This page provides general instructions on using immigration records to do genealogical research. Individual guides for select sources are also available.
On this page
Before you start
Gather information such as:
- approximate year of birth
- country of birth
- approximate year of arrival
What to do if you don’t know when your ancestor immigrated
Knowing the approximate year of arrival for your ancestor can help when you search databases. If you are not sure when your ancestor arrived, there are other resources you can search for clues.
- Starting in 1901, most census records indicated the year of arrival for immigrants.
- Land records may be helpful because immigrants often applied for land shortly after arrival, such as homesteaders in the prairie provinces.
- The annual city directories can sometimes help. For example, if a person's name first appears in the directory in 1910, it is possible that they arrived in 1909.
- Some provincial death records indicated how many years the deceased person had lived in Canada.
- The National Registration of 1940 asked “If an immigrant, in what year did you enter Canada?”
- Some immigration records and databases are held at provincial archives.
Places to look
There are several kinds of immigration records, and each provides different information.
Records of arrival
The government recorded the names of people arriving by sea and by land.
Passenger lists to 1935
Passenger lists are an official government record of incoming passengers arriving in Canada by ship. These lists were not standardized until the twentieth century. They can contain information such as:
- the name of the ship
- port and date of arrival
- name, age and country of origin
- amount of money carried
There are no comprehensive collections of passenger lists before 1865. Most of our passenger lists date from 1865 to 1935.
Explore these pages and databases:
For the years 1919 to 1924, individual Form 30A records were used to document arrivals by sea.
Border entry records, 1908 to 1935
The federal government started recording information about individuals arriving in Canada through the United States border in 1908. Since then, several different border entry forms have been used. They each collected different kinds of information, such as:
- name and age
- country of birth or citizenship
- port and date of entry
For the years 1908 to 1918 and 1925 to 1935, they used border entry lists.
For the years 1919 to 1924, they used individual Form 30 records to document arrivals by land.
There are no border entry records before 1908.
Immigration records after 1935
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) holds the records of immigrants who arrived from 1936 to the present. Library and Archives Canada does not have copies of those records.
You can submit an application to IRCC by using one of their forms:
You can address questions about those forms to IRCC.
Other records relating to arrivals
You may find references in various federal government records, including these:
Immigration Branch Central Registry Files (RG76): Most of the records relate to administrative, policy and operational matters from 1893 to the mid-1900s. There are only a few files on individual immigrants and for those files, the person’s name usually appears in the title. There are other files relating to groups of immigrants. The word “lists” usually appears in those file titles. Examples include records relating to:
- immigration reception buildings, sometimes called “sheds”, detention buildings and hospitals where immigrants were treated
- medical examinations
- immigrants from specific countries or ethnic and religious groups
- the Empire Settlement Act, such as the 3000 British Families Settlement Scheme
- organizations that helped immigrants come to Canada, such as the Salvation Army and the Overseas Settlement Committee
Department of Agriculture (RG17): That department was responsible for the administration of immigration from 1868 to 1892. Some of the files include names of immigrants. The file titles do not always specify if names are included.
- Some RG17 files relate to home children. You can search those files by name in our Home Children records database.
- Department of the Interior (RG15): There are some records relating to immigration to the western provinces in the period from 1892 to 1916.
To search for these types of government records:
- Go to Collection Search.
- Select Advanced Search.
- In the Database field, select Collections and Fonds.
In Any of these words, enter a keyword. Examples of keywords:
- a person’s name
- immigration, immigrant, emigrant, settler, settlement, refugees
- RG number, such as RG76, RG17 or RG15
- a place or province in Canada or another country
- the name of an organization
- building, hospital, shed, detention, medical examination
Records of departure
The Government of Canada generally did not keep track of people leaving the country. There are no Canadian outgoing passenger lists or border entry records. However, records do exist in some select cases.
There was no central register of deportees until the 1960s. Few deportation case files before that have survived. You can find lists of deportees in some government records. For information on finding those resources, consult our guide on deportation records.
In times of war, the government has identified certain segments of the population as “enemies of the state” or “enemy aliens.” In some instances, such individuals were deported from Canada.
During the Second World War, Japanese Canadians were designated as “enemy aliens.” From 1941 to 1947, Japanese Canadians were offered two options:
- deportation to Japan (referred to at the time as “repatriation”)
- being sent to internment camps outside of British Columbia
10,000 naturalized Canadian citizens of Japanese descent were deported to Japan.
LAC holds this record relating to Japanese deportation:
Repatriation of Japanese (RG76, volume 647, file A66589, parts 1 and 2, starts on microfilm C-10586 and continues on C-10587)
- This file includes lists of naturalized Canadians repatriated to Japan from 1941 to 1947.
To learn more about Japanese Canadian internment and to find more archival records, see our guide on the topic.
Other records relating to departures
If your ancestor left Canada, there may be other sources available:
During the Second World War, women and children wanting to leave the country needed permission to do so. For example, a woman wishing to marry a serviceman in England or a widow or orphan returning to Scotland to live with family. You can find names and details in lists in this file:
- Regulations to control travel of women and children entering or leaving Canada during wartime, 1940-1946 (RG76, volumes 455-456, file 694686, microfilm C-10397 and C-10398)
- The National Archives in England has a collection of inward passenger lists, 1878 to 1960. Many of those lists are for ships departing from Canadian ports. The lists are digitized and indexed on the subscription website Ancestry. It's available free at many libraries including Library and Archives Canada.
- The names of Canadians entering the United States were usually recorded in American government border records, 1895 to 1956. Those lists are often referred to as the St. Alban’s lists. Most of the records are digitized and indexed on Ancestry and the free website FamilySearch.
- If your ancestor moved to Maine, there may be a record of them in the Maine State Archives’ collection of digitized Alien Registrations.
Knowing the historical background about when and where your ancestor arrived can help you understand more about their experiences.
To search for books in our Aurora catalogue, use subject keywords such as “emigration and immigration”, immigrants, history and Canada or a particular province.
Here are a few examples that show the range of books available.
Abbreviations and terminology
This list includes terminology relating to immigration and abbreviations found in immigration records, such as passenger lists and border entry records.
Numbers found on immigration records might refer to a train ticket number, a passport number or an obsolete file number. Initials in margins were usually those of the immigration agent or medical examiner.
List of abbreviations and terms
- Admitted entry as a non-immigrant or as a returned Canadian.
- A person who was not a British subject or a Canadian citizen.
- British Immigration and Colonization Association.
- Boys Training Scheme (1927)
- A cooperative arrangement between the federal and provincial governments to bring older British boys to Canada and train them for farm work for eventual placement with local farmers.
- British Bonus
- A commission paid by the Canadian government's Immigration Branch to steamship booking agents in the United Kingdom for each suitable immigrant who purchased a ticket to sail to Canada. The immigrants themselves did not receive a bonus.
- Church Army.
- C of E (C of ES)
- Church of England.
- Catholic Emigration Association.
- Church Army.
- Canadian Government Employment Agent. These agents received commissions from the government for placing newly arrived immigrants with employers who were seeking labourers or domestics.
- Canadian Jewish War Orphans Committee.
- Catholic Immigrant Aid Society.
- CNR and CPR
- Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway. In addition to transporting immigrants by sea and rail, the CNR and CPR also recruited labourers for farm employment through their own colonization departments.
- Continental Bonus
- A commission paid by the Canadian government's Immigration Branch to steamship booking agents in European countries for each suitable immigrant who purchased a ticket to sail to Canada. The immigrants themselves did not receive a bonus.
- Not permitted to immediately enter the country, usually for medical reasons.
- Young women trained overseas to work as domestic help.
- Empire Settlement Act (ESA)
- Under the ESA the Canadian government offered assisted passage to young men and women, in the form of loans and reduced fares, to encourage the immigration of farm labourers and domestic workers.
- File (Fyle) no.
- A file originally contained within the Immigration Branch's old Central Registry Files series. Unfortunately, the files relating to individual immigrants were not retained.
- Grand Trunk Railway.
- Written beside surnames on some 1925-1935 records. It refers to old guidelines used by the Immigration department when creating nominal indexes.
- Men recruited to assist Canadian farmers with harvesting on the Prairies.
- IMM 1000
- Individual Record of Landing document in use from 1952 to 2003.
- In 1911, an immigrant was defined as a person entering Canada with the intention of acquiring Canadian domicile.
- Landed Immigrant
- A person who has been legally admitted to Canada for permanent residence.
- Motor vessel (type of ship).
- National Association of Boys Clubs.
- Naturalized or applied for naturalization.
- North Atlantic Trading Company (NATC)
- A company contracted to find suitable immigrants, 1899-1910.
- National Children's Home and Orphanage.
- Overseas Settlement Committee (OSC)
- The British government body that dealt with Empire migration dating from 1919.
- P.C. (Privy Council)
- Refers to amendments (Orders in Council) relating to federal government Acts, such as the Immigration Act. For example, PC920 related to the minimum amount of money an individual must have in their immediate possession in order to be allowed admittance into Canada.
- Permanent Resident Card
- Proof of permanent residence status, effective 2004.
- Records of the Immigration Branch records held at Library and Archives Canada (Record Group 76).
- Denied entry by an immigration official to enter Canada.
- Released from detention and allowed to enter Canada.
- Remittance man
- A young British immigrant to Canada, usually a family's second son, who received a remittance or allowance from his family.
- Ret'd Canadian
- A returning Canadian resident.
- Royal Mail Ship. Some passenger ships were authorized to transport mail.
- Salvation Army.
- Sec. SS
- Section and sub-section of the Immigration Act under which an individual’s entry was rejected.
- Smith’s Permit
- Refers to an immigration official named Smith who gave permission for an individual to immigrate to Canada or to remain in Canada. It was likely John Obed Smith, who was the Assistant Superintendent of Emigration from 1908 to 1924. Previous research has been unable to locate any other information about the use of the term “Smith’s Permit/Card”.
- The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
- The least expensive accommodations on a passenger ship.
- 3000 Families Scheme (1925-1928)
- Under the terms of the Empire Settlement Act, the Canadian government made land available to British immigrant farmers, while the British government advanced settlers funds for stock and equipment.
- Transmigrant under Bond
- This phrase was often stamped by British immigration officials on the passports of passengers who disembarked from European vessels and boarded trans-Atlantic ships in British ports. The bond likely refers to the guarantee between the shipping companies and the British government that the transmigrants were not remaining in Great Britain.
- UC of C
- United Church of Canada.
- Volksverein Deutsch-Kanadischer Katholiken/Volksverein Deutsch-Canadischer Katholiken, church-affiliated association that assisted Russian-German immigrants.
Access the records
If you find a record of interest, there may be a digital image. Some of these are available through Collection Search. Others, particularly digitized microforms, are available through Héritage.
For records that are not digitized, you'll need to see them in person. If you can't visit us in person, you can order copies or hire a researcher.