skip to content

Canada (Emigration)

Nature of Source

Records generated from those leaving the UK for the former dominion of Canada. The majority of people who migrated did so either voluntarily or were forced against their will because of religious persecution or for economic reasons. Others were encouraged/assisted to move from their country of origin.

Canada had been colonised by Britain and France from the 16th century, however Britain gained dominance over the territory following the Seven year’s War in 1763. In 1840 the various colonies were united as the United Province of Canada and in 1867 Canada formerly became a self-governing dominion in the British Commonwealth. Canada currently comprises of ten provinces and three territories. The central repository of records is the Library and Archives of Canada (LAC) which incorporates the Canadian Genealogical Centre. Records such as census returns, military records and immigration papers are held centrally at LAC. In addition record offices can be found in the provinces which hold vital records and wills, church records and land records.

Civil registration was arranged by the individual Provinces and Territories and date from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Consequently no national index exists with each province holding their own registers. A listing of Provincial and Territorial Archives and Libraries can be found here. Church records often remain in the custody of the local clergy and some church registers such as in Quebec were used as the basis for civil registration. Some registers have been deposited with LAC and provincial archives and some entries can be found in the International Genealogical Index (now incorporated into the FamilySearch Historical Record Collections). Censuses took place every 10 years starting from 1851 plus two extra censuses in 1906 and 1911 covering territories that became provinces. The 1916 census is the latest that is publicly available. Some earlier censuses exists but only list heads of household. A major benefit of using the 1911 census is that the returns note from where a person emigrated if appropriate. 

Immigration records are a major source for Canada research. Official passenger lists date from 1865 but are only indexed by name from 1925 with the exception of the Quebec City Passenger Lists Index 1865-1900. Therefore is important to know the approximate date and ideally the name of the ship concerned. Passenger lists are kept at LAC until 1935. Archival records of arrivals after this date are kept at Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Remember that before 1947, British people emigrating to Canada were not classified as immigrants as all Canadians were British subjects. Only after 1947 were naturalization documents required for settlement. Those from Ireland between 1922 and 1947 were required to apply for naturalization. Many from the UK emigrated to Canada in the years just before WWI and just after. Some arrived in the US initially before travelling onto Canada.

Registers of civil birth, marriage and death are held by each province and only cover the period after the province joined the post-colonial Confederation. Some provinces have assembled registers from the colonial era. Some privacy restrictions apply to public access to the civic registers, so check each province's rules. Most church registers remain in the custody of the local church.

Land grants record the transfer of land from the government authorities to an individual usually after that person immigrated to Canada. These petitions mainly relate to Eastern Canada and all of Canada during colonial times. In western Canada people applied for homesteads. The records are held at LAC and provincial archives.

See also
Emigration Records (Including Scotland)
Emigration Records (Ireland)
Passenger Lists

Where Found

Library and Archives Canada (Library and Archives Canada combines the holdings of both the former National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada. Their main family history resources include census returns, births, marriages, deaths, immigration papers, military records, land records/petitions)
The National Archives (Holdings include the records of the Board of Trade, Colonial Office, Home Office and Treasury and include passenger lists, 1890-1960, medical journals from emigrant ships, letters from intending emigrants and registers of troops shipped to all parts of the world, census records for New South Wales and Tasmania)
Canadian Genealogy Centre (Census indexes, land records/petitions, atlases, reference books and finding aids)
Provincial and Territorial Archives (Civil Registration [Birth, Death, and Marriage Records]; Criminal Records; Land Records; Wills; Church Records)
Toronto Public Library (The Toronto Public Library has some of the largest local history and genealogy collections in Canada. Find materials at the North York Central Library, the Toronto Reference Library and other branches. Discover online databases and the Digital Archive of pictures, maps, books and other historical materials, such as city directories. Use librarian created Research Guides to get started or to discover new resources)
Society of Genealogists (1881 national census indexes, 1871 Ontario census, MIs, directories and other sources)
Merseyside Maritime Museum (Maritime Archives and Library: Liverpool was one of the main gateways for emigration from the UK to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, USA and Canada during the 19th and 20th centuries. The library hold a number of sources for emigrant research including passenger tickets, correspondence and other ephemera, ship registers, diaries and letters and sailing information. A series of detailed information sheets dealing with emigration are available at the web site)    
Church archives

Period Covered

1600 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Names, adrresses, occupations, dates of birth death and marriage.

Further References

Bennett, Carol. The Lanark Society Settlers: Global Heritage Press, 2012

Buy Now on Amazon

Brown, Kevin. Passage to the World: The Emigrant Experience 1807-1940: Seaforth Publishing, 2013

Buy Now on Amazon

Foy, Karen. Ancestors On The Move: A History of Overseas Travel: The History Press, 2014

Buy Now on Amazon

Foy, Karen. Family History For Beginners: The History Press, 2011

Buy Now on Amazon

Harper, Marjory & Constantine, Stephen. Migration and Empire: Oxford University Press, 2010

Buy Now on Amazon

Irvine, Sherry and Obee, Dave. Finding Your Canadian Ancestors: Ancestry, 2007

Buy Now on Amazon

Kershaw, Roger. Migration Records: A Guide for Family Historians: The National Archives, 2009

Buy Now on Amazon

Kershaw, Roger & Pearsall, Mark. Family History on the Move: Where Your Ancestors Went and Why: The National Archives, 2006

Buy Now on Amazon

MacKay, Donald. Flight from Famine: Coming of the Irish to Canada: Dundurn Press, 2009

Buy Now on Amazon

Punch, Terrence. Erin's Sons: Irish Arrivals in Atlantic Canada 1761-1863: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009

Buy Now on Amazon

Thurston, Anne. Records of the Colonial Office, Dominions Office, Commonwealth Relations Office, and Commonwealth Office: HMSO, 1995

Buy Now on Amazon

TNA Research Guides:
Births, marriages and deaths of British nationals at sea or abroad
Colonies and dependencies
Colonies and dependencies: further research
Empire and Commonwealth records held in the UK and overseas
Maps and plans of lands abroad

Websites (Library and Archives Canada: Genealogy and Family History. Resources include Guides and research topics and links to organisations, libraries and societies involved with genealogy) (Library and Archives Canada: AVITUS-The Directory of Canadian Genealogical Resources. The Directory allows you to access databases, catalogues and Web sites regarding genealogical resources and collections all over Canada) (AMICUS, the Canadian national catalogue for materials held at Library and Archives Canada and over 1300 libraries across Canada)
(Library and Archives Canada: Finding Aid 300: Other census and related documents, 1640 to 1945. Comprehensive guide to early census and related records found at Library and Archives Canada) (FamilySearch Research Wiki: Canada Online Genealogy Records. This Online Collection has links to online databases and indexes that may include birth records, marriage records, death records, biographies, cemeteries, censuses, histories, immigration records, land records, maps, military records, native races, newspapers, obituaries, or probate records)
(Archives of Manitoba: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives: The Archives has housed the Hudson's Bay Company Archives since 1994 and includes the entire historical records of the trading company) (FamilySearch Research Wiki: Finding an Irish Ancestor Using Canadian Records) (Child Migrants Trust: The trust offers counselling and support  for those affected by child migration as well as information, advice and family research to former child migrants and their families) (British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association: British Home Children in Canada: Collection of resources covering every aspect of researching the Home Children sent from the United Kingdom to Canada from the late 1860s up to 1948. See below for details of the British Home Children Registry) (Liverpool Maritime Archives and Library Guide: Emigration to USA and Canada) (Gateway to archival resources found in over 800 repositories across Canada) (Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21) (BC Archives. The BC Archives is the archives of the Government of British Columbia: Reference Guides) (BC Archives. The BC Archives is the archives of the Government of British Columbia: Genealogy Research Guide: Family History Research Resources At The Bc Archives) (British Columbia Archives: Reference Guides. The BC Archives has created a number of guides to assist you in identifying and locating records relevant to your research) (Mary's Genealogy Treasures: Immigration, Naturalization, Passenger Lists and Ships) (Canadian Council of Archives: Directory of Canadian archives, libraries and museums) (Online exhibition on emigration to America and Canada hosted by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and the Belfast Telegraph) (Information leaflets Emigration Series: Emigration To U.S.A.; Emigration To Canada; Emigration To Australia) (Marj's Place: Extensive guide and links for Canadian research)
(Encyclopedia of Genealogy: French-Canadian Name Variations) (Canadian Roots UK- self help website set up to help people in the UK trace their fathers/family in Canada. Also for Canadian fathers trying to trace a child fathered in the UK during WWII) (Immigration Direct: Tracing Family History: Canada Immigration and Citizenship Genealogy Guide) (CanGenealogy: Links and guide to the whereabouts of the main genealogical records)
(Genealogy Today Canadian Corner: Links to Canadian resources and articles on Canadian genealogy topics and news events) (Canadian genealogy, heritage, and history, by Elizabeth Lapointe) (CanadaGenWeb-Gateway to free Canadian genealogy. Links to regional GenWebs and guides and other resources for Canada research) (Historica Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. A free, online resource offers the largest collection of authored, accurate and continually updated articles focused on Canada’s history and culture. For more on genealogy and family history see here) (Natural Resources Canada: Canadian Geographical Names which provides many ways to search for a current or former official place name) (The Atlas of Canada which provides hundreds of online maps about Canada's environment, society, economy and history including maps of the territories and provinces) (Barnardo’s Family History Service. Basic look up search of the Barnado’s archive plus a full archive package if name is found. Records date from the 1870s and can include those who migrated to Australia or Canada) (Online Historical Directories Website: Links to online city directories covering Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom and the United States) (Multicultural Canada: Access to collections relating to the multi-ethnic communities of Canada including newspapers, oral histories, photographs, books and newsletters)
(Bowling Green State University Historical Canadian Newspapers Online: Links to historical Canadian newspapers that are freely available on the Internet)
(Free Online Cemetery & Tombstone Transcriptions & Burial Registers: Links to Canadian cemetery plot plans, tombstone transcriptions and/or photos and burial and death registers)
(Free Obituaries On-Line: Links to obituaries, death or funeral notices mostly from newspapers across the world with a focus on Canada)

Online Databases

Census And Voter Lists (Library and Archives Canada. Census Returns: Online access to census returns covering 1851 to 1921 as well the Northwest Provinces, 1906; the Prairie Provinces, 1916; Lower Canada, 1825 and 1831; Canada East [formerly Lower Canada and now present-day Quebec], 1842; Canada West [formerly Upper Canada and now present-day Ontario], 1842. The site has Digitized microforms and Research aids such as the Electoral Atlas of the Dominion of Canada,1895) (Census of Canada 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1906, 1911, 1916, 1921. Searchable transcribed Canadian census returns together with browsable images of the collection) (Canada Voters Lists, 1935-1980) (Canadian Records. Datasets include: Canada Census 1901; Canada Census 1911; Ontario, Canada Census 1891; Canada Census 1881; Federal Census of 1871; Canada Census 1871; Canada Census 1861; Lower Canada Census 1825 and 1842. It covered the southern portion of the modern-day Province of Quebec, Canada, and the Labrador region of the modern-day Province of Newfoundland and Labrador) (Historical Record Collections including Canada censuses of 1851, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1906, 1911 and 1916 as well as other regional census returns) (Indices to Canadian Censuses: Transcribed census data for selected years with a surname search)
Immigration and Passenger Lists (Library and Archives Canada: Home Children, 1869-1932: Various databases containing records of around 100,000 children sent to Canada from Great Britain during the child emigration movement. The Boards of Guardians database includes names of workhouse children sent from England by Boards of Guardians between 1869 and 1935)
(British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association: The British Home Children Registry: Records of Home Children sent from the United Kingdom to Canada to work as indentured farm workers and domestics from the late 1860s up to 1948) (Library and Archives Canada: Passenger Lists. Datasets include Passenger Lists, 1865-1922; Passenger Lists for the Port of Quebec City, 1865-1900; Passenger Lists and Border Entries, 1925-1935 as well as Digitized Microforms covering various ports) (Library and Archives Canada: Immigrants Before 1865. For the period before 1865, a number of lists have been identified and indexed by name in this database, formerly known as our Miscellaneous Immigration Index. Many of the records relate to immigrants from the British Isles to Quebec and Ontario) (Library and Archives Canada: Naturalization Records, 1915-1951. Produced by the Jewish Genealogical Societies of Montreal and Ottawa from annual reports of the Secretary of State and in the Canada Gazette) (The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa. Home Children. BIFHSGO's role in Canada's Home Children story is to establish databases of information about Home Children who came to Canada and to ensure that the information compiled is freely available to all who are interested. Datasets include: Home Children Deaths; Barnardo's Ups and Downs Magazine: Fegan Homes Index; Middlemore Home Children) (Canada Passenger Lists, 1881-1922. Index and images of ships' passenger lists. The lists for United States ports include only those names of passengers with intentions of proceeding directly to Canada) (Canada Immigration & Travel: Full listing of available passenger lists, immigrant records and lists of emigrants to Canada. Highlights include: Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935. The collection consists of indexed passenger lists of ships arriving in various Canadian ports as well as some eastern U.S. ports from all parts of the world; U.S. Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1956. This database contains an index of aliens and citizens crossing into the U.S. from Canada via various ports of entry along the U.S.-Canadian border; U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s. This dataset contains listings of individuals who arrived in United States and Canadian ports from the 1500s through the 1900s. It was compiled from various passenger lists by P. William Filby and published by Gale Research) (Travel & Migration Records: Datasets include Outbound Passenger Lists,1890-1960. The dataset includes passenger lists in extracted from TNA series BT 27 and includes long-haul voyages to destinations outside Britain, Europe and the Mediterranean. Countries that feature strongly include Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA. Irish ports before partition in 1921 and all Northern Irish ports after partition are covered. The lists also include those travelling onwards from British ports) (United States, Canadian Border Crossings, 1895-1954. The collection is made up of four collections from the National Archives and Records Administration including both indexes and passenger manifests of entries from Canada into the United States through St Albans, Vermont, between 1895 and 1954) (United States, Transatlantic Migration. Records of migrating ancestors to Canada and the United States from England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany and France. The data is extracted from a number of publications and covers the 1500s to the early 1900s) (The website will help you find your ancestors on ships' passenger lists. We also have immigration reports, newspaper records, shipwreck information, ship pictures, ship descriptions, shipping-line fleet lists and more; as well as hundreds of passenger lists to Canada, USA, Australia and even some for South Africa)
Newspapers (Digitised issues of the Toronto Star from 1894 to 2010 in PDF format) (Canada Gazette, 1841-1997: Online access to all issues of the official newspaper of the Government of Canada, searchable by keyword. For editions from 1998 see the Canada Gazette website) (Digitised newspaper archive search from the U.S. and Canada for the period 1880 to about 2005. To refine a search, from the search results page that appears, go to Search tools below the search box) (Digitised access to Western Canada's leading newspaper, the British Colonist covering 1858 - 1910)
(US & World newspaper Collection. Online access to global historical newspapers from Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Jamaica, and South Africa)
Birth, Marriage and Death (Canadian Headstone Photo Project: Browse over 1.5 million gravestone photo records from across Canada) (Canadian Resources: Datasets include civil birth, marriage, death registers and parish records. Coverage includes Ontario Birth Index, 1860-1920; New Brunswick Birth and Baptism Index, 1769-1899; British Columbia, Baptism Index, 1772-1888) (Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics: Online access to the Nova Scotia civil births, marriages and deaths registers covering 1763-1958. Also available at (BC Archives. The BC Archives is the archives of the Government of British Columbia: Searchable online index of British Columbia births, 1854-1903, marriages 1872-1941, deaths 1872-1996, colonial marriages 1859-1872 and baptisms 1836-1888) (Library and Archives Canada. Ancestors Search. Access to 6,976 references to births, marriages and deaths recorded in church records and other documents. Also access to 12,732 references to the transcripts of the acts of divorce from 1841 to 1968; Names appearing on lists of marriages licences issued in Upper Canada; Marriage Bonds, 1779-1858 in Upper & Lower Canada) (Ottawa, Canada, Beechwood Cemetery Registers, 1873-1990) (BillionGraves: Family history database for records and images from the world's cemeteries. Members of the public can collect photos of headstones in a local cemetery with iOS, Android and Windows mobile apps and then upload the photo and headstone transcription. BillionGraves records are also available to search at FamilySearch)
(PRDH, Research Programme in Historical Demography: Records of Quebec parish baptisms, marriages, and burials from 1621 to 1799 (The Drouin Collection: The collection includes 17 million baptism, marriage and burial records and also a compilation of church records from all denominations in Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and various New England states) (FamilySearch Community Trees: Pedigrees and family names extracted from a variety of sources including, baptisms, marriages with some death/burial registers from the Antigonish Catholic Diocese 1823-1905)
Land and Property Records (US & Canadian Resources. Indexed and searchable, using optical character recognition, collection of historical publications for the U.S. and Canada. Resources include Land Settlement Records and Surveys) (Canada, South African War Land Grants, 1908-1910) (Library and Archives Canada. Databases include: Land Grants of Western Canada, 1870-1930; Land Petitions of Lower Canada, 1764-1841; Land Petitions of Upper Canada, 1763-1865; Gaspé Land Commission. List of names of claimants, 1819-1825; Land Boards of Upper Canada, 1765-1804. The site also has digitized microforms giving access to land records) (Nova Scotia Archives: Nova Scotia Land Papers 1765-1800; Cape Breton Island Petitions 1787-1843; The Crown Lands Index Sheets, a series of maps showing the approximate location of all land grants in Nova Scotia) (Provincial Archives of New Brunswick: Index to New Brunswick Land Grants, 1784 - 1997) (Government of British Columbia: British Columbia Crown Grant Search. This is a free search tool for users interested in searching for a Crown Grant by the Name of the grant holder or Grant Date) (Alberta Genealogical Society: Index to Alberta and Saskatchewan Homestead Records, 1870-1930) (Government of Ontario: Ontario Land Records Index on Microfiche, 1780-1920. The index provides access to Crown Land records and some land-related material found in the Canada Company and Peter Robinson fonds; Second Heir and Devisee Commission Case Files Database. This database is an index to the 5184 case files that document claims made to the second Heir and Devisee Commission)
Military Records (Library and Archives Canada: Military Heritage. The collection consists of records of the Canadian men and women who served in the military and in the early years of the North West Mounted Police. There are records relating to Loyalists, the War of 1812, the Rebellions, the South African War, the First World War and the Second World War. The records include muster rolls, military service files, unit war diaries, medal registers, photographic collections, documentary art and posters, as well as published sources)
(Library and Archives Canada: Personnel Records of the First World War) (Library and Archives Canada: Personnel Records of the First World War. This database combines references to various First World War personnel records including the files of Canadian Expeditionary Force members which include those of soldiers, nurses and chaplains) (Canadian Great War Project. The site promotes interest in Canada's participation in World War I and strives to identify every Canadian man and woman who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force [CEF]. The site has a General Soldier Search which includes scanned and indexed soldier attestation forms, a Soldier Search by Regimental Number or Name as well as searchable rolls of honour, awards lists war diaries, letters and newspaper extracts) (Military Service & Conflict: The resources in this section commemorate Canada's involvement in some of the major military conflicts of the past two centuries) (Canada Military: Datasets include: Canada, Canadian Expeditionary Force Burial Registers, First World War, 1914-1919; Commonwealth War Graves Registers, 1914-1919; Canada, Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-1918 containing an index to the Attestation papers of men enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force of the First World War)
Directories (Genealogy à la carte: Links to Canadian city directories) (Canadian Directories Collection. Canadian Directories is a database of scanned, microfiche versions of pre-1901 Canadian directories including a comprehensive collection of directories for Ottawa and Halifax) (Vancouver Public Library: British Columbia City Directories 1860-1955. The directories contain detailed historical information about British Columbian communities, including street and name listings of individuals and businesses in Vancouver and Victoria) (Alberta Genealogical Society digital pdf copies of Alberta Telephone Directories) (Toronto Branch, Ontario Genealogical Society: City Directories. Digitised and pdf copies of directories from 1833 to 1922)
Other (Canadian Records: Collection of historical records for all 10 of Canada's provinces. The records offer a bevy of personal stories with newspapers, location-based details with land surveys and even complete pedigrees researched by family historians. Categories include: Birth, Marriage & Death; Census, Land & Substitutes; Churches & Religion; Directories & Social History; Education & Work; Institutes & Organizations; Military Service & Conflict) (Canada: Welcome to our Canada family history research page. Here you'll find record collections, history, and genealogy resources to help you trace your Canada ancestors. Categories include: Census & Electoral Rolls; Birth, Marriage & Death, including Parish; Military; Immigration & Travel; Newspapers & Periodicals; Schools, Directories & Church Histories; Wills, Probates, Land, Tax & Criminal) (British Columbia Estate Files Browse 1859-1949. The records contain probate estate files pertaining to the judicial districts of British Columbia. Included in this collection is a probate index for the district of Vancouver)
( The organisation provides online access to content and collections from libraries, archives and universities from across Canada. Resources include: the Serials Collection of newspapers and journals; Government Publications such as lists of voters, government acts, committee reports and debates; The Heritage project digitised material from Library and Archives Canada including immigration records, church records, land records, family histories and papers, census returns and voters’ lists) (CanadaGenWeb: Online access to vital records, cemetery records, church records, census records, ship passenger lists, military records, court records, land records, wills, obituaries, directories, local histories and many others) (Toronto Public Library Digital Archive: The Digital Archive includes rare historical pictures, maps, manuscripts, ephemera and digitized books from our Special Collections for research, study and discovery) (Linking Projects: Links individual names to multiple databases where the name being searched appears) (Hudson's Bay Company Archives: Biographical sheets created by Hudson's Bay Company Archives staff to provide employment information on individuals who were employed by the Hudson's Bay Company and/or the North West Company) (Library and Archives Canada Microform Digitization: Project to digitize items copied to microfiche and microfilm and make available over the Internet. Items include Border Entry Records, 1919-1924, Ocean Arrivals, 1919-1924 and School Files Series, 1879-1953. If you click the Help link next to each of the collections, an index is provided) (The Drouin Institute: Quebec Records: Online access to a number of resources including indexed Quebec birth, marriage and death records, parish registers of baptism, marriage and burial, obituaries, family genealogies, Quebec and Ontario census returns) (FamilySearch Community Trees: Canada, various databases of names covering a number of communities) (Digitised and searchable collection of local books and histories) (Genealogy Today Canadian Corner: Various databases including Ontario City Directories, Census Extracts and Cemetery Transcriptions as well as the 1887 and 1898 Civil Service List of Canada) (Nova Scotia Archives: Historical Maps of Nova Scotia) (The National Archives UK Collections: Colonial Office Photographic Collection from the CO 1069 collection: Canada)

CD Roms

Research Programme in Historical Demography (A Genealogical Dictionary of Old Quebec: Dictionary based on the data from vital event registration of the 1621-1765 period found in the catholic parish registers)