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A Guide For Family Historians
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- Canadian resources
Finding Passenger Lists & Immigration Records - North America
Column published: 02 December 2006
By: Rick Roberts, Biography & Archived Articles
Finding passenger arrival and immigration records of our ancestors is a prominent goal of most family historians. This article is designed to help you locate records of those who immigrated to North America. I use the term "North America" because, from a migration point of view, immigrants to both the Canada and the USA arrived at whichever port was convenient for their needs and financial resources.
Tens of thousands of Canadian immigrants arrived at American ports and then continued on to Canada by road, railway or inland waterways. The same is true of those who arrived in Canadian ports who then made a hard-left-turn into the USA. This is especially evident in the Canadian example when you examine the passenger lists of the St. Lawrence Steam Ship Company. The St. Lawence Steam Ship Company became engaged in the haulage of people and goods between Quebec City and Montreal in 1819. Oftentimes the ocean ships ended their passenger obligation at Quebec City. Smaller vessels then hauled those passengers up the St. Lawrence to Montreal. When you examine the lists of those who took the westbound trip, you will find a bounty of examples of those who arrived at Quebec City, took the boat-ride up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, then turned south to follow the Lake Champlain/Hudson River route into the northeast USA. Even more surprising is how often extended families divided at this point, some going to settle in the USA, other continuing up the St. Lawrence or Ottawa Rivers to settle in Upper or Lower Canada.
The passenger arrvial lists that began in 1820 in the USA are helpful for Canadian looking for their immigrant ancestors insfar as the final column on the right-hand side of the page often include the "final destination" of the passenger. Sometimes these references are as vague as "Canada" or "British Morth America" (BNA). Other times the reference is more specific.
The ship arrival records and passenger arrival lists of Canada and the USA vary greatly. US legislation required compilation of passenger arrivals as early as 1820, where Canada did not formalize the requirement until 1865.
Passenger arrival lists in Canada before 1865 are very rare. However, there are many secondary sources that can help lead you to the identity and arrival date of the ship on which your ancestor arrived. Some of those are listed below.
The resources that I have listed here include online indexes and databases (both free and commercial), information on CD , books and microfilm.
Canadian Immigration, Ships, Passengers
USA Immigration, Ships, Passengers
- Passenger Lists, 1865-1922 Search (free) Library and Archives Canada
Passenger lists (RG 76) were the official immigration documents from 1865 to 1935. The lists contain information such as the name, age, country of origin, occupation and destination of each passenger. The lists are organized by port and date of arrival. This database provides access to passenger lists for the ports of Québec (1865-1921), Halifax (1881-1912, to 1922 shortly), to Saint John (1900-1912), North Sydney (1906-1908), Vancouver (1905-1912) and Victoria (1905 to 1912), shortly. This database is growing, so be sure to check it frequently for new entries.
- St. Lawrence Steamboat Co. Passengers 1819 - ? (free) The ShipsList.com
After arriving by ship at the port of Quebec, most passengers continued by steam ship from Quebec City to Montreal. Oftentimes passenger lists do not survive for the ocean portion of the trip, however the passenger records of the St. Lawernce Steam ship Company do. They are being transcribed by volunteers on this web site.
- Cdn Naturalization Records (free) Library and Archives Canada
The Canadian Naturalization databases contain references to about 200,000 people who applied for and received status as naturalized Canadians from 1915 to 1932.
- Immigrants at Grosse-Île 1832 and 1937 (free) Library and Archives Canada
This database includes information on 33,026 immigrants whose names appear in surviving records of the Grosse-Île Quarantine Station between 1832 and 1937. Grosse-Île is an island in the St Lawerence River near Quebec City where passenger of inbound ships had to pass health inspections. Those who were judged to have a contageous disease were held at the Quarantine Station until they recovered or died.
- Immigrant Ancestors Project (free) Brigham Young University
The site assists family historians to identify emigration records and their current repositories in a a free access online database of all the emigrants extracted from the records. Volunteers working with scholars and researchers at Brigham Young University are creating a database of millions of immigrants based on these emigration registers. The database of individual immigrants is growing rapidly.
- Immigrants - Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers collection, 1898 - 1922 (free) Library and Archives Canada
The Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers collection (LI-RA-MA) contains documents created between 1898 and 1922 by the consular offices of the Russian Empire in Canada. The series on passports and identity papers is comprised of about 11,400 files on Jewish, Ukrainian and Finnish immigrants who came to Canada from the Russian Empire. The series includes passport applications and questionnaires containing general information. Nearly half the database is now available online, with the rest to be added shortly.
- Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book (1832) (free) Library and Archives Canada
Organizations such as the Montreal Emigrant Society were founded to help immigrants. This research tool provides access to 1,945 references to people who received aid from the Montreal Emigrant Society between May 12 and November 5, 1832.
- Port of New Westminster (British Columbia)- Register of Chinese Immigration (1887-1908) (free) Library and Archives Canada
The Department of Immigration created documents specifically for new arrivals from China The research tool provides access to 470 references to Chinese immigrants who arrived at the port of New Westminster between 1887 and 1908.
- Immigration Records 1925-35 (free) Library and Archives Canada
Pier 21 Society in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has input the information from the passenger list indexes into this database. Over 500,000 records.
- Immigrant Diaries and Guides (free) Library and Archives Canada
Nearly 15,000 pages of digitized immigrant diaries and immigration guides. They demonstrate the full range of the Canadian immigrant experience: emigration, the trip, migration and travel within Canada, as well as life in Canada as told by Canadian settlers. The diaries and guides were written or published at various times, from the mid-18th century to the beginning of the Second World War; some diaries are incomplete and may end abruptly.
More links to searchable online Canadian resources >>