Gems from the Notarial Records in Quebec: The Inventory After Death

Of all Quebec notarial documents that can be reviewed in the archives, the inventory after death is by far my favourite. Imagine being able to get a list of all the valuables in your ancestor's house! Too good to be true? Not necessarily.

While browsing through Quebec Notaries Index, I have unearthed an inventory after death for some of my ancestors. Despite most of them were humble daily labourers or shoemakers, others—while not being rich per se—, enjoyed some properties and hence, left such an inventory of assets of the community that then prevailed between the surviving spouse and the deceased one.

An inventory usually starts with an enumeration of all valuable goods, namely furniture (living room, kitchen, bedroom); kitchenware; cookware; carriages; animals; tools; and so on. Setting eyes on a sentence which reads as follows is priceless: "All the parties agreed that the brass music instruments belonging to the tutor and minor will remain their property." However, there is more to an inventory than pots and pans. I am referring here to the unsettled debts payable to, and by the couple.

Indeed, you will find out if your ancestor was owed money from either relatives—a brother, brother-in-law or cousin —, friends or neighbours. Just think about the next chapter you could write featuring your ancestor's extended family. Amounts due to him might be related to his work. This was the case for the grocer Honoré Tourville. He was owed some unpaid grocery bills and late rents. Here is a first hint: the man owned multiple rental units.

Conversely, you will find the list of sums owed by your ancestor to a financial institution or an individual (an annuity or a loan obtained from his son-in-law for instance). It is under this category that you will likewise learn about the funeral's cost—maybe even the doctor's fees.

If you failed to locate a notary record proving that your ancestor actually owned some real estate, here is your chance to get another shot at it. As a general rule, the heading "Deeds and Papers" provides a summary of deeds with respect to your ancestor's land or immoveables, taking into account the document date and number as well as the notary's name. Some inventories often give a detailed description of the land or lot—a nugget, considering that the notary's copy might have been lost or destroyed. The couple's marriage contract might be listed too. While on the subject, the undersigned particularly despises all those lazy notaries who merely noted down: "A bunch of deeds and papers".

Your French Canadian ancestor settled in the United States? Can you believe I came across an inventory after death in Quebec notarial records for a couple living in New York State where the wife died? The widower did not remarry but wanted to sell the land he still owned in Richelieu County, Quebec. Not only the inventory did reveal where children of full age established (in Vermont), but also that the land was abandoned for a long time, confirming that the family emigrated to the United States a few years back.

From the beginnings of New France until 1897 in the province of Quebec, an inventory after death was mandatory further to the death of the first spouse married under the community of property and leaving behind at least one minor child in order to properly distribute the legacy among the minor children and the surviving spouse.1

The Parchemin database—available in various genealogical societies in Canada and the United States and major libraries in Quebec—offers the complete list of notary acts from 1626 to 1799 (including the type of record, parties' names, as well as an abstract). You may, moreover, consult the 19th century notaries index—as well as the records for some—on BAnQ Website.

1 Jetté, René, Traité de généalogie, Montréal, Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal, 1991, p. 472-475

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