Primary Record Groups

Canadian Immigration Records

Canadian records for Genealogists & Family Historians

An introduction to some of the Canadian Immigration Records available to genealogists, family and social historians, and geographers, whether interested in finding their ancestor or in studying broader patterns of migration..

Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Canadian Immigration information:

Prior to 1919, virtually all of Canadian Immigration records are comprised of Ship's Manifests, or Lists, of Passengers landing at Canadian oceanic ports of arrival. While few lists survive from the pre-1865 period, many from the 1865 - 1919 period have. Only those from the 1865 - 1869 period are indexed.

Within the post-1869 period, though, several classes of Immigrants were separately identified, and some relevant records have survived: the 'Home Children' are well documented both in Canadian and English records; records of Immigrants from China are separately available; and records pertaining to some US/Canada land and freshwater border crossings were retained and are accessible.

Special application must be made for access to post-1919 records, which are still considered to be 'closed' by the Canadian Government.

Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

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Canadian Immigration Information before 1865:

Prior to 1919, Lists of Passengers arriving at Canadian coastal ports via passenger ship are the only record of immigration to this country.

Unfortunately, no comprehensive collections of lists of immigrants arriving in Canada prior to 1865 have survived. A few scattered lists do exist, though, most of which are held at the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.

Because many trans-Atlantic travellers disembarked at US ports prior to travelling overland to Canadian destinations, researchers are advised to consult the more expansive Lists and Indexes for all of North America which will include names from any passenger lists that have been published for any Canadian port of entry for this time period, and which will also possibly contain names of individuals known to have later travelled to Canada.

Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

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Indexes to Lists of Passengers and Immigrants for All of North America 1600 - 1900:

Many, many Books and Lists have been published which record the names of whole groups of immigrants from one area, or which contain information about all of the passengers arriving in North America aboard one ship.

Searching each and every work would normally consume a lifetime, but our work has been greatly simplified through the efforts of P.W.Filby and M.K.Meyer, who have created a 'master index' of as many of these individually published indexes as has been possible.

I have a full set of their work - - - -

  • Passenger and Immigration Lists Index - A guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. First Edition, Published 1981; Filby.P.W. and M.K.Meyer, Editors,
    • Volume 1:- A through F
    • Volume 2:- F through N
    • Volume 3:- N through Z

      as well as the annual volumes that list almost 2 million more people

      • 1982 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1983 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1984 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1985 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1986 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1987 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1988 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1989 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1990 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1991 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1992 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1993 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1994 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1995 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1996 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1997 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1998 Supplement:- A through Z
      • 1999 Supplement:- A through Z

- - - - and I'm willing to look for your ancestor in these volumes.

Whenever we find a name you're searching for in these volumes we also find a reference to the specific book or index where that name was originally noted.

These first instance works are far too numerous to list individually, but once it has been determined that a name you are looking for appears in Filby and Meyer's work, I am able to go back to most of the first instance works to obtain more detailed information for you.

And microfilm copies of the original Ship's Manifest exist in many cases, and paper copies of appropriate parts of these Manifests can be obtained.

Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

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Canadian Ship's Passenger Lists between 1865 and 1919:


The National Archives of Canada holds microfilm copies of the Passenger Manifests, or Lists, of ships that arrived at the following ports of entry, within the time periods noted:

  • Quebec City, 1865-1919
  • Halifax, N.S., 1881-1919
  • Saint John, N.B., 1900-1918
  • North Sydney, N.S., 1906-1919
  • Vancouver, B.C., 1905-1919
  • Victoria, B.C., 1905-1919
    • (includes other small Pacific Coast ports)
  • via United States ports, 1905-1921
    • (includes only the names of passengers proceeding directly to Canada)

These Manifests contain variable genealogical information such as name, age, occupation and intended destination of passengers, depending on the date of arrival and such things as the Shipping Line, etc.

The lists are arranged by port and date of arrival and in order to undertake a meaningful search, it is useful to know the approximate time of arrival. Assumptions about the Port of Departure in Europe, or the Port of Arrival in Canada can be made, but knowing the name of the ship, the Port and date of arrival in Canada, and the Departure Port in Europe or England are extremely helpful in narrowing a search pattern.

Passengers from mainland Europe often disembarked coastal ships, and subsequently boarded transatlantic ships, at ports in Great Britain. Liverpool, on the west coast of England was the most common port of departure for many Nordic, north German and Russian emmigrants.

Sets of old card indexes exist on microfilm, having been compiled from those lists of passengers arriving at Quebec in the 1865 to 1869 time period that have survived. Each index card provides the passenger's name, sometimes his or her age, the name of the ship, and the date of that ship's arrival at Quebec. Separate Indexes exist for each of 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868, and 1869. Spelling variations of surnames must be considered when requests to consult these Indexes are submitted, and the microfilm copies of the original Manifests must be consulted to possibly obtain more extensive information. Otherwise no other Lists have been indexed.

A great many emmigrants arrived at one of the ports in Canada, only to travel through this country, bound for places in the United States. It's possible that, if your ancestor came originally from Ireland, the UK, one of the Nordic countries, from the Baltic area - such as northern German areas or Russia, that they may have landed in Canada before proceeding to the US.

As well, it's been suggested that many of the ships that regularly travelled between the UK and Quebec during the summer months, travelled from the UK to other ice free ports on the east coast of the US, such as Portland, Maine, during the winter months.

You would be well advised to request that we check Filby's Passenger Lists Index for names of people who landed at such ports, as they may be included.

Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

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'Home Children', 1869 - 1928:

Between 1869 and 1928, almost 90,000 children were brought to Canada from Great Britain during the child emigration movement.

These were the 'Home Children'. It was considered that 'pauper children' would have a better chance for a healthy, moral life in rural Canada, away from the urban slums of the larger industrial cities in England, and many families throughout Canada welcomed them as a source of cheap farm labour and domestic help.

Groups of children arriving at official Canadian ports are individually listed, and often identified as 'Home Children', in Canadian Passenger Lists until 1919.

More detailed information for this time period, and for the 1919 - 1928 period, can be found in the correspondence between the various juvenile homes and agencies. See below for information about accessing information that may be contained in relevant files of the Canadian Immigration Branch.

Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

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Immigrants from China, 1885 - 1949:

Information about immigrants to Canada from China during the 1885 - 1949 period is held in the National Archives of Canada. Usually such genealogical information as the immigrant's age, place of birth, occupation, date and port of arrival in Canada, head tax paid, etc., can be obtained. Once this information is obtained, and particularly where an individual immigrated after January, 1919, files that will contain more comprehensive data can often be located in Immigration Canada records - see below.


Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

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US Border Entry Records, 1908 - 1918:

Prior to 1908, people were able to move freely in either direction across the international boundary between the United States and Canada. No record exists of these border crossings.

Beginning in March 1908, through to December 1918, lists of immigrants arriving in Canada from the United States after crossing land borders, as well as those entering through certain local lake and sea ports, were compiled. These lists are held at the National Archives of Canada, and are arranged by port and date of arrival. They are not indexed. In order to undertake a meaningful search, it is usually beneficial to know the approximate time of arrival, as well as the probable location of the border crossing or the port of arrival.

The Government has been quick to state that, during this time period, "not all immigrants crossed the border at official ports. Also, if the border office was closed, they may have entered the country without being registered" i.e. illegally.


Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

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All Immigrants to Canada, after 1919:

From January 1919 onwards, with a few minor exceptions, records of all Immigrants arriving at Canadian land, sea, and air ports remain in the custody of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and access is strictly controlled. Passports were not required by British subjects entering Canada until the World War Two period.

A fee is levied by Citizenship and Immigration Canada to anyone wishing to potentially obtain information from their files about any particular immigrant in this time period. Under certain circumstances I am able to act as an expediter in requests of this type.


Contact Bruce D. Murduck   concerning any matter at all.

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