Information in the Land Register of Quebec (Registre Foncier du Québec) has been largely untapped by genealogists. Sharon Callaghan recently authored two articles in Connections, the quarterly journal of the Quebec Family History Society—vol. 30, no. 3 (2008) and vol. 31, no. 1 (2009). Sharon penetrated, for family historians, the complexities of the province’s rather unique history of land ownership and methods of accessing the documentation.
The Quebec Family History Society was formed in 1977 and I’ve been a member of QFHS since early days (no. 273). Sharon and fellow member Gary Schroder decided to work out some “real life” examples of land registry tracing. My ancestor John Fraser the farmer became a guinea pig. Not my John Fraser the blacksmith. John the farmer had lived on the River Rouge Road outside St Andrews, Quebec (St-André Est) since 1806.
In order to keep this post to a readable length, I’m merely introducing the Land Register of Quebec. It's a learning exercise for me, because it’s not a particularly easy subject to follow. My Fraser news and documentation, some of it still to come, will have to wait until Part 9.
How would a family historian find the history of occupancy and transactions on an individual property in the province of Quebec? To compare, most of my experience is with historical Ontario land records (say pre-1950). Once you know the name of a rural township with a concession and lot number, you consult the abstract index to deeds for that property. The abstract index is a short-form outline of all registered transactions on that piece of land dating from its original Crown land patent (title deed). Created in county and district land registry offices, southern Ontario abstract indexes were microfilmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah in the 1960s. Thus, they can be viewed at LDS Family History Centers, at the Archives of Ontario in Toronto, or at various smaller archives with selected film copies. Urban properties established in old town plans or subdivisions require somewhat more effort to trace back from a modern address.
Quebec, on the other hand, has a history of French seigneurial land grants, abolished in 1854, which overlapped with the English township land division dating from the 1760s. The present Quebec cadastral system evolved with new surveys from the 1860s and completed in the 1890s. The surveys had to take existing properties into account, but allocated new numbers for them within each cadastre or district.
The key is to identify the relevant cadastre (current land division) of the ancestral residence, and then sleuth with maps, surveys, directories, atlases, and every other possible source to determine a cadastral number for urban or rural land. Municipal offices can assist with if you know a street address.
Cadastral numbers are not the same as previous lot numbers, if indeed there had been a prior lot number. Armed with this special number and presenting yourself at the appropriate land registry office, you’ll be able to access the land register for the relevant property (similar to the abstract indexes mentioned above). The references (actes) in the register can include deeds, surveys, wills, and other notarial records going back to the lot’s cadastral establishment. One lot may require searching more than one number. The land registers began in the 1830s as land offices were set up. Sharon rightly celebrates that this is another way to find genealogically-rich but often elusive notarial documents.
An alternative, if you’ve found the required number(s), is to use the fee-based online database leading to the land register ... if you feel comfortable with the French language. The actes have now been digitized as far back as the oldest cadastre system. You can order a copy of any act from the register no matter its date. See full information on the Natural Resources website.
Before I even fully grasp the handle of this newly opened door, I’m asking, what about pre-1830 records? Ahhh ... think seigneurial document collections! ... a different ball game. The possibilities expand.