Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thank heavens for paperwork! Canadians Border crossing at early years. until 1894, records of immigration through Canada to the U.S. weren’t recorded.

Since many of our ancestors came to the U.S. through Canada in years prior to 1895, it would be great if this database included earlier records. I know of at least one of those famous made their way to the U.S. via Halifax. Unfortunately, until 1894, records of immigration through Canada to the U.S. weren’t recorded. In fact, this actually added to the appeal as many immigrants avoided immigration screening and hassles by choosing the Canadian route. In 1895 the U.S. government closed this loophole by requiring Canadian steamships and railroads to complete manifest forms and only provide transportation to U.S. destinations to immigrants that would have been allowed to enter the country via other U.S. ports.

What’s in the Records?

A variety of records are included in this database, including manifests, Primary Inspection Memorandums, Records of Registry, and Land Border Departure Records. The depth of information collected in these records varies. Some manifests are rich in detail, while later manifests, including some created by airlines, will be leaner with many only containing a first initial and surname, along with the date of arrival and point of embarkation and disembarkation.

Many of the records are on Form 1-Canada, titled “List or Manifest of Alien Passengers Applying for Admission to the United States from Foreign Contiguous Territory” and will include full name, age (with columns for years and months), and gender; marital status; occupation; literacy; nationality, and race or people; last permanent residence (city or town and country); name and complete address of nearest relative or friend in country whence alien came; final destination and whether they had a ticket to their final destination; by whom the passage was paid; how much money was in their possession; whether ever in the U.S. prior to this trip and if so, where; whether going to join a relative or friend and if so, who (including name and complete address); causes for deportment (including mental and physical health conditions); physical description; and place of birth (city or town and country).

It’s important to note that before October 1, 1906, only non-Canadian immigrants were recorded. Canadian-born immigrants are only included on records created after that date.

On the Primary Inspection Memorandum cards, the print is small and can be hard to read, although on the cards I viewed, the handwriting was legible. To help decipher the headings on each field, I checked out the National Archives website description of some of these records. It included a description of what was asked on these cards, as well as other records found in this database. Using this page I was better able to decipher the field headings that I found hard to read on the images.

Who is in These Records?

Searching by nationality proved to be interesting. There is a drop-down box with sixty nationalities that are represented in the database. The top ten were:

English - 898,713
French - 417,160
Scotch - 385,206 (Yes, it says “Scotch” in the menu, rather than Scots or Scottish. I’m assuming they chose this spelling because it is the way the records I viewed recorded the ethnicity.)
Irish - 279,654
Hebrew - 169,484
German - 162,178
Italian - 92,468
Polish - 90,868
Russian - 82,494
Finnish - 67,540

Noting that only 19,662 records came up for “Canadian,” it struck me as odd.

However, when searching for only a birthplace of Canada, I got 1,021,583 hits.
Searching for both birthplace of Canada and nationality of English, I get 298,172 hits; French, 280,331; Irish, 135,159; and Scotch, 132,359. An assortment of other nationalities rounded out the Canadian-born people represented in the database.

So, for this database, you can use place of birth as a more reliable search term, and as with any database, start wide and then narrow your search by rotating various criteria in and out of the search boxes.

Some of the records don’t even list nationality or birthplace.

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