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Bonne Année 2018

Notarial Records Online

Frieze Ile de Re

We belong to a group about French genealogy in the godforsaken world of so-called social media, a group in which there has recently been some discussion and confusion concerning the presence or not of notarial records online. Time for clarification, we opine.

Our booklet on the subject explains much about notarial records and we do not intend to repeat it all in this post, but differentiation seems to be required; specifically, differentiation between a minute and a répertoire. Understanding the process a notaire and his or her clerk followed makes this quite simple.

For a client, a notaire wrote an acte, such as a will or a marriage contract or a contract of a sale of property, etc. The clerk made copies of the acte for each of the parties and, in some cases, for registration with a government bureau that may, at the time, have required copies of certain actes. The clerk also copied the acte into the notaire's minute book, this copy being termed a minute. (Later, the minute book gave way to the notaire's copy being a separate document in a folder or with a cover, but it was still termed a minute.) Like the other original copies, the minute was signed by all parties. Because this was done as the work occurred, the minutes were written chronologically, which makes them very hard to locate again for those without total recall. Thus, the clerk also wrote, in the last pages of the minute book or in a separate book, the briefest of summaries of each acte, giving the type of acte, the names of the parties (often written larger than the rest of the summary), the date and, in some cases, the page number, into a répertoire. Thus, the répertoire is not an index, as it is still chronological, but is more a sort of table of contents.

Quite a few of the Departmental Archives (and, for Parisian notaires, the National Archives) have digitised the répertoires and put these on their websites. Members of the group on social media were confused and thought that these short summaries were the minutes but they are not. In your research, the online répertoires are a tremendous help but they are far from ideal as they are not indexed.

Thus, to find a minute, you must know the notaire your ancestors used. This is not always the one closest to their home. The notaire for a marriage contract, for example, may have been the one preferred by the bride's parents. A notaire who was a relative of one of the parties may have been preferred -- or avoided -- regardless of location. We have found that some people used one notaire for family documents, such as wills or probate inventories, and another for business dealings. If you do know the name of the notaire and the approximate date of the acte, you can then hope for some success in searching the répertoires online. Once you find the summary of the acte, you must discover from the website how to request a copy of the full document. Given the correct code and the details of the acte, most of the archives will, for a fee, copy the minute and send it to you. 

Excitingly, a very few Departmental Archives have also begun to digitise the complete minutes. For Paris, those online tend to be minutes concerning persons of historical interest. For Pyrénées-Atlantiques and, most recently, Vienne, those online tend to be the oldest and most fragile documents. Even more exciting, once digitised, these are being indexed, though only by the notaire's name, location and type of acte, not by the names of the parties. (No discussion of notarial records online can be complete without mention of the fabulous work of Odile Halbert, which we discussed in this post.)

So, the key is to know what it is your are seeing when you begin researching on a website: is it a répertoire or is it a minute? And then...commencez!

©2017 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy