From the early days of New France to present day, more than 17 million immigrants have made their way to Canada from around the world, settling from sea to shining sea.

This Thanksgiving, take the time to celebrate and discover your family’s Canadian immigration story with our free access to global immigration records from October 8th to October 12th. To help get you started, we’ve tapped Ancestry Canada Advisory Board Chair and genealogist Lesley Anderson to give you her tip tips for uncovering your family’s immigration story on Ancestry.

1. Get Searching
Passenger list from the St. Lawrence Steamboat Company, 1819-1838

Always start by searching the “Immigration and Travel” category in the Card Catalogue. Ancestry hosts a wide array of immigration and travel related databases, some drawn from archival records, others from books, and some from compilations like incoming and outgoing passenger lists, early lists of immigrants, naturalizations or border crossings.

2. Explore indirect immigration routes

Many immigrants destined for Canada entered North America through the United States, with the earliest Canadian incoming passengers landing through Quebec Port in May 1865. For earlier arrivals, make sure to check passenger lists for vessels arriving in New York, Boston, and Baltimore.

3. Start with incoming passenger lists

Incoming passenger lists serve as our primary source of Canadian immigration records from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century. These lists can include details on passenger age, gender marital status, religious denomination, nationality, and more.

4. Don’t discount departure collections

Struggling to find your ancestors in the incoming passenger lists? Don’t sweat it. If you know your ancestors’ nationality or port of departure, try searching in the departure collections instead, and cross-reference your results to the appropriate arrival collection.

5. Always double check the spelling

Names can often be misspelled or incorrectly transcribed in the records. When searching the collections, try using wild cards to identify multiple potential spellings of the same last name.

6. Be sure to check border crossing records

Canadians often crossed the border to the US for many reasons, including work, visiting family etc. These border crossing records may often contain details from their original immigration to Canada.


Still have questions? Then make sure to tune into a very special Ancestry Extra webinar hosted by Lesley Anderson on our Facebook channel where she walks us through her process for tracing the immigration history of your ancestors, dishes on some of her go-to immigration collections, and takes a deep dive into the Canadian National Railway Immigrant Records, 1937 – 1961 – one of Ancestry’s largest Canadian record collections for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe: