Most of our past discussion has focused on immigration records of the United States. However, there is another British country in North America from which many of us have ancestors -- our country to the north, Canada. Indeed, the approach to tracing the immigrant origins of Canadian ancestors is really identical to U.S. Immigrants. Some sources are less available, while others are more plentiful, but the process and tactics remain the same. Canada, of course, is a foreign country, so you will use the same approach to find Canadian immigrants living in the United States, as you would British, German, Dutch, Italian, Polish or Scandinavian immigrants in the U.S.
There are, however, some slight differences for United States residents who have ancestors from Canada.
Unlike the European countries, and like the United States, Canada was a destination country for millions of immigrants. Many of their descendants in turn immigrated to the United States. Therefore, in effect, when you are tracing an immigrant into Canada, you must realize that within a couple of generations, you will again be looking for the origins of an immigrant -- this time from the country they left before coming to Canada.
In the case of loyalists who left the new United States during and after the Revolutionary War, the "foreign" country you will be tracing them to is the former British colonies, now known as the United States. Then, within a few generations again, you will be faced with tracking an immigrant's origin one more time, generally back to England.
Thus, with Canadian ancestry, your search for an immigrant's home town may occur two or even three times for the same surname!
Settlement of Canada
The area now known as Canada was settled as early as various parts of the United States. The French established outposts and later settlements in what became Nova Scotia in 1605 and Quebec in 1608. The English began fur trading and settlement by the 1670s. In 1713, the English received Nova Scotia and began colonizing there in 1749.
As in the lower colonies, they established churches and local governments, and kept records. Virtually all of the records we will discuss in the next course, dealing with the Colonial time period, apply for Canada as well as the future United States.
With the ending of the Revolutionary War, settlement in Canada increased. Britain could no longer send their emigrants to the United States (at least, not as a government action, such as when they sent convicts to America in the 18th century). Government sponsored emigration from Great Britain, which later turned to Australia, greatly impacted the still British colonies in North America. Nowhere was that more evident than in Ontario.
England obtained Quebec in 1763 as a result of the French and Indian War. At that time, Quebec also included the area later known as Ontario. After the U.S. Revolutionary War, the northern colonies, who had not participated in the Revolution, and who had remained loyal to Great Britain became known as British North America. In 1791, Quebec was divided into Lower (later Eastern) Canada, later renamed Quebec, and Upper (later Western) Canada, now known as Ontario.
Here then are the clues you can watch for in your research. Was your ancestor ever associated with these terms?
- Lower Canada-Eastern Canada-Quebec
- Upper Canada-Western Canada-Ontario
Who Came to Ontario?
Because of the heavy migration back and forth between Ontario and the United States, it is useful to focus on that province. Ontario has long been the largest and most populous province in "British North America." In the 1780s, as the U.S. Revolutionary War was drawing to a close, thousands of refugees from the war (called United Empire Loyalists) streamed into the newly created counties of Upper Canada along the St. Lawrence River. Most immigrant families coming from the United States came from New York and New England, while some came from Pennsylvania and points further south.
Immigrants crossing the ocean mainly came directly from England, enticed by the offers of free land. Others came from some of the German states. After the War of 1812, England encouraged more settlement by British subjects, in the hopes that their numbers would prevent loyalist families from siding with the United States in any future conflict. Many of these settlers came from Scotland. In addition, between 1820 and 1850, tens of thousands of immigrants arrived from Great Britain and Ireland, especially after the Irish famine began in 1847.
Who Left Ontario?
During the nineteenth century, the same factors that encouraged so many Europeans to immigrate to the United States encouraged many Canadians to move to the states. The Midwestern states in particular had a warmer climate and generally better soil than much of Ontario. The new settlements in the prairie provinces of western Canada also attracted migrants from Ontario, many of whom later immigrated to the western United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
As with other immigrants, those who chose to go to a new country sometimes embraced whole families, but more often were single persons, or young, married couples. Typically the older the individual, the less likely he or she would undertake a major immigration.
You probably already know if your immigrant left Ontario (or anyplace in Canada) for the United States. However, you now need to be aware of what awaits you once you find him or her in Canada.
A Variety of Sources
All of the sources we have discussed in these classes exist for Canada, and Ontario specifically— although some are more useful than others. For example, there are very few passenger arrival lists for Canada until about 1865. Naturalization is uncommon, since most immigrants were British, and naturalization of British subjects was not required until well into the 20th Century.
Although formal, government passenger lists may not exist, much of the early settlement of Ontario and other places in British Canada was sponsored and coordinated by emigration groups or societies. Many of these records have been published in one form or another. For example, a small pamphlet on The Petworth Emigration Scheme: A Preliminary List of Emigrants from Sussex and Neighboring Counties in England to Upper Canada, 1832-1837 by Wendy Cameron and Mary McDougall Maude (Wordforce, 1990) names the heads of families emigrating, spouse, number of children, place from which the party emigrated, the initial destination in Upper Canada, and the year of emigration.
Local histories provide a significant source of immigration information for Ontario and other provinces. Because of Canadian's great interest in history, often small towns have lengthy histories containing biographical sketches. In addition, these histories discuss the early settlement of the town or county, which invariably included many immigrants. Some local histories include lists of the early immigrants, including information about their origins.
Ethnic histories are an often overlooked source, in part because of the perspective that early Ontario was all English. Regardless of how true this may have been, there are ethnic groups in addition to the English. The Irish and Scots were well represented during the immigration of the Nineteenth Century, and sources specifically oriented towards such groups can be very helpful. A representative source is Donald Whyte's two volume source, A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada Before Confederation (Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986, 1995).
Land records are more significant in Ontario and other parts of Canada than they are in the United States. The availability of cheap and even free land encouraged thousands of persons to immigrate. The applications (petitions) for land usually indicate when the immigrant arrived. Some mention the foreign residence, or provide other important clues, such as fellow travelers or other family members.
Another under-used source is military records. For most of the nineteenth century, the military needs of Canada were handled by Great Britain including some of the earliest settlements. Therefore, the records of these early settlements may be found in military records. Whenever you find evidence of military involvement, check the available records. You might find a book such as one by Johannes Helmut Merz which is Register of German Military Men Who Remained in Canada after the American Revolution (Hamilton, Ont.: German Canadian Historical Book Pub., 1993).
Loyalist papers, maintained in the provincial and national archives often identify the immigrant's earlier home in the lower colonies. Loyalist research is a major topic for Ontario research, and in other areas of Canada. Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive list of all loyalists who settled in Canada, or in any specific province. However, if you suspect some of the immigrants you are seeking may have been loyalist, start with Gregory Palmer's A Bibliography of Loyalist Source Material in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain (Westport, Conn.: Meckler Publishing, 1982). In this book you will find a listing of the many published sources available.
Another useful record is the Canadian Border Crossings. These records cover persons who crossed from Canada to the United States beginning in 1895. Although relatively late in terms of record keeping, these records do identify the specific place of origin of the immigrant. Many who crossed the border were not native to Canada, but used Canada as a port of entry, and then came into the United States. Canadian citizens immigrating after 1895 will also be in these indexed and easily searched records.
How to Find the Locality in Canada?
But, what about the flip side? What if your ancestor came from Canada, but you don't know where? What's the use of talking about tracking them out of Canada, if you can't find them there in the first place? Remember, if they immigrated to the United States from Canada, they are no different than the immigrants we have discussed throughout these courses. Focus on the appropriate U.S. records, for they are the best sources to learn where those immigrants lived in Canada. Return to the previous lessons in this series for a review of methodologies and U. S. sources to use.
Many of the same forces that affected the population in Ontario did the same in Nova Scotia and other settlements in the eastern provinces of Canada. Their settlement history was similar to Ontario, but with significantly smaller numbers. Therefore, most of our statements about Ontario also pertain to other British areas in Canada. However, French areas are a different case. In most cases, immigrants from those predominately French areas can be traced back to the French immigrants of the 1600s. At that point, compiled records of those families may take you back to France.
While this is a very brief overview of a double immigration involving two different countries before an immigrant arrives in the United States, it provides a basic understanding of the problems involved. While there are many more sources to be covered, and even some indexes for Canada, notably the 1871 Ontario census index, we will discuss these sources in a later set of lessons. If you don't have Canadian ancestors, try to glean an understanding of a double immigration problem for you may find such an ancestor in your own family going from Russia to Germany to the United States; or from France to England to the United States, etc.
This concludes our discussion of sources best suited to the early Nineteenth Century. However, this still leaves the most difficult time period of all, Colonial immigration. The next set of lessons will focus on sources that work best for the first 200 years of American immigration.
1. Review if you have any suggestion of Canadian ancestry. Watch for the birth places of siblings in a family, for example. Were any of them born in Canada?
2. If so, start asking questions about where they lived, and what ethnic group they belonged to. Try to broaden the search by locating all the family members in case some of the children or siblings were born in Canada.
3. From there, investigate the local histories in Canada.