19 January 2010

Consider Canadian Records If You Cannot Find Port In USA

Canadian records seem to be the "buzz" on genealogical mailing lists and publications this month, especially the Irish ones. The Irish Genealogical Society International devoted its January 2010 issue of The Septs to "Canadian Records." http://www.irishgenealogical.org/ Researchers in the US and Canada have been flocking to the databases of the Canadian archives, particularly the online journals and diaries of Irish immigrants: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/immigrants/021017-110.05-e.php?PHPSESSID=koeoqsdmaqhktf0hiepmuvukf2 But many US researchers ask me why they should bother looking for traces of their ancestors in Canadian records, when their family settled in New York or Boston. Surely, their ancestors arrived at those port cities?
Not necessarily so! Emigrants most often took the cheapest, not the most convenient, route and ship to America--especially if they were part of an assisted emigration from an estate in the 1840's. Take a look at a globe or a quality map and trace the sea routes--see the convenient northern route from Ireland and England  across the ocean and down the St. Lawrence River? Those who disembarked did not always "go west, young man, go west." I have seen many trails of Irish immigrants starting from the Great Lakes ports leading EAST not west, eventually ending in East Coast cities. If you are hitting a brick wall tracing your Irish ancestors' steps to the USA, you want to take a look at Canadian records. Never leave a stone unturned!
But now the bad news--Canadian ship lists are at best scarce and at worst non-existent prior to 1865. But there are ways to compensate. One is to look at US and Canadian records for border locations and port cities. Another is to keep current with the ever increasing database of emigrant records being released by the Canadian government and archives. Of particular value are emigrant records being put online by the Canadian Archives: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/immigrants-canada
The story of Irish emigration to Canada itself is a fascinating subject that I will treat in greater depth in a future blog post.