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Banner: Moving Here, Staying Here. The Canadian Immigrant Experience


The Documentary TrailTraces of the PastFind an Immigrant

How to Find an Immigrant

It is the diversity of its population that distinguishes Canada from most other countries. Canada's 30 million inhabitants form a unique cultural, ethnic and linguistic mosaic. Every year, about 200,000 immigrants from nearly every country in the world choose to make Canada their new home.

Since the founding of the city of Québec in 1608, millions of immigrants have come to Canada. Canadians whose ancestors have come from other countries sometimes ask when and how their forbearers arrived in this country. If you want to learn more about an ancestor and his or her ethnic origin, immigration documents can help provide an answer.


Passenger Lists

Complete nominal rolls of immigrants to Canada before 1865 do not exist. Only a few passenger lists have survived, and these are not indexed by name.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds the passenger lists (RG 76) that served as official immigration documents from 1865 to 1935. These manifests contain the name, age, country of origin, occupation and destination of each passenger. The lists are filed by port of entry and date, except for those from 1919 to 1924, when Form 30A was used.

Passenger lists from before 1925 are not indexed by name. Unless you know the month, year and port of arrival, your search for an immigrant who came to Canada before that date will be an arduous task. The name of the ship and the port of origin are also useful pieces of information. To help you in your search, LAC will soon make digitized versions of passenger lists for 1865 to 1935 available online. You can also consult microfilm copies of the passenger lists in many Canadian libraries and provincial archives.

For the years 1925 to 1935, the Immigration Records (1925-1935) database provides passenger names, and volume, page and microfilm reel numbers of archival documents.

Many immigrants to Canada came from the United States, or from Europe via American ports. Before 1908, immigrants could freely cross the Canada-United States border to enter Canada; there are therefore no files for immigrants who came to Canada by this route before 1908.

Lists of arrivals via the United States from 1908 to 1918 (RG 76) are filed by date and border crossing. Without this information, you will need to consult the non-indexed lists from the appropriate region of Canada, and search each border crossing, month-by-month. These lists contain genealogical information such as the age, country of birth, last place of residence, occupation and Canadian destination of each immigrant.

From January 1919 to the end of 1924, individual forms (Form 30) were used to record the arrival of immigrants from the United States. In 1925, record keeping reverted to arrival lists by border crossing; of these, only the lists for 1925-1935 are indexed.


Other Sources

Citizenship and Immigration Canada holds the files for immigrants who arrived in Canada by ship or border crossing after January 1, 1936. For information on how to obtain a copy of these files, or to search a particular file, select Sources by Topic: After 1935 on the Genealogy and Family History website.

From 1869 to the end of the 1930s, more than 100,000 children were sent from Great Britain to Canada. Members of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa are currently working on indexing the names of Home Children that appear on the passenger lists. To find these names, consult the Home Children (1869-1930) database.

Certain cultural and ethnic groups had their own specific series of documents. LAC holds the Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers collection (LI-RA-MA; MG0 E406).
This collection contains documents created between 1898 and 1922 by the Tsarist consular offices of the Russian Empire in Canada. The series on passports and identification is made up of about 11,400 files on Jewish, Ukrainian and Finnish immigrants who came to Canada from the Tsarist Russian Empire. The series includes passport applications and questionnaires containing general information. A database of this series, with accompanying digital images, will be available online in 2006.

LAC also holds the General Registers of Chinese Immigration, 1885-1949 (RG 76 D2a). The entries are arranged by serial and declaration numbers, in approximate chronological order. The registers contain information such as the age, birthplace, occupation, date and place of arrival in Canada, and head tax paid. A database, accompanied by digitized versions of these registers, will be made available online in 2006.

A large number of settlers, soldiers and civilians petitioned the governor in order to obtain federal government land. Land petitions from Lower Canada (now Quebec) were often joint applications, presented as letters signed by a group of people. A database search tool providing access to nearly 93,000 land petitions from the early 1600s to around 1850, accompanied by selected images, will be available online in 2006.

Documents relating to citizenship and naturalization can be useful in your search for an immigrant. The Canadian Citizenship Act came into effect on January 1, 1947. From 1763 until that date, anyone born in Canada was considered a British subject. Immigrants from Great Britain and other Commonwealth countries, being British subjects already, did not need to be naturalized or to obtain British citizenship. Citizenship and Immigration Canada holds naturalization and citizenship files dating back to 1854. Lists of immigrants who received a certificate of naturalization were published in Parliamentary documents. These lists have been indexed and digitized, and are available online in the 1915-1932 Canadian Naturalization database.

To find out more about these sources and other sources that may be useful in your search for place of origin and date of arrival of an immigrant in Canada, consult Source by Topic on the Canadian Genealogy Centre website.


New Available Databases

To help you trace an immigrant, LAC is pleased to offer you the following research tools, which include digitized images of documents:

Passenger Lists
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), Saint John (1900-1912), North Sydney (1906-1908), Vancouver (1905-1912) and Victoria (1905 to 1912 shortly).
Passenger Lists

Montreal Emigrant Society
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.
Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book

Immigrants from China
The Government of Canada created documents specifically for new arrivals from China. This research tool provides access to 98,361 references to Chinese immigrants who arrived in Canada between 1885 and 1949.
Immigrants from China

Upper Canada and Canada West Naturalization Records
Before 1947, foreigners could petition for naturalization. LAC holds several naturalization registers for Upper Canada/Canada West (now Ontario), for the years 1828 to 1850 only, organized by year within each county. This research tool contains 3,344 references.
Upper Canada and Canada West Naturalization Records

Immigrant Diaries and Guides
Nearly 15,000 pages of immigrant diaries and immigration guides have been digitized for this project. The origin of the diaries, the language in which they were written and the subjects they discuss vary from one diary to the next. 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.
Immigrant Diaries and Guides

Western Land Grants
The first 130 reels of microfilm of letters patent representing about 95,000 images, have been digitized. These land patents, issued by the Land Grants Office of the Department of the Interior after July 18, 1883, were distributed between 1883 and 1930 in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and along the railway zone of British Colombia.
Western Land Grants

The Ward Chipman Papers
Ward Chipman the Elder, (1754-1824), a Massachusetts lawyer, was also an army administrator in the State of New York between 1777 and 1783. In 1784, he settled in New Brunswick, where he served as solicitor general until 1808.
The Ward Chipman Papers contain muster rolls of Loyalists, and their families, who were members of demobilized regiments and who settled in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This research tool provides access to nearly 19,000 references to Loyalist families.
The Ward Chipman Papers

The Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers Collection (LI-RA-MA)
The Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers collection (LI-RA-MA) contains documents created between 1898 and 1922 by the consular offices of the Tsarist 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.
The Likacheff-Ragosine-Mathers Collection (LI-RA-MA)

Lower Canada Land Petitions
When New France became a British colony in 1763, the land system changed. New lands were now granted as part of townships instead of seigneuries. Many early settlers, both military and civilian, submitted petitions to the Governor to obtain Crown land. The Lower Canada Land Petitions contain petitions for grants or leases of land and other administrative records. This research tool provides access to more than 93,000 references to individuals who lived in present-day Quebec between 1764 and 1841.


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