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.
- 1 Finding the Emigrant’s Town of Origin
- 2 Emigration from Canada
- 3 Records of Canadian Emigrants in the United States
- 4 Canadian Border Crossings, 1895 to 1954
- 5 Immigration into Canada
- 6 Emigration Records of Europe
- 7 CANADA - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
- 8 ONTARIO - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
- 9 UNITED STATES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
- 10 Web Sites
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.
To learn more about your immigrant ancestors, see Tracing Immigrant Origins Research Outline (34111).
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 Research Outline, and in the research outline 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 Family History Library 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. (FHL 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 Family History Library 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.
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).
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 the Wiki article Hamburg Passenger Lists. Also, the Family History Library has the Hamburg Passenger List 1850-1934 Resource Guide, and microfiche instructions Hamburg Passenger Lists.
The library also has a few records for other ports. See the Locality Search of the Family History Library 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. Go to: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/immigrants-canada/index-e.html
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.
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 Family History Library Catalog under:
CANADA - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
The National Archives of Canada in Ottawa (formerly Public Archives of Canada) will lend some passenger lists by interlibrary loan. It has:
- 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. (FHL book 971 W23p.)
Passenger lists and border entry lists into Canada for the years up to 1934 have been transferred to the National Archives of Canada. It is anticipated that public libraries will be able to order microfilm copies of these records in late 1998.
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)
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 Family History Library Catalog under:
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.
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. 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 the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline 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 FHL films beginning with film 1463389.) These records, and the following index are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library 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. (FHL book 973 D22s.)
Records of Immigrant Children, 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. 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 (FHL book 971.3 B2og.)
Research suggestions are in:
Lorente, David. Home Children: Digging Up Their Roots, Anglo-Celtic Annals, 1995, 38–41. (FHL 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. (FHL book 971 D3h.)
Corbett, Gail H. Barnardo Children in Canada. Peterborough, Ontario, Canada: Woodland Publishing, 1981. (FHL book 971 W2cg.) An appendix gives research suggestions.
Outward Passenger Lists from Britain On-line. www.ancestorsonboard.com/ $