The array of notarial records is wide and really could be endless. People not only asked the notaire to make such documents as contracts, but to witness all sort of ordinary or peculiar events. Working on a recent project, we have found much more via notarial records in relation to a family and all of its members than ever could be possible with civil and parish registers.
Notarial records are also much more interesting to read and give such a fine view on the lives and thoughts of the people involved. We occasionally buy personal libraries from garage sales or second hand bookshops and have always taken pleasure in discovering the byways of the mind of the previous owner. We like meeting someone through his or her books. Going through someone's entire library gives a peek into that person's mind. Seeing all the books a person owned, which subjects are emphasized, which authors, which books are well-thumbed, which have inscriptions, which have been rebound, which barely touched, all of this gives a window on his or her interests, preferences, progression of thought. At times, we make friends with the long dead owner, have conversations with the mind that placed, say, a copy of Henry James's The Golden Bowl next to Guillermo Arriaga's screenplay, 21 Grams. The experience of reading a number of notarial records for the same person or family can be rather similar.
Of course, they are not merely useful for gossip across the ages, but for genealogy, for they so often give full details about an extended family. Though we have written about them previously, and quite a bit of late, we believe we should expand on the subject. As can be seen in the photo above, notaires officiated over the drawing up of both family and business documents (perhaps explaining why the two are so intertwined in France). Below is a list of some of those most useful for genealogy, the time periods during which one can expect to find them, and what they could contain by way of genealogical information. It cannot possibly be exhaustive. All can be found in Departmental Archives, Municipal or Communal Archives or the études of the notaire.
- Tutelles or curatelles- guardianship agreements - can be found from the 16th century to the present. The actual judgment will be in judicial records; copies of it and of related reports should be with the notaire. The information they contain is : names of the deceased, heirs, minors, guardians, relatives of the minors and of the guardians, with their relationships, ages, dates, domiciles. This often involves a conseil de famille, a family council. (We have had the misfortune to sit in on a couple of these, which involved a disturbing amount of flying crockery.)
- Emancipation - emancipation of a minor being the documentation of the minor being granted adulthood before the age of majority (for example, in order to marry) - from the 16th century to the present. The information they contain is : names of the deceased, heirs, minors, guardians, with their relationships, ages, dates, domiciles.
- Contrats de mariage - marriage contracts - from the 14th or 15th century (depending on the region) to the present. The information contained: names of the spouses, usually the names of their parents, names of witnesses and their relationship to the couple, domiciles, professions, and sometimes places of origin.
- Testaments - wills - from the 14th or 15th century (depending on the region) to the present. The information contained: names and residence of the testator, heirs, relationships, and dates. Wills are often in separate books from other notarial documents. The reading of the will, however, will be in the usual, chronological book. This in itself is also useful, for the people who attend the reading are named and, for those who do not but should, addresses and professions are given.
- Inventaires après décès - Probate Inventories - From the 14th to the mid-19th centuries. The information contained: names of the deceased and the heirs and their relationships. There are two types of inventories: one of the deceased's possessions, the other of all their notarial records.
- Partages de succession - division of an inheritance - from the 14th or 15th century (depending on the region) to the present. The information contained: Names of the deceased, heirs and others present (e.g. husbands of heiresses), relationships, dates and domiciles.
- Ventes - sales - from the 14th or 15th century (depending on the region) to the present. Sales of property inherited will show the division of the proceeds among the heirs. The information contained: Names of the deceased, heirs and others present (e.g. husbands of heiresses), relationships, dates and domiciles.
- Donations entre vifs - donations inter vivos - from the 14th or 15th century (depending on the region) to the present. Often, these are the giving of property by parents to their children, but also between spouses. The information contained: names of the givers and receivers, their relationships, ages, dates, domiciles.
- Reconnaissances - recognition of a child - from the 15th century to the late 18th century. The information contained: the names of at least one parent, the child, dates and domiciles. In modern times, recognitions appear among the actes d'état civil.
- Actes de respect - formal requests for parents to give permission to marry - from the 15th century to the late 18th century. The information contained: names of the one who wishes to marry, the parents, the intended, their relationships and domiciles.
There are then the numerous business records which may or may not contain genealogical information: sales, purchases, rental agreements, debt negotiations, apprenticeship agreements, exchanges, receipts, and our current favourite: the notaire's witnessing of a priest assuming his position as the new curate of a parish, complete with noting that he was led to the church altar, blessed, and that the bells pealed.
France is awash with notarial records and some Departmental Archives have begun to put them online (as can be seen in the panel to the left.) Take the plunge!
©2011 Anne Morddel