Notarial Documents

In Quebec, with its civil law tradition which dates to the beginning of European settlement in Canada, notarial documents are a rich source of information upon which historians rely. Drawn up by a notary public who was a legal officer authorized to certify official documents, such deeds dealt with a variety of subjects from contracts to wills. The notary public’s seal authenticated the document. Montreal firms as well as families as a rule brought their business to the same notaries public.

Historians who use these documents recognize that notarial documents have certain limitations: not every act which customarily fell under the jurisdiction of civil law was passed before a notary public. Since each transaction involved a cost, those who could not afford to pay made informal arrangements; some of these acts – marriage contracts in particular – increasingly fell out of favour, and not all notarial documents have survived. Notarial documents are preserved primarily in archival collections because of their value as historical documents.