Immigration before 1865 at Library and Archives Canada Part 1

It wasn’t until 1865 that Canada started routinely retaining passenger lists. Because of this, pre 1865 immigration records are difficult to find. The exceptions are if your ancestor came from a large immigration scheme, such as the Foreign Protestants. Even then, most of what is out there is piecing together fragments. And if your ancestor was travelling from another part of the British Empire, the records are even more scarce, as there was no requirements for naturalization or citizenship.

Since the records are scarce, you’ll find them in odd places. I’ve managed to stumble on a hodge podge database on Library and Archives Canada. The database, Immigrants Before 1865, collected names of settlers from several databases. There are two downsides to the the collection, as great as it is. First of all, not all the records are digitized. Secondly, it is not a complete index, even though there are 28,000 names in it. So just because your ancestor is not named doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t in these records. So for the next few blog posts, I’d thought I’d highlight the digitized ones. This week I’ll look at how to navigate the main collection on LAC.

So what you’re going to do is right click on the Search:Database and open that in a new window. You want to keep the main page open, because you’ll want to refer to the list of records to see whether your ancestor’s entry is in a digitized record set. To see the list of records, just click on the drop down arrow, and it is will reveal just over 30 record sets.

When you open up the search screen, you can search by

  • Surname
  • Given name(s)
  • Year of Immigration
  • Keyword

I chose the Immigration year 1850, and got 25 results

Just click on the highlighted item number, to go to the individual record. This is the details for Mary Artell

So, the numbers we want to take notes of in Mary’s record are:

  • Reference RG19
  • Volume 2532
  • Page 701

Now we go back to the main page and Mary’s entry is in the last record set listed. This collection is digitized as sets of PDF pages. This collection is a series of requests for payment by teamsters and boat captains to emigrant agents. Those not able to pay for their own passage would be taken by these men to their destination, and paid by emigrant societies. Mary’s entry is on page 701

Record sets that are digitized have either a hyperlink (highlighted text) to the digitized images, or the ability to download PDFs. So what if your ancestor’s entry is not in a digitized set? You have two options then:

  1. You can visit the LAC and see the records onsite. The upside is that pre-ordering is not required. Keep in mind that COVID restrictions are in place. Also, if you plan on visiting the Halifax, Winnipeg, or Vancouver locations, they might not have the record set onsite. It’s best to contact them first.
  2. You can order a copy of the record. According to the LAC website, they are accepting orders again. However, they warn that processing times are longer than normal. Pre COVID, it could be a long wait. Patience will be needed if you go this route. Details on how to order copies can be found here.

Next post, I’m going to look more in depth at some of the digitized records. They are such fascinating records sets on their own I feel they deserve their own posts.

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