Genealogists are often looking for our immigrant ancestor's arrival in North America. Finding an ancestor on a ship's passenger list depends on the country of departure and the country of arrival. Most countries did not keep outbound lists so genealogists must find out what lists survived in the arrival country and where they are held.
In 1803, the British Parliament enacted legislation to regulate vessels carrying emigrants to North America. The master of vessel was required to prepare a list of passengers and to deposit it at the port of departure.
Ships passenger lists arriving in the United States were kept from 1820 on. Canadian passenger lists are another story. There are no comprehensive ships passenger lists of immigrants arriving in Canada prior to 1865. Until that year, the government did not require that shipping companies keep their passenger manifests.
If your ancestor arrived in Canada after 1865 you are in luck. Library and Archives Canada has Canadian ships passenger lists from 1865 to 1935 online. The lists contain information on each passenger such as name, age, country of origin, occupation and intended destination. Formats differ by years and unfortunately there is little consistency.
Researchers can search Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Passenger Lists, 1865-1922 by ship name or year of arrival. These lists are not indexed by individuals on Library and Archives Canada except for arrivals in Quebec. Available years vary by Arrival ports.
- Québec (May 1st, 1865 to April 24th, 1900) - searchable by passenger name
- Halifax, Nova Scotia (January 1881 to October 2, 1922)
- Saint John, New Brunswick (January 4, 1900 to September 30, 1922)
- North Sydney, Nova Scotia (November 22, 1906 to August 31, 1922)
- Vancouver, British Columbia (January 4, 1905 to September 28, 1922)
- Victoria, British Columbia (April 18, 1905 to September 30, 1922)
- via New York (1906-1931) and other eastern United States ports (1905-1928) - these are lists of passengers stating they were going on to Canada. In 1905 the Canadian immigration service began to collect extracts of passenger lists kept at the east coast ports of New York, Baltimore, Boston, Portland, Philadelphia and Providence
FamilySearch has Canadian Passenger Lists 1881-1922 Genealogists can search the index by surname. Images of ship's passenger lists are also available for the ports of Quebec City, 1900-1921; Halifax, 1881-1922; Saint John, 1900-1912; North Sydney, 1906-1912; Vancouver, 1905-1912; Victoria, 1905-1912; New York, 1906-1912; and Eastern US Ports, 1905-1912. The lists for United States ports include only those names of passengers with intentions of proceeding directly to Canada.
You can also search the Passenger Lists and Border Entries, 1925-1935 database on Library and Archives Canada. This is a series of old nominal indexes for the period 1925 to 1935. They provide the volumes and page numbers on which the names of Canadian immigrants appear in the passenger lists. The indexes generally do not include the names of returning Canadians, tourists, visitors and immigrants en route to the United States. To locate those references, researchers must consult the original passenger lists.
From 1919–1924 individual manifest forms (Form 30) were often used instead of passenger lists as the official immigration record. Form 30 records consist of 96 digitized films which are available for browsing on Collections Canada.
Library and Archives Canada also holds the passenger lists for Home Children, 1869-1930. Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 young people were sent to Canada from Great Britain during the child emigration movement. After arriving by ship, the children were sent to distributing homes, and then went on to farmers in the area. Although many of the children were poorly treated and abused, others experienced a much better life than what awaited them in England.
If you are searching for an arrival from January 1, 1936 onwards, these records of immigrants arriving at Canadian land and seaports are in the custody of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. They must be requested from that agency by a Canadian citizen or an individual residing in Canada.
For a fee of $5.00 (cheque or money order payable to the Receiver General for Canada) researchers can submit a request to:
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Access to Information and Privacy Division
Ottawa, ON K1A 1L1
The submitter must indicate that the record is being requested under Access to Information and a signed consent from the person concerned or proof that he or she has been deceased for 20 years. If the person would be more than 110 years old, no proof of death is required.
If you do not know when your ancestor arrived in Canada, there are other records you can search for clues:
- The 1901, 1906, 1911, 1916 and 1921 Canadian Census indicate year of arrival for immigrants.
- Land Records are helpful because immigrants often applied for land shortly after arrival.
- Death Records sometimes indicate how many years the deceased had resided in Canada.
- Statistic Canada's National Registration of 1940 asked year of arrival. This was the compulsory registration of all persons, 16 years of age or older, between 1940 and 1946
Other free resources for miscellaneous ships' passenger lists arriving in Canada after 1865 are:
Ships' Passenger Lists 1865 to present at Olive Tree Genealogy
Ships' Passenger Lists from 1865 on The Ships List
Lorine McGinnis Schulze is a Canadian genealogist who has been involved with genealogy and history for more than thirty years. In 1996 Lorine created the Olive Tree Genealogy website and its companion blog. Lorine is the author of many published genealogical and historical articles and books.