I’ve just returned from Montreal, where we spent the last week on our tour to the Societé Généalogique Canadienne-Française (the largest French-Canadian genealogical society in Québec) and the Bibliothèque at Archives Nationales de Québec (BANQ, the provincial library and archives). The participants had a wonderful time, with one breaking down a major brick wall that opened up almost two dozen new lines for her. While on the tour I had the opportunity to use BANQ'swebsite extensively for the first time in a long while, and was impressed with changes they have made.
First, the good news and the bad news for those of you who do not speak French. The good news is that there is a link at the top of the page to change to an English version of the site. The bad news is that not all pages are available in English.
The Iris Catalogue provides access to materials in the libraries, as well as books at the archive centers. It is partly bilingual. A simple search page allows you to search for books, music, films, newspapers and magazines, images, or all categories.
Search results give you an image and a short bibliographic citation. Clicking on any of the results brings you to a page with a full bibliographic citation and description of the work. Below this is a list of the libraries and archive centers that have a copy of that item, and what the call number is for that location. Remember that many of the books are written in French; therefore their titles appear in French even if you are looking at the English portal.
Unfortunately, many of the items in Iris cannot be borrowed through InterLibrary Loan (ILL). Instead, if you go to the Services tab, you will find a link to the ILL area, and a special catalog search for items that can be borrowed. The good news is that this search is a province-wide one, through the catalogues of libraries, universities, and other repositories. You may find even more items than you previously thought available that you can have brought directly to your local public library.
The Pistard Archives link brings you to a finding aid for materials in the archive centers. The simple search (recherche simple) will search all areas for your search terms. The advanced search (recherche avancée) allows you to refine your search. The first box, Centre d’Archives, allows you to search all branches of the archives, or limit your search to a specific location. The second box, Recherche Dans, allows you to search in Titles (Titres); Government Branch of Organization [that original held custody of the item] (Mention de Responsibilté); Scope and content (Portée et Contenu); keywords (Termes Rattachés); or Description of the Contents (Descriptions des Contenants).
The next section, Mot(s) ou Expression(s), allows you to do Boolean searches for specific words using And (Et), Or (Ou), and Not (Sauf). You can limit your results to exact words or only to scanned documents. The next section, Cote, allows you to limit your search to specific record groups. The last two sections allow you to limit your search by date or by Contenant (which is a group division number for items in the archives).
The archives has placed digitized images of a number of items into Pistard to assist researchers. One major set of records becoming available online are the indexes to the Québec notarial records. You can search these indexes to find if your ancestor had contracts recorded by a particular notary. Some of the these items also include scanned images of the original notarial records. For those that do not have records available online, you can send an email to the archives requesting a copy. NEHGS also has a large number of notarial records available on microfilm, and you may be able to obtain a copy of a record through Photocopy Services if you have an exact citation, or through Research Services if you do not.
Whether your ancestors spoke French, English, or another language, if they lived in the province of Québec the materials at the BANQ will be invaluable for your research. Some of these records are searchable from a distance, but a trip to the regional archives where your ancestors lived will bear tremendous fruit for you, as many records (such as militia, land, and court records) are available only in the original. Visit the BANQ website to open up new avenues of research.