Immigration Documents

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Expert Question:    I am unsure what documents would contain information about the immigration of my relatives to Canada and the United States. Did they have any papers to leave the country they were emigrating from?  Do you know?

Expert Answer:  It all depends upon the country.  Some places, like Hamburg, Germany, had emigration lists.  These were just like passenger lists, however, they were created before leaving the port of departure.  In most countries, there were passenger lists made either during the voyage or once they landed at the port of arrival.

While many ports in the United States have been indexed, many are still un-indexed and require you to know the date and ship of arrival. Canada has not indexed any (or very few) ship passenger lists.  In order to determine when they arrived, here are a few suggestions for you specifically for the United States. Canada and other countries will have like documents, however, not exactly the same years..

  • Depending upon the time period, the best starting point may be a naturalization.  Naturalizations after 1906 were handled at the Federal level and usually contain the date (or estimation), port and possibly the ship that they arrived on. 
  • Many census records provide the date of immigration.  If they were here in 1930 or 1920, start by searching the 1920 Census or 1930 Census for those records and see what year is referenced.  You can access them at
  • City Directory - If you cannot find the naturalization or census, you may have to go year-by-year through the city directory.  Start with the most current year you can find him and work backwards.

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