Finding your immigrant ancestors can be tricky. Cara MacDonald, Manager of Reference Services at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, shares her research process and tips for locating those hard-to-find immigration records. From the “why” behind being unable to locate difficult records to effective wildcard searching and gathering information from non-immigration sources, this workshop will help take your genealogy skills to the next level.

Free Access Terms and Conditions

To support the ‘We Must Have Swam Over – Research Tips for Finding Your Immigrant Ancestors’ video tutorial (hosted the Ancestry Canada Facebook page), we will be providing free access to the following collections from Thursday 14th May at 12pm EDT – Friday 15th May 12pm EDT. To access these collections please click on the links below.

Free Access is from 14 May 2020 at 12p.m. EDT to 15 May at 12 p.m. EDT. Registration required. After the free access period ends, you will only be able to view the records in the featured collections using an paid membership.

Key collections and records on Ancestry mentioned in the session that are free to access for a limited time:

Canada/US Arrivals

Border Crossings

European Passenger Lists and emigration records

Canadian Census Collection

Top tips for Immigration Research:

  • Surnames stay the same. Search for the original spelling of the surname first. If you aren’t sure of the spelling, locating early Canadian records may show variants and give clues to the original spelling that you can use in your search.
  • Hit the departures. If you cannot find an arrival record, search in departure collections and cross reference results to the appropriate arrival collection.
  • Search border crossing records. Canadians crossed the border to the US for many reasons (work, visits etc), even if you don’t think your ancestor went to the US. These usually have original immigration details on them that can help in your search.
  • Avoid exact searches. Broader search parameters give more results.
  • Keep an open mind. Consider that person you are looking for may be using their middle name or a nickname, and that ages can often be off by a few years. Look at the original record of anything you think could be a possibility.
  • Keep a cool head. Remember – mistakes happen, in both the creation of the document and the transcriptions, so try not to rule things out right away.

Speaker: Cara MacDonald

Cara MacDonald is the head genealogist and Manager of Reference Services at the Scotiabank Family History Centre at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. She has been employed at the museum for 12 years, providing a variety of genealogical research services with expertise in immigration records.  Cara holds a diploma in Library and Information Technology and a PLCGS in Canadian Records and Librarianship from the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. She is currently working towards her certificate in Eastern European Records.




Bryony Partridge

Bryony is the International PR Manager for Ancestry where she implements strategic communications and social media programs that bring increased media awareness for the company.


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