In the course of your genealogical research, you will inevitably discover an immigrant ancestor. Knowing when and how that individual arrived in Canada is a major piece of the family puzzle. If you do not know where your ancestor came from or their ethnic origin, immigration records can help you find the answer.
In 1803, the British Parliament enacted legislation to regulate vessels carrying emigrants to North America. The master of vessel was required to prepare a list of passengers and to deposit it at the port of departure. Please note that there are no comprehensive nominal lists of immigrants arriving in Canada before 1865. Few such lists have survived.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds the Canadian immigration records for the years 1865 to 1935. The passenger lists are the sole surviving official records of the arrival of the majority of people accepted as immigrants in Canada.
The passenger list is a list of immigrants arriving at an official port of entry on a particular ship on a given date. Generally speaking, each manifest gives:
In some of the earlier manifests, personal information is omitted for wives, minor children, groups of labourers, and first and second class passengers. Depending on the date, some lists contain other information on the immigrants, such as their health, religion, previous visits to Canada, family relationships, and cash on hand.
The format of the lists varies over time. Standard forms were used increasingly from the 1870s onward. However, a number of the lists from the 1860s to the 1890s, especially for arrivals from European ports, are of irregular format, or are inscribed on United States immigration forms.
After Confederation onwards, immigration offices were maintained at various places called "ports of entry" and were responsible for the official reception and documentation of immigrants. The present formal process for designating ports of entry was not set up until after the First World War. Before that time, the collection of entry records at a particular port, then forwarding them automatically to Ottawa, was likely an informal administrative measure.
The passenger lists from 1865 to 1935 were transferred to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) by Citizenship and Immigration Canada in four groups: the 1865-1900 records in 1971, the 1900-1908 records in 1980, the 1908-1918 records in 1984, and the 1919-1935 records in 1997. The 1908-1918 portion contains a few lists dated as late as 1921 at the end of the 1918 reels. The microfilms were produced by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration during the 1950s and 1960s. The originals were destroyed after the microfilming.
For more information, consult Passenger Lists. A detailed description of the immigration records held at LAC is available on the Genealogy and Family History website under Immigration and Ships' Passenger Manifests.
The database provides access to 21,840 references to passenger lists held at LAC.
This research tool includes references to the the passenger lists for the following ports and dates:
To maintain a file of immigrants arriving at seaports in the United States and proceeding directly overland to Canada, the Canadian immigration service began in 1905 to collect extracts of passenger lists kept at the east coast ports of New York, Baltimore, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia and Providence.
LAC staff members created a database from the reels of microfilmed immigration records. Each reel was consulted to verify the names of the ships, the ports of departure and arrival and the dates of departure and arrival. The image processing phase generated error reports. Following this phase, corrections were made to the database and random checking was conducted. Even with this procedure, some images may have been skipped during the digitization process. We invite clients to report missing images or other errors via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Important note: Some of the original documents are very difficult to read, therefore some information in the database may be incorrect and/or incomplete.
The search screen allows you to search by:
Name of Ship
Year of Arrival
Port of Arrival
Port of Departure
If you know the exact date of departure and/or of arrival, try a search using this date.
You can also browse by ship and shipping line by clicking on "List of Ships" and "List of Shipping Lines."
If you do not know the approximate year of your ancestor's arrival, we suggest you search other records for clues:
When you have entered your search terms, click on "Submit". The number of hits found will be shown at the top of the results screen.
Your search results will be posted as a summary list from which you can obtain more detailed descriptions.
The results list contains the following fields:
Arrival Port and Date
You can export the results to a diskette or to your own computer.
Click on the underlined name of the ship for a more detailed description of the item of interest to you.
The detailed description contains the following fields:
Departure Port and Date
Arrival Port and Date
You can view the corresponding page by clicking on "View Image". Then, by clicking on the arrows you can view all the pages of that passenger list.
You can print the images or save the images on your own computer.
To print a copy of a scanned image, right click on the image, select copy, then paste to your word processing software, using the Edit: Paste Special Feature: Device Independent Bitmap.
Use the following link for other options such as borrowing microfilm.
Other archival immigration records exist. Consult Immigration for more information about these records.