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© 2002-07 AFHS
18 Jul 2002

 

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Border Crossings (US/Canada)

 

1 March 1999
by Claire Neville, Staff Member 
Calgary Family History Center (FHC)

Introduction - Two Collections - Canadian Records USA Records - Bibliography

Introduction

I am pleased to share with you what I've learned on this topic. First, I'd like to acknowledge Mr. Kenneth Aitkin who was a guest speaker at the Wildrose Seminar in October 1997. I learned a lot from him by attending his session. He has extensive background information and historical understanding of the migration and settlement patterns into western Canada. The Seminar pamphlet said Mr. Aitken was the Director of the Family History Center (FHC) in Regina. He is also the Prairie History Librarian with the Regina Public Library, is a certified genealogical researcher and instructor, and lectures and writes on such matters. If he is invited to come again ... I'll be there! Now, too, a big thanks to Roy Strickland, also a staff member at our Family History Center who found the records on our computers from the LDS Family History Library Catalogue (FHLC, i.e., Salt Lake's holdings).

The computer organization of records available through the FHLC was a real stumbling block for me when I first began to investigate border crossings. The Lethbridge staff didn't know how to access the records from Salt Lake City on the computer -- after all, they have a huge collection of border crossing films (400). Nor could anyone on my shift at the FHC in Calgary do it. We tried.

Roy spent considerable time at the FHC trying to bring the records up and he finally succeeded. These border crossing resources may open another area of research to you that you might not have considered or used yet.

Two Collections

There are two collections, of course, from Canadian and American ledgers. Both sets of records are primarily taken at land ports (Coutts, Windsor, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Cornwall, Emerson, Sweetgrass, Sarnia, Kingston and some from parts that are now "extinct", e.g. Pinhorn, Alberta and Twin Lakes, Alberta. There are some sea port records as well (Nanaimo, Victoria, Yarmouth, and Ocean Falls). It's probably a good guess that these records are not listings of passengers on overseas voyages.

The Public Archives of Canada and the United States Department of Immigration and Naturalization have microfilmed records of these crossings. For United States into Canada movement, the years covered are only from 1908-18. The originals are held in Ottawa at the National Archives and what you see on the film are "originals". I'll discuss these records in more detail shortly. For movement from Canada into the United States, records were kept from 1895-1954. I'll discuss these records more fully too.

Canadian Records

Finding Aids

The Canadian records which hold both admissions and rejections are available on microfilm and are at the Main Calgary Public Library downtown on the 4th floor. There is a binder there (i.e., a finding aid) and it is easy to use. It has the ports of entry listed and some maps.


 
Border Ports of Entry - geographical order

There are 46 reels. Remember the crossings into Canada were recorded only between 1908-1918. The starting years aren't constant, however, as you'll see. In this finding aid, the ports are first listed geographically from West to East. The first of 12 pages are reproduced here.


 
Border Ports of Entry - alphabeticalThen the ports of entry are listed alphabetically and that's how the reels are organized.


 
Please notice the years when the records were begun is not constant. The finding aid also points out glitches: *, **, or *** may point out that the lists were filmed out of order or in reverse order. And, Sidney, British Columbia appears on one film for one month in 1917 with Sydney, Nova Scotia. Lots of fun looking - but it's "free".

Coverage

If your ancestors came into Canada from the United States prior to 1908, as mine did, you are out of luck. No records exist. As Ken Aitken said, "Not even any little bits" My maternal great grandparents arrived in the Waterton (Alberta) area by horse and wagon from Idaho in 1902. My grandfather, the youngest of their children, was seven. My paternal grandparents arrived in 1904. Did they come up from North Dakota as many Scandinavian families did to settle the Claresholm/Stavely area? No record exists.

It is estimated that over 1.25 million people crossed into Canada to the Prairie Provinces alone; the peak years being from 1896-1910 (Source: Ken Aitken). But, It wasn't until 1908 that the Canadian government thought to obtain immigration statistics and set up its ledgers.

Alternative Sources of Information

Now if you have immigrant ancestors who came up from the United States ...

  • Have you checked the local histories?
  • Have you checked homestead records?
  • 1901 Canadian census?
  • Can you determine a possible United States point of origin?
  • Travel was likely by railroad ... what might the crossing point have been?

Define your Geography

In this timeframe, there were three Alberta ports of entry:

  • Twin Lakes - South of Cardston (located on a small part of one film)
  • Coutts - a railway terminal (located on three films/reels)
  • Pinhorn - East of Coutts, near Aden today (located on one film with records from 12 other ports).

See also (West to East):

  • Yukon: Forty Mile Creek, Dawson City
  • British Columbia: White Pass, Stewart, Anyox, Port Simpson, Prince Rupert, Ocean Falls, Powell River, Union Bay, Nanaimo, Ladysmith, Bamfield, Victoria, Steveston, Ladner, White Rock, Douglas (near White Rock), Pacific Highway (near White Rock), Aldergrove, Peardonville (near Huntingdon), Huntingdon, Mission, Upper Sumas, Chilliwack, Keremeos, Similkameen, Penticton, Osoyoos, Bridesville, Myncaster, Midway, Carson, Grand Forks, Cascade, Rossland, Paterson, Waneta, Rykerts, Kingsgate, Gateway, Newgate, Philips/Roosville
  • Saskatchewan: Willow Creek, West Popular River, Wood Mountain, East Popular River, Big Muddy, Radville, Marienthal, North Portal, Northgate
  • Manitoba: Bannerman, Snowflake, Killarney, Mowbray, Morden, Haskett, Gretna, Emerson, Sprague
  • Ontario: Rainy River, Fort Frances, Pigeon River, Fort William, Port Arthur, Sault Ste. Marie, Bruce Mines, Thessalon, Blind River, Cutler, Gore Bay, Little Current, Depot Harbour, Parry Sound, Collingwood, Goderich, Point Edward, Sarnia, Courtright, Sombra, Port Lambton, Walpole Island, Wallaceburg, Walkerville, Windsor/Walkerville, Ojibwa, Amherstburg, Port Stanley, Port Burwell, Port Dover, Port Colborne, Windmill Point, Crystal Beach, Fort Erie/Erie Beach, Bridgeburg, Niagara Falls, Port Dalhousie, Toronto, Port Hope, Cobourg, Brighton, Trenton, Belleville, Picton, Deseronto, Bath, Kingston, Wolfe Island, Gananoque, Rockport, Brockville, Prescott, Iroquois, Morrisburg, Aultsville, Cornwall
  • Quebec: St. Regis, Dundee, Huntingdon/St. Agnes, Athelstan, Hemmingford, St. Johns, Lacolle Junction, Noyan Junction, St. Armand, Frelighsburg, Highwater, Mansonville, Magog, Georgeville, Beebe Junction, Stanstead Junction, Stanhope, Coaticook, Hereford, Comins Mills, Paquetteville, Megantic/Lake Megantic, Armstrong
  • New Brunswick: Connors, Clair, St. Hillier, Edmondson, Green River, St. Leonard, Grand Falls, Aroostook Junction, Andover, Centrelle, Richmond Road/Richmond Corner, Woodstock, Debec Junction, Fosterville, Macadam Junction, Upper Mills, Milltown, St. Stephen, St. Andrews, Fair Haven, Wilsons Beach, Welshpool, North Head, Grand Manan, L'Etete
  • Nova Scotia: Clements Port, Yarmouth, Liverpool, Port Hawkesbury, Sydney

Most settlers entered the Prairies through Manitoba and Saskatchewan ports as that is where the big railway terminals were. For North Portal, Saskatchewan there are seven reels. For Emerson, Manitoba there are seven reels. You will remember that little or no farmland was left in Manitoba at this time - so families likely moved West into Saskatchewan, Alberta or on to British Columbia over Canadian railways.

Kenneth Aitken had the names of two railroad atlases, one of which is at the downtown library:

  1. Railroad Maps of North America by Andrew M. Modelski. (1984). (available at the Calgary Public Library)
  2. Saga of the Soo-West by John A. Gjerve. (1990).

His session at the Wildrose seminar included an extensive bibliography from which one could gain historical background information and understanding.

Summarized Points

To summarize Canadian records on border crossings from USA into Canada:

  • 1908-18, varying starts
  • No records before 1908
  • 46 reels at Calgary Public Library, 4th floor
  • Finding aid binder - easy to use and in two sections:
    (1) ports of entry listed geographically from West to East and
    (2) ports listed alphabetically
  • Maps provided but blurred
  • Microfilms of originals
  • Be aware - some glitches in filming
  • Involves lots of looking/speculation
  • Admissions and rejections
  • Recorder gave details or vague information
  • Passenger groupings/advantage
  • Two books available at Calgary Family History Center:
    (1) Canadian border entry lists, 1908-18, Part 1 [971 W2t Pt. 1]
    (2) Germans from Russia border crossings: North Portal, Saskatchewan and West Poplar River, Saskatchewan [971 W2s]

Examining the Information

I have the information on the admissions transparency. When you're looking at these forms downtown, they are copies of the original ledgers. Some of the record takers were exact; others casual.

It is a thrill to find in the "where from" column: Hot Springs, South Dakota; Boise, Idaho; Havre, Montana; Denver, Colorado. Or, in the "Where to" column: Maple Creek, Saskatchewan; Coronation, Alberta; Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Campion, Carmangay, Tisdale.

You can review a sample "rejections" page.

United States Records

1060 reels exist of persons crossing from Canada into the United States through land ports during the years 1895-1954. All of these films can be ordered via any FHC from the Salt Lake Center. Or, you can view 400 of them if you take a trip to the Lethbridge FHC, or you can view our collection of six, at the Calgary FHC.

You'll remember that Roy was able to access Salt Lake's holdings on the computer at the Calgary FHC. Roy went into Canadian Records  with cross-referencing in mind he reduced the search time - which was considerable as it was. Under the topic of Canada, then, there were 277 headings as opposed to 824 if you went into the catalogue under USA.

Now, looking down that list of 277 you'll come to Emigration and Immigration for which there are 154 records (in the United States there would have been 751 records to search out under Emigration and Immigration). Following are Roy's procedures for your use:

  1. From Family History Library Catalogue, choose Locality Browse
  2. Type Canada; press Enter; press Enter again (It's easier to go into Canada than USA records and to use Locality Browse; cross-referencing)
  3. 289 topics will be found!
  4. Arrow down to item 76; 164 records - Emigration & Immigration
  5. press F7 (Author/Title); List comes up
  6. Move to record 135 and press F8 (full display); 1 minute
    • or record 136/F8 (all 6 films are at the Calgary FHC)
    • or record 137/F8 - Detroit ~ other Michigan crossings)

For the above - thanks to Roy Strickland!


 
Record #135 Okay- what are you going to get?


 
Record #137When you have a list of films like this on the screen, if you press Enter again, you'll be told what FHCs, if any, have these films on indefinite loan, and if you are in Salt Lake City, where they're to be found in the library there.


 
Record #136Now to record #136. It's more extensive (67 pages long and takes one minute to display 937 reels).


 
The term St. Albans is confusing here. St. Albans is a port of entry in Vermont, south of Montreal.

On record #136, St. Alban's District Manifest records is an umbrella term, for all border crossing registers from "foreign contiguous territory".

Now on record #137, St. Albans was strictly St.Albans, Vermont. And, the Calgary FHC has that collection of six reels on indefinite loan.

During the depression, government clerks were involved in a make-work project, transcribing onto individual cards, double-sided, from the original manifests, the names and other details of "aliens" crossing into the United States from Canada.

The original ledgers were destroyed.


 
St. Albans noticeThis notice is found at the beginning of the films I used in Lethbridge.


Many of these record cards are accessible through the Soundex system - the same system that is used to get some United States census results. It's alphabetical - sort of.

There is a book at the FHC which gives you the numerical value for each letter or letter combination - or you can derive the Soundex code using it.

Or, you can use an online utility.

For my maternal line, Taylor, there are two reels holding Soundex T-460. On this reel are variant spellings of Taylor, as well as Towler, Tyler, Tuller and more, as you'll see when you scroll through the films. that's why I said Soundex is sort of alphabetical.


 
Record CardsSome of the record cards are arranged strictly alphabetically. Some are arranged in time frames, some by crossing points, or combinations.


 
With 937 reels in this collection, I've only had experience with a few and those were in Lethbridge.

When I go to Salt Lake City again - I'll do some "sampling"

As I said, Lethbridge has 400 reels on Record #136. If you have extensive research or several surnames you can sure save a lot of money than if you ordered them from Salt Lake City through the FHC here.

The Lethbridge reels are all "Soundexed" and span 1895-1924 only.

If you do go to Lethbridge, the FHC is not located at the address listed in their phone book. They moved just before Christmas and are near to the Lethbridge Regional Hospital. The LDS Church is at 1912 - 10 Avenue South.

Okay. Just a little review.

  • All referred to as the "St. Albans District Manifests"
  • Land ports
  • Records kept from 1895-1954 on 1060 reels (order from Salt Lake City)
  • Lethbridge FHC has 400 reels from 1895-1924 (or order from Salt Lake City)
    these are indexes, access records through Soundex (sort of alphabetical)
  • Original records destroyed
  • Information on persons entering US transcribed on cards from originals
  • 1924-1954: order from Salt Lake City
  • Some access through Soundex; by time frame
  • Expensive - $6.00 per film
  • Calgary FHC has 6 films (#1430987 - #1430992)
  • Lethbridge FHC has 400 films (#1472801 - #1473201)

I have made transparencies of some of the record cards I found on reels in Lethbridge


David Elias TaylorNot all fields are filled in on these forms - some were quite empty - or I don't understand what some fields were for.


 
Field HeadingsThis might give you a better look at the headings on the cards.


 
David Charles TaylorNow David Charles Taylor, who may be an uncle.


 
You'll remember you're not looking at original manifests as with the Canadian registers.

Ellen Taylor    Albert Taylor    Lizzie Taylor

I want you to know that it was through an examination of these border crossings on reels in Lethbridge that I found my great grandparents, newly married, on the 1870 census of Montana.

He was born in Texas 1848. She was born in Illinois 1852.

It raises the question: "How and where did they ever meet?"

Because David Elias Taylor said he was going to visit his uncle in Ruby, Montana and both he and his brother stated they were born in Virginia City, I was led to examine Montana records.

I also learned that my great grandfather's brother (the Uncle William mentioned on the border crossing) married my great grandmother's younger sister (Charity Hinch).

I hope I've presented border crossings in a way that shows you some possibilities.

Thank you and this has been fun.

Aitken's Bibliography

Aitken, Kenneth G. (1993).
"Records of the American invasion: Canadian border entry records for people entering Manitoba," Generations: The Journal of the Manitoba Genealogical Society, 18(3):16-17.
Aitken, Kenneth G. (1995).
"When our west moved north: Canadian border entry records for Great Plains emigrants," Minnesota Genealogist, 26(3):100-103.
Arcola Kisbey Historical Book Committee. (1987).
Arcola-Kisbey golden heritage: Mountain hills to prairie flats. Arcola, SK: Arcola Kisbey Historical Book Committee.
Canada. Public Archives of Canada. Federal Archives Division. (1986).
"Ship's passenger lists and border entry lists in PAC, RG 76 (Records of the Immigration Branch)" [Microfilm finding aid]. Ottawa: Public Archives of Canada.
Carlson, William. (1950).
The History of Emerson. Emerson, MB: Emerson Journal.
Harvey, David D. (1991).
Americans in Canada: Migration and settlement since 1840. Queenston, ON: Edwin Mellen Press. See esp. pp. 199-243.
Henderson Directories. (1908).
Henderson's Western Canada Gazetteer & directory for 1908, including Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Western Ontario, British Columbia, Athabasca and Yukon Territories. Winnipeg: Henderson Directories Ltd.
Kinney, Miles. (1980).
"American immigration routes into Canada," Saskatchewan Genealogical Society Bulletin 11(1):14-21.
Lamour, Jean. (1980).
"American settlement in the prairie west", Saskatchewan Genealogical Society Bulletin, 11(1):9-13.
Laut, Agnes. (1909).
"The last trek to the last frontier: The American settler in the Canadian Northwest", The Century Magazine, 78(1):99-111.
North Portal 75th Anniversary Committee. (1979).
Memories of North Portal and district. North Portal: North Portal 75th Anniversary Committee.
J.A.M. Victor David Museum. (1982).
Reflections 1882-1982: A community history of the Rural Municipality of Turtle Mountain and the Town of Killarney. Killarney, MB: J. A. Victor David Museum.
Sharp, Paul. (1955).
"When our west moved north", American Historical Review, 55:286-300.
Sharp, Paul. (1948).
The Agrarian Revolt in western Canada: A survey showing American parallels. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Troper, Harold Martin. (1972).
Only Farmers need apply: Official Canadian government encouragement of immigration from the United States, 1896-1911. Toronto: Griffen House.
Widdis, Randy William. (1989).
"An evaluation of Canadian border crossing records in the study of American resident migration to the Canadian west", Proceedings of North Dakota Geographers, 38:18-35. Grand Forks, ND: University of North Dakota Department of Geography.
Widdis, Randy William. (1992).
"Saskatchewan-bound: Migration to a new Canadian frontier", Great Plains Quarterly, 12:254-268.