Ancestors in Service: Porters and Domestics Records through the LAC

My apologies for the absence of late. It\’s an awful thing when the daily demands of your non genealogy life gets in the way of doing what you love. I\’ve been on holidays this week, and I\’ve made it a genealogy stay-cation. Though I haven\’t broken through any brick walls in my personal family research, I\’ve been able to catch up on some of my side projects.

As part of one of my side projects, I came across an interesting database on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website. If your immigrant ancestors went into \”service\” as a porter or domestic, then you\’ll want to look at LAC\’s database Immigrants to Canada, Porters and Domestics, 1899-1949.

During the 1800\’s and the first half of the 1900\’s, there was a great demand for domestic help in Canada. The demand was so great that an immigration policy was enacted to bring young single women (and some men) over to Canada to settle and work. The LAC has put together a database of the thousands that came over, using several different record sets to build it. Most of the women are from the UK, but there are some from other countries as well. If your ancestor was a black man who worked as a porter, he my be in here as well. A complete description of the database can be seen in the link above.

The Search Screen allows you to search by surname, given name and/or by keyword.

I decided to use MURPHY in the surname box. It\’s a surname from my own tree, and not as common as my usual go-to UK surname MCDONALD. This database starts after where my Mildred MURPHY enters my family tree, so I know I won\’t find her.

My result was 12 MURPHYs.

I clicked on the number beside the first entry, Mary MURPHY, age 28. This is the information that came up:

    So, according to this, Mary departed the UK 28 Jan 1910, and arrived in Canada 4 Feb 1910 on the Empress of Britain. She came through Mrs. Helen Sanford\’s Girls Home of Welcome. Her final destination was Winnipeg, where Mrs. Sanford\’s receiving home was located. Now, what we want to especially take note of is the File number (22787 part 3) and Volume (119), where we will find Mary\’s Emigrant\’s Application for Ticket. The digitized file is NOT on the LAC, but don\’t groan just yet. You\’ll notice that the microfilm number at the bottom is underlined and highlighted. If you press and hold the Ctrl key and click on that microfilm number, it will open a new window on the Heritage site. This site has many digitized microfilms from the LAC.

What you\’ll see in this new window is a listing of the Headquarters Central Registry Files. Go through the list to find your microfilm number. There are listed numerically, so it won\’t take long to find the one you need. I found the one for Mary (C-4782) on page 13.

Those who\’ve used Heritage before know that the downside to this site is that the microfilms are not indexed. This means you\’re going to have to go \”old school\” and go through page by page. This particular microfilm has 1469 images. This is where that file number 22787, part 3 comes into play.

I clicked through the first few images to see how the microfilm is set up. This particular microfilm starts with File 22787 part 3 Volume 18. So I know Mary is probably going to be pretty far into the microfilm, as she is in Volume 19. This may seem like a monumental task to find where Volume 19 starts, but look at the image below:

Where I\’ve put the red arrow has the File and Volume written sideways. I jumped forward and back through the images until I found the start of Volume 19. But then confusion struck, because Volume 119 belongs to File 22787 part 4, and deals with domestics who came in 1911. So I went back to the beginning of the roll. The first images deal with women who sailed in June of 1910. Mary\’s entry said she departed 28 January 1910. So obviously there\’s been an indexing error. Since this roll starts with departures in June 1910 and carries until at least 1911, we can reason that the files are in sequential order of sailing date.

I then went back to the main list of microfilm numbers on the Heritage page and selected the roll before this one: C-4781. This time I started at the last image and worked my way backwards. The last emigration tickets on this roll also stated departure was in June 1910. I kept jumping backwards until I finally found Mary in image 1676.

Now I know this is the Mary I\’m looking for because she\’s 28. Of the other two Mary\’s on the list, one is 22. The other Mary doesn\’t show an age, but when I click on her information, it says she sailed in 1924. As well, our Mary\’s ship name and sailing date match. So what do we know from her application?

  • She lived at 16 Riddrie Terrace, Riddrie, Glasgow
  • She has worked as a domestic servant for 12 years in the Lanarkshire area\\
  • The last year she worked as a general servant
  • She is a British subject by birth
  • Her final destination is Manitoba, and she intends to work as a domestic servant
  • She is not travelling with any family members, and traveled in steerage
  • The application was received by Immigration 9 Feb 1910
  • She applied 18 Nov 1909
  • She signed with a different surname, it was crossed out, and she signed Mary Murphy above it
Now let\’s look at further research options for Mary:
  • She came before the 1911 and 1916 censuses in Canada. 
  • She came after the 1901 Scotland census. We know she worked in the Lanarkshire area for 12 years, so we should be able to find her as a domestic in 1901.
  • What about that crossed out surname? 
Now, as you can see with my example above, don\’t totally trust the index. Mary was actually located on Roll C-4781, in File 22787 Part 2, Volume 118. If you\’ve been researching awhile, you know that human error is inevitable with indexes. So if you can\’t find your ancestor where they say it\’s located in the index, look at the sets before and after it. But look at what we found when we did find her. We know where her last address was, and have an area in Scotland to research. We know what her occupation for the previous decade has been. We also have an area to fan out from for researching forward after 1910 in Canada. We can also do some research on the Agency that brought her, to find out more about her life. Not bad for a single page application.

2 thoughts on “Ancestors in Service: Porters and Domestics Records through the LAC

  1. Once again Candice, you've found a really cool set of resources! Well done! PS – don't worry about not posting regularly! Your wellbeing is first and foremost.


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