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Did Your Canadian Immigrant Ancestor Arrive Via NY?
Published September 6, 2005; Updated April 15, 2014
By Rick Roberts ,

While evaluating a free online database of passenger lists I encountered a surprise result that helped me break through a persistent obstacle in my personal family history research.

Castle Garden was America's first official immigration center, a pioneering collaboration of New York State and New York City. The database includes information on more than 11 million immigrant arrivals from 1820 through 1892. Castle Garden officially operated from 1855 to 1890. There are additional entries as late at 1913 according to the latest date provided in the search engine. Today Castle Garden is known as Castle Clinton National Monument, the major landmark within The Battery, a 23 acre waterfront park at the tip of Manhattan.

The Battery and Old Castle Garden, New York (1900)
Courtesy of New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

So what does that have to do with Canada?

Many family history researchers are surprised to learn that a significant number of early immigrants to Canada arrived on the continent via American ports, then traveled by rail, canal or other means to their final destination in Canada. In fact, by 1852 a person could get on a train in New York City and disembark in Toronto.

The first search I did on was for for my gggrandfather, Henry Beaumont. There was no reason to use Henry's name in this search -- his name just popped into my mind.

Our family's lore includes romantic stories of Henry meeting his future wife during the ocean crossing from England to Canada sometime in the 1850s, and then marrying in Canada shortly after their arrival. No one seemed to know if they were married in Halifax, Quebec City or Montreal, or later when they arrived in Cramahe Township in what later became Ontario. There was no previous hint that either of them had ever stepped foot into the United States.

Several "Henry Beaumont"s resulted in my search of the 11 million name database. There was no reason to think that any of those Henry Beaumonts were mine. However, the very first Henry Beaumont that I selected from the list was the same age as my gggrandfather, sailed from an English port close to his English home town, emigrated in the same time frame, and reported the same occupation that my gggrandfather worked at in England. With low expectations of success, I then searched for my gggrandmother (Ann Connor) on the same ship and arrival date. There she was with her two younger brothers. Correct age, Irish, and reporting the same occupation that she had in Ireland. I couldn't believe that after more than 30 years of searching in Canada, I found them on a New York passenger arrival list by accident!

Search result - Henry Beaumont:

Search result - Ann Connor:

Though I've not been able to locate a marriage record for Henry Beaumont and Ann Connor in the United States or Canada since then, I have been able to find enough other reliable information to confirm that this pair are indeed my gggrandparents.

Several more searches confirm that there are many others who arrived at the port of New York who intended to settle in, or return to Canada. There are numerous examples of Canadians (Place of last residence; Country of birth) who travelled overseas and then returned through the port of N.Y..

Check American ports passenger arrivals here (free):
  • Official website of Castle Garden (free)

  • Stephen P. Morse created a free advanced search tool that provides a single page where you can search Port of New York ships' passenger lists for Castle Garden, Barge Office and Ellis Island in one step. Covers the years from 1830 to 1912 and includes the following: 1830 to 1855: pre Castle Garden; 1855 to 1890: Castle Garden; 1890 to 1891: Barge Office; 1892 to 1912: Ellis Island

For those wanting to learn more about the 19th century immigrants' experiences check out the book Across the Waters: Ontario Immigrants' Experiences, 1820-1850 by: Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor. The book gathers together selections from firsthand accounts of more than 150 individual immigrants so that today's readers can discover what it meant to be a pioneer in Upper Canada (Ontario).

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