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Canada Emigration and Immigration
Emigration records list the names of people leaving and immigration records list those coming into Canada. There are passenger lists for ships coming into Canada and border-crossing records of people leaving for the United States or coming from the United States into Canada. These records may include an emigrant’s name, age, occupation, destination, and sometimes the place of origin or birth.
Most of these sources begin in the late 19th century. They can be very valuable for determining where your ancestor came from. They can also help you construct family groups.
If you don’t find your ancestor’s name, you may find emigration information on neighbors of your ancestor. Neighbors from the British Isles or Europe often settled together in Canada. Canadians who went to the United States sometimes settled in groups.
Finding the Emigrant’s Town of Origin
When you have traced your family back to your immigrant ancestor, you need to determine the city or town your ancestor was from. You may be able to learn about the town by talking to older family members or by searching family or library documents, such as:
- Birth, marriage, and death certificates.
- Family Bibles.
- Church certificates or records.
- Naturalization applications and petitions.
- Family heirlooms.
Sometimes it is possible to guess where an immigrant originated through surname distribution maps.
To learn more about your immigrant ancestors, see Tracing Immigrant Origins.
Emigration from Canada
The first large emigration from Canada was between 1755 and 1758 when 6,000 French Acadians were deported from Nova Scotia. Some settled temporarily in other American colonies and in France. Many eventually found permanent homes in Louisiana, where they were called "Cajuns." A few returned to the Maritime Provinces.
During the"Michigan Fever" of the 1830s, large numbers of Canadians streamed westward across the border. By the late 1840s, over 20,000 Canadians and newly landed foreign immigrants moved to the United States each year. California gold fever attracted many, beginning in 1849.
After 1850, the tide of migration still flowed from Canada to the United States. Newly landed immigrants tended not to stay in Canada very long. Between 1851 and 1951, there were up to 80 emigrants, both natives of Canada and others, who left Canada for every 100 immigrants who arrived. A few immigrants returned to their native lands or went elsewhere, but many eventually went to the United States after brief periods of settlement in Canada.
Canadians from the Atlantic Provinces often went to the "Boston states" (New England). A favorite 19th-century destination of Canadians leaving Upper Canada (Ontario) was Michigan. About one in four Michigan families finds a direct connection to Ontario. Many also find links to Quebec. At least two million descendants of French Canadians now live in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Many also live in New York and the Midwestern states.
The Canadian government did not keep lists of emigrants. Before 1947 there was no Canadian citizenship separate from British, and Canadians moved freely throughout the British Empire. Before 1895, when the United States government began keeping border-crossing records, Canadians moved to the United States with few restrictions.
Records of Canadian Emigrants in the United States
For Canadians who came to the United States, major sources of information are listed below, in United States Emigration and Immigration, and in the "Emigration and Immigration" Wiki article for the state where your ancestor settled.
Canadians who came to the United States after 1820 are sometimes named in incoming ship passenger lists taken at U.S. ports. Microfilms and indexes are listed in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
UNITED STATES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
[STATE], [COUNTY], [CITY] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Canadian Border Crossings, 1895 to 1954
The Family History Library and the National Archives of the United States have several collections of arrival indexes and manifests for persons crossing the United States-Canadian border. These are records maintained by U.S. immigration officials who inspected travelers at the following places:
All Canadian seaports and emigration stations (including major interior cities such as Quebec and Winnipeg). Officials used shipping company passenger lists (manifests) to determine passengers bound for the United States by way of Canada.
U.S. train arrival stations in all border states (from Maine to Washington state).
The records may give this information:
- Port or station of entry
- Date of entry
- Last residence and name of nearest relative there
- Previous visits to the United States
- Place of birth
St. Albans District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory. Washington, DC, USA: National Archives Record Service, 1986. (Family History Library film numbers listed below.) The Family History Library has more than 1,000 rolls of microfilm that include Soundex (phonetic index) cards and original manifests giving detailed information pertaining to border crossings. Crossings from Maine to Washington state are included between 1895 and 1915. Beginning about 1915, the records are mainly limited to border crossing in the northeastern states. However, this includes major eastern Canadian seaports where U.S. officials processed ship passengers bound for the United States.
The above collection includes:
Soundex Index to Canadian Border Entries Through the St. Albans, Vt. District, 1895–1924. (Family History Library films 1472801–1473201.) This gives complete geographic coverage to 1915 or later. Some of these index cards are the actual record of crossing; in those cases there is no original manifest. The Soundex is a coded surname index based on the way a name sounds rather than how it is spelled. Names like Schmidt, Smith and Smythe have the same code and are filed together.
Soundex Index to Entries into the St. Albans, Vermont District Through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1924–1952. (Family History Library films 1570714–1570811.) The index cards in this set pertain to border crossing mainly in the New York-Vermont area. See the previous citation for an explanation of Soundex.
Manifests of Passengers Arriving in the St. Albans, Vermont District Through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1895–1954. (Family History Library films 1561087–1561499.) Especially for the years before 1915, these sources include records from seaports and railroad stations all over Canada and the northern United States. These lists of arrivals are indexed by the above two sets of Soundex cards.
St. Albans District . . . Records of Arrivals through Small Ports in Vermont, 1895–1924. Washington, DC, USA: National Archives Record Service, 1986. (Family History Library films 1430987–1430992.) This source is arranged first by entry station and then alphabetically by surname. It covers Vermont ports of entry only, including Alburg, Beecher Falls, Canaan, Highgate Springs, Island Pond, Norton, Richford, St. Albans, and Swanton. It is especially useful for identifying Canadians who settled in New England.
Detroit District Manifest Records of Aliens Arriving from Foreign Contiguous Territory. Washington, DC, USA: Immigration and Naturalization Service, 195?. (Family History Library films 1490449–1490565.) These are the original manifests, on cards arranged alphabetically, for persons entering the United States through Detroit and some other Michigan ports from 1906 to 1954.
An online index of these Canadian border crossing records is available at Ancestry.comfor a subscription fee.
The above collections are all listed in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
CANADA - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Immigration into Canada
Most immigrants have settled along the coasts, the southern frontiers, or the St. Lawrence River valley.
1605:The French first settled at Port Royal, near present Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.
1608:The city of Quebec was established by the French. For the next 150 years, the British and the French disputed control of the area.
1749:Halifax, Nova Scotia, was founded by the British as a military garrison.
1753:The British government settled more than 1,400 Germans and Swiss at Lunenburg, southwest of Halifax.
1759–1760: British conquest of old Quebec (New France) occurred. The French remained but were joined by many British immigrants.
1760:Eighteen hundred "planters" from Rhode Island and Connecticut settled lands vacated by Acadians in Nova Scotia. A few thousand more New Englanders and Ulster Irish soon followed.
1783–1784:More than 30,000 Loyalist refugees came to Canada as a result of the American Revolution. They settled in the Maritime Provinces, the Eastern Townships section of Quebec, and in the area between the Ottawa and St. Lawrence river valleys, eventually to be called Upper Canada. The Loyalists were soon followed by other Americans coming for land.
1800:Upper Canada (Ontario) had about 35,000 people, including 23,000 Loyalists and "late Loyalists" and their descendants, mainly from upstate New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. They were principally established on farms along the upper St. Lawrence River valley.
1812:Because of the War of 1812, authorities restricted immigration from the United States and encouraged immigration from the British Isles.
1815:After the close of the Napoleonic wars in Europe, many immigrants settled along the St. Lawrence River. Although many immigrants continued on to the United States, soon the "late Loyalists" were joined by many English, Scottish, and Irish settlers.
1815–1850:Greatest immigration was from Scotland and Ireland to Atlantic colonies. A few thousand came each year.
1818:The influx of Protestant Irish to Upper Canada began in earnest.
1830s:The great Irish immigration took place, especially to New Brunswick.
1846–1850s:During the Famine Migration from Ireland, tens of thousands settled farms and towns of Upper and Lower Canada.
1881:A record number of people immigrated; many headed for Manitoba. The best Manitoba farmland was settled by people from Ontario.
1890s:The boom era began in western Canada because much of the best public land in United States had already been homesteaded.
1896–1914:The Canadian government’s aggressive immigration policy encouraged agricultural settlers from Britain, then the United States. Canadian colonization agents at the seaports of Hamburg and Bremen recruited Poles, Germans, Ukrainians, and Austro-Hungarians.
1900s:The early 1900s were the peak of U.S. immigration to Canada.
1931:The 1931 census showed 1,300,000 U.S.-born residents settled throughout Canada: over 12 percent of the population.
Leeson, Francis. Records of Irish Emigrants to Canada in Sussex Archives 1839-1847. List of names of heads of families or individuals, followed by year of emigration, of Irish Emigrants from North Munster to Canada. Article in The Irish Ancestor, vol.V.no.2.1973. page31-42, Family History Library Ref. 941.5 B2iv.5-6
Emigration Records of Europe
The major European ports of departure in the 19th century included Liverpool, LeHavre, Bremen, Hamburg, and Antwerp. Most emigrants after 1880 came through these ports and Naples, Rotterdam, and Trieste. Some countries kept records of their emigrants (individuals leaving the country).
There are records about the immigration of dockworker from England at Dockyard Workers of 1869.
Many ships that came to Canada left from Hamburg. The Family History Library has the Hamburg passenger lists and indexes:
Hamburg. Auswanderungsamt. Auswandererlisten, 1850–1934 (Emigration Lists, 1850–1934). Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1986. (On 169 Family History Library films beginning with film 473070 .)
These passenger lists and indexes are most fully described in Hamburg Passenger Lists. Note: the old Hamburg Passenger Lists Resource Guide has been incorporated into the article. Also see the microfiche instructions in Hamburg Passenger Lists.
The library also has a few records for other ports. See the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
CANADA - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
[COUNTRY], [COUNTY], [CITY] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Passenger Arrival Records before 1865
Passenger arrival records can help you determine when an ancestor arrived and the port of departure. They can also help identify family and community members who arrived together and, usually, the country they came from.
There are very few passenger lists for ships coming into Canada before 1865. Lists were not made or were destroyed. The Library and Archives Canada website has posted an index of some lists that have survived. Some of these indexed names have been gathered from declarations of aliens and names of some Irish orphans.
Other sources of lists for this period include:
- Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. 15+ Volumes. Detroit, Michigan, USA: Gale Research, 1981–. (Family History Library book 973 W32p.) Supplemental volumes have been issued annually. A few scattered volumes are available on microfilm. This source contains nearly three million names from more than 2,500 published sources. This focuses on U.S. arrivals, but also indexes many pre-1865 Canadian passenger lists which have been compiled in genealogical and historical publications. It does not index microfilmed official U.S. or Canadian arrival lists.
- Dobson, David. Directory of Scottish Settlers in North America, 1625–1825. Seven Volumes. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1981–93. (Family History Library book 970 W2d.) Volume 5, with more than 3,000 names, especially emphasizes Scottish migration to Canada. It may include the settler’s name, birth date, family members’ names, and date and place of settlement in North America.
- Whyte, Donald. A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada before Confederation . Two Volumes. Toronto, Canada: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986, 1995. (Family History Library book 971 F2wd.) Volume 1 includes about 12,500 names; volume 2 has about 11,000. The volumes may contain the following Information about the immigrant: name, date, place of birth and death, date of arrival in Canada, residence in Canada, occupation, and spouse’s and children’s names. The appendixes give the sources of information.
- Smith, Leonard H. Nova Scotia Immigrants to 1867. Two Volumes. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992, 1994. (Family History Library book 971.6 W2s.) Volume 1 includes about 15,000 entries taken from manuscript sources and Nova Scotia periodicals. Volume 2 has about 6,800 entries from non-Nova Scotia periodicals and from published diaries. The information may include the immigrant’s name, names of family members, name of the ship on which he or she arrived, date of arrival, place of settlement in Nova Scotia, and the source of the information. It covers peninsular Nova Scotia only; it does not cover Cape Breton Island.
- Mitchell, Brian. Irish Emigration Lists 1833–1839: Lists of Emigrants Extracted from the Ordnance Survey Memoirs for Counties Londonderry and Antrim. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1989. (Family History Library book 941.6 W2m.) This and the following book by Mitchell list age, year of departure, destination, and townland or county of origin in northern Ireland for many persons sailing to Saint John, New Brunswick; Quebec; and other North American ports. It contains about 3,000 entries.
- Mitchell, Brian. Irish Passenger Lists 1847–1871: Lists of Passengers Sailing from Londonderry to America. . . . Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1988. (Family History Library book 973 W3mi.) This book contains about 20,000 entries; about half of the people had destinations in Canada.
Passenger Arrival Records Beginning in 1865
Most immigrants to Canada arrived at the ports of Quebec and Halifax, although many came to New York and then traveled to Canada by way of the Hudson River, Erie Canal, and Great Lakes. A few arrived in Portland, Maine, then traveled overland to Canada. Surviving lists for Quebec date from 1865 and for Halifax from 1881.
- Canadian Passenger Lists 1865-1935 - Free online database
The Family History Library has:
- Passenger lists for Quebec, 1865–1900. (On 53 Family History Library films beginning with film 889440.)
- Passenger lists for Halifax, 1881–1899. (On 12 Family History Library films beginning with film 889429.)
The film numbers are in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
Canada - Emigration and Immigration
Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa (formerly the National Archives of Canada) has discontinued much of its interlibrary loan services as of 2013. Passenger lists in electronic format are available on the Library and Archives Canada website, but are not nominally indexed.
- Ship passenger lists for Quebec, 1865–1919.
- Ship passenger lists for Halifax, 1881–1919.
- Ship passenger lists for St. John, 1900–1918.
- Passenger lists for minor Canadian ports, about 1900–1921.
- Lists of border crossings from the United States into Canada, 1908–1918.
Find the National Archives’ film numbers in:
Ships’ Passenger Lists and Border Entry Lists in PAC, RG 76, Records of the Immigration Branch. Ottawa, Canada: Federal Archives Division, Public Archives of Canada, 1986. (Family History Library book 971 W23p.)
Passenger lists and border entry lists into Canada for the years up to 1934 have been transferred to Library and Archives Canada.
Canada, Ocean Arrivals, 1865-1935 - Free online database
To obtain post-1934 Canadian passenger lists, a Canadian citizen or resident must submit an Access to Information Request Form, which is available at Canadian post offices. Proof of the immigrant’s death and the approximate date of his or her arrival is required. Send the completed form with the required information and application fee to:
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Public Rights Administration
300 Slater Street
3rd Floor, Section D
Ottawa, ON K1A 1L1
Telephone: 888-242-2100 (in Canada only)
The Toronto Emigrant Office Assisted Immigration Registers Database at the Archives of Ontario is an Index to four volumes of assisted immigration registers for the period 1865-1883 (Series RG 11-3). Over 29,000 entries in chronological order, the database is searchable by surname.
Ontario Department of Immigration Records, 1869–1897
Under confederation (1867), both the dominion government and the provincial governments were responsible for immigration. Until about 1902, Ontario had its own department of immigration in competition with the central government. Provincial immigration records are now at the Archives of Ontario in Toronto.
The Family History Library has filmed some of these immigration records. About one in five overseas immigrants to Ontario during the 1870s is named in these records. For film numbers, see the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
The inGeneas Database contains records from a variety of immigration records (other than passenger lists) for the time period of 1748 to 1906. For the most part, these records have been extracted from microfilm of the original records held at several archives and libraries. It also contains passenger list records for immigrants arriving at Canadian ports between 1748 and 1873.
WWII War Brides
During World War II, Canadian soldiers began arriving in Britain as early as 1939. For some it would be six years before they returned home. Many of these young men married and fathered children while they were overseas.
- “Marriages were often performed as quickly as they could be arranged, given family situations and military requirements. Women borrowed wedding dresses, or made fashionable coats out of dyed army blankets. A spray of flowers garnished their lapel and shiny silver cardboard horseshoes were given and carried for luck. Brief honeymoons were enjoyed before the inevitable separations occurred. Husbands left for battle not knowing their wives were pregnant. Babies were born and not seen by their fathers for years, and sometimes never. Wives became single parents trying to cope with new motherhood when they’d scarcely had time to enjoy married life.” (Granfield p. 2)
In all, nearly 48,000 war brides and 22,000 children arrived in Canada during and after World War II. While the vast majority of these women were British, there were some Europeans as well. The ships that had been used to transport the service men and women to Britain returned with their wives and children. The ships carrying the war brides and their children sailed from England to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Pier 21 became the depot for processing the arriving families. In 2000 a memorial plaque was mounted at Pier 21 to commemorate the war brides’ arrival in Canada.
The Canadian government was aware of the number of marriages taking place between Canadian service men and (mostly) British women. Little could be done about this situation during wartime but once victory was in sight the government began to put a plan together to bring these women and children to Canada from Britain and Europe. Several organizations cooperated in this endeavour, including the Department of National Defence, the Immigration Branch and the Canadian Red Cross Society. Travel costs, (ocean and rail) were paid for by the Canadian government.
The war brides were an interesting immigration group. Unlike many previous immigrants they don’t fit neatly into the “push-pull” factors we have previously discussed. Their motivation to emigrate was not based on persecution or the search for a better way of life but on having married Canadian soldiers. They were young and white, the majority were British; most of them had some first-hand experience with the war, and they were separating themselves from family members and in many cases would never see their parents, siblings and other relatives again.
Once in Canada, many of the women set up war bride clubs to help each other adjust to their new lives. With the aging of this group, the numbers are dwindling. Many have recently celebrated 50th wedding anniversaries. Several books have been published that recount personal experiences of the war brides.
For further information, see Canadian War Brides website. This site contains links to many other useful sites regarding War Brides.
For further reading
- Brass Buttons and Silver Horseshoes, Stories from Canada’s British War Brides by Linda Granfield. McClelland & Stewart, 2002.
- If Kisses were Roses, a 50th Anniversary Tribute to War Brides by Helen (Hall) Shewchuk. Privately published, 1996.
- Promise You’ll Take Care of My Daughter, The Remarkable War Brides of WWII by Ben Wicks. Stoddart Publishing, 1992.
- Blackouts to Bright Lights, Canadian War Bride Stories by Barbara Ladouceur and Phyllis Spence. Ronsdale Press, 1995.
Ontario - Emigration and Immigration
Russian Empire Consular Records, 1901–1922
During the early 20th century, consular officials of the Russian Empire stationed in Canada and the United States kept files on former empire residents who sought their aid (to help in filling out naturalization and passport applications or to obtain proof of military service in Russia). These are especially helpful for documenting Jewish immigrants. Although this collection is considered a list of Jewish immigrants from Russia, many of the records are for other-ethnic immigrants, including Ukranians and Finns.
Most records in the personal files are in Russian, although there is often a two-page questionnaire in English and Russian asking about the person’s:
- Marital status.
- Relatives still living in the Russian Empire.
- Prior military service.
- Date of leaving the Empire or of arriving in Canada or the U.S.
- Port of entry.
- Place of residence in North America.
The National Archives of Canada in Ottawa has:
Records kept by Russian Empire consuls stationed in Montreal, Vancouver, and Halifax from 1901 to 1922. These are called the LiRaMa Collection after the initial letters of the three consuls’ names.
- Library Canada Archives Li-Ra-Ma Collection Indexed online digital images to this collection. The site is a little quirky because hyperlinks to the images just look like underlined words. After completing a search, click on the word View Image. Scroll through any multiple pages in the digital image folder. Be aware of variant spellings of both given and surnames.
The collection has about 11,400 files on Russian and eastern European immigrants. Microfilms are available through interlibrary loan to public libraries. For film numbers, contact the National Archives of Canada (see [[Canada Archives and Libraries for the address or telephone number). The staff can help you use the surname index to these records, but they cannot provide translation.
The consulate at New York had responsibility for all of North America, so some Canadian residents appear in:
Records of the Russian Consular Offices in the United States, 1862–1928. Suitland, Maryland, USA: National Archives Microfilm Publications, 1986. (On 169 Family History Library films beginning with film 1463389.) These records, and the following index are listed in the Locality Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:
United States - Emigration and Immigration
Sack, Sallyann Amdur, and Suzanne Fishl Wynne. The Russian Consular Records Index and Catalog. New York, NY, USA: Garland Publishing Company, 1987. (Family History Library book 973 D22s.)
British Home Children Immigrants 1870-1940
An estimated 80,000 children (only few of whom were orphans) were sent from Britain to Canada by philanthropic organizations during the late 19th and early 20th century. Of the more than 50 agencies, the largest was Dr. Barnardo’s, which sent a few children to Canada beginning in the late 1860s, and over 30,000 more from 1882 to 1939. Click here for more information on the "Barnardo’s children" If your ancestor was one of the "Barnardo children," you may wish to write to:
Dr. Barnardo’s After Care Sectio
Essex 1G6 1QG
Addresses of other agencies still holding information are in:
Harrison, Phyllis. Addresses of UK Foundling Homes for the British Immigrant Children Brought to Canada, Newsleaf. February 1986, 9. This is published by the Ontario Genealogical Society (Family History Library book 971.3 B2og.)
An Online resource is Young Immigrants to Canada includes resources on British Home Children.
The Library and Archives Canada also has and index for Home Children: Home Children 1869-1930
Research suggestions are in:
- Library Archives Canada Blog: A series of blogs about what is available about the British Home Children on the LAC site and strategies about how to use the records. Published dates: 11/20/2012, 12/6/2012, 2/5/2013, 2/14/2013
- Lorente, David. Home Children: Digging Up Their Roots, Anglo-Celtic Annals, 1995, 38–41. (Family History Library book 971.384 D25aa.) This periodical is published by the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa.
The Family History Library has few records of these children, but there are some at the National Archives of Canada. Biographies of a few of them are in:
- Harrison, Phyllis, Editor. The Home Children: Their Personal Stories. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Watson & Dwyer, 1979. (Family History Library book 971 D3h.)
- Corbett, Gail H. Barnardo Children in Canada. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Woodland Publishing, 1981. (Family History Library book 971 W2cg.) An appendix gives research suggestions.
- Canada, Background and Search Strategies for Home Children (National Institute)
- Canada Home Children Immigration Records (National Institute)
- Canada Home Children Inspection Records (National Institute)
- Canada Home Children Other Sources (National Institute)
- Canada Home Children British Sources (National Institute)
- Canada Home Children Bibliography and Suggested Reading (National Institute)
A wiki article describing this collection is found at:
Outward Passenger Lists from Britain On-line. www.ancestorsonboard.com/ $
The British Home Children http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~britishhomechildren/ Lists approximately 56,000 children
Immigrants to Canada Extration of various government records as well as shipping lines, mostly the Allan Line.
An Online resource is Young Immigrants to Canada includes resources on British Home Children.
The Library and Archives Canada also has and index for Home Children: Home Children 1869-1930
Tracing Family History: Canada Immigration and Citizenship Genealogy Guide has links to other resources.
- ↑ McGregor, Patricia, "Canada WWII War Brides (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Canada_WWII_War_Brides_%28National_Institute%29.
- This page was last modified on 29 August 2014, at 20:15.
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