain the names of Michel's parents. His parents are named as Aubin Lambert and Elizabeth Aubert. The contract is dated before the marriage on 24 Nov 1708 the marriage.
Wrong parents for Michel Lambert recorded in the Tanguay

Michel Lambert had contracted a previous marriage. That contract had been nullified.

Correct parents for Michel Lambert appear on the marriage contract

I found a French Canadian marriage contract description written by Suzanne Bolvin Sommerville, FCHSM member. The Contract would be based on the "Custom of Paris"

The points she makes are as follows:
  1. Marriage contracts were generally legal contracts drawn up by notaries. They were drawn up by them because there weren't any lawyers in Quebec.
  2. Contracts in rural areas without notaries could be drawn up by priests or military officials.
  3. The signing was part of a celebration by those in attendance.
  4. The first part of the contract generally contained the names and ages of the couple marrying, parishes, and places of origin, current residence and professions. Parents names also appear on the contract above.
  5. Next would be lists of names of those in attendance. The relationships of those in attendance would be given, which is very helpful information. Those in attendance were witnesses and counselors to the couple.
  6. The future couple then promised to solemnize their marriage in the "Holy Mother Church."
  7. They then outlined what part of the "Custom of Paris" they wanted included in the contract. This would outline how property would be owned by the couple, such as which property would be held in common.
My ancestors' marriage contract is difficult to read, and badly faded in sections. I can read the important relationship information however. Some contracts are more legible than others.

Here we see an example of how property of parents is being settled in this contract. It states what would happen after the death of parents with the inheritance.

The notarial records contain many types of legal documents, not just marriage contracts. If you know who the notary is in a particular area at a particular time you can search these records for your ancestors. The Family History Library microfilms are cataloged by the name of the notary. You can search for the name  of the notary by keyword. Unfortunately the best way to search these records is to order these records on microfilm at your local LDS Family History Center. This won't be possible after August 2017 when microfilm rental will no long be available from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. You can visit the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, after the rental program ends, and see these microfilms.

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City is digitizing their microfilm collection and making these records available online. It will be a few years before this process is complete. I'm hoping the notarial record microfilms end up online eventually. I don't expect to see them online anytime soon since they aren't a commonly used sources. If and when they are available online I believe they will be easier to read. It will be easier to adjust the size of the print and lighten and darken the digital copy.

If you have details for a particular record you can request it by contacting the National Archives of Quebec. I received this contact information when I asked about possibly getting a copy through the Archives:
Frédéric Giuliano
Direction des services aux usagers et aux partenaires
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

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