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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - June/July 2005
Tracing Ancestors Who Entered the United States Through Canada

Many European, English, and Irish immigrants traveled to Canada prior to their arrival in the United States.  Some went to great lengths to hide this fact from family members born after their arrival.  Their decision to enter through Canada was due to a variety of factors.

During some time periods, 1891 for example, restrictions were placed on the number of immigrants who could arrive from another country.  For the English and Irish, there were few formal restrictions on travel to Canada since it was part of the British Empire.  In modern terms, it was the same difference between a person flying from Florida to New York versus flying from Florida to a foreign country.

The fares at any given time also prompted many immigrants to purchase a less expensive passage and then travel overland to their final destination in the United States.  Many Canadian steamship and railway companies offered lower fares than those for passage directly to New York or Boston, thereby increasing the number of arrivals into Canada of those immigrants who would eventually settle in the United States.  Depending on the source, estimates say that between 40-60% of all passengers to Canada were intent on eventual settlement in the United States using whatever means were necessary.

If an immigrant felt that he would face exclusion upon arrival in the United States due to illness, mental health, improper documentation, or other factors, Canada was the perfect first alternative since they had fewer rules and regulations concerning immigration.  Canada was more interested in attracting settlers.  This attraction to Canada was especially true when an entire family emigrated from home together and any family members had serious health problems.  If the family arrived at a port of entry in the United States such as Ellis Island, some family members would have been detained and sent back while others would have been admitted.  This was an unacceptable situation for many immigrants. Hence the decision to travel to Canada where restrictions were not as stringent.

The records of entry into the United States from Canada from 1895-1952 are known as the Canadian Border Entries through the St. Albans, Vermont District.  The title can be misleading because these records included crossings from Vermont westward to Washington state.  From 1895-1924 the entire border between the United States and Canada was included.  In 1924 the border was divided into the Canadian Pacific and Atlantic ports with the records maintaining the St. Albans District title, as that was the official record locations for these entries.

There are no official records for immigrants who entered the United States from Canada prior to 1895.  There was no official policy to monitor the border areas.  This was another reason why Canada was a very popular alternative for those immigrants who chose to avoid coming directly into United States ports of entry.

Bryan L. Mulcahy
Reference Librarian
Fort Myers-Lee County Library
2050 Central Avenue
Fort Myers, FL  33901-3917
Tel: (239)- 479-4651
Fax: (239)- 479-4634

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