Those with Canadian ancestors could also have several ethnic backgrounds, including French, British, Acadian, Scottish or Irish making up the largest immigrant groups to settle in Canada.
Today, Canada is comprised of provinces each run by a unique government. However, until 1867, Canada was divided into Upper and Lower Canada and wasn't fully united as a country until 1949 when Newfoundland finally joined as a province.
The first documented explorers to land in Canada were the Vikings led by Leif Ericson in 1000 A.D. The Vikings visited Labrador and Nova Scotia on this voyage. The English and French began landing in Canada in the late 1400s, with John Cabot who landed on Cape Breton Island in 1497 and claimed the land for British King Henry VII.
The French explorer, Jacque Cartier, traveled to Canada on the St. Lawrence River in the early 1500s where he settled in present-day Montreal. In the early 1600s, French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded a trading post in the future Quebec. The French and English fought over Canadian territories, and later the British and Americans fought during the War of 1812. British Canada, prior to 1776, owned the land that became Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Canada was also the ultimate destination for slaves escaping America during the Civil War via the Underground Railroad.
In later years, many Canadians emigrated south to America, and locating your Canadian ancestors is possible with the types of records maintained by both countries.
Since Canada and the U.S. are so closely linked geographically, reliable immigration records weren't always maintained between the two countries, especially since many people could live in Canada and work in the U.S. by living near the border. However, it has been documented that many Canadians began emigrating to the U.S. after 1850 in larger numbers. During the early 1900s, over 1.2 million Canadians settled in the U.S., compared to a much lower number of Americans settling in Canada during the same time period. The 1920s saw nearly a million Canadian immigrants settling in the northern U.S. for economic and employment reasons. Immigration slowed during World War II, but increased again during the 1950s again for better employment and better wages in the U.S.
Many famous Hollywood actors like Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, Mike Myers and Dan Aykroyd are Canadian. To find out if any your Canadian ancestors were famous or important at that time, you should begin by assembling all family documentation and records you can find. Also, interview older family members to get as many full names and dates as they can recall. Often, your search will begin in the last place you have known relatives, so that you can begin to work backwards until you reach your Canadian ancestors. It's quite possible that once you find the Canadian branch of the family, this could lead you across the Atlantic to a European country, since Canada was a major arrival port for immigrants leaving for the New World.
Vital records are an essential part of most family research projects, as birth, marriage and death records can all provide important information on other generations of the family. Birth records often give the full names of the parents, sometimes providing the parents' dates of birth, birth places and occupation. Death records often provide an address for the deceased, as well as a date and place of birth and information on the decedent's parents. Marriage records also tend to list the names of the parents for both the bride and groom, which can help lead to relations by marriage you might not have known about.
Census records are important, and luckily, both the U.S. and Canada's census records are largely available through various online databases dating back to the 1800s. Census records can often reveal additional household members like extended family and children. In Canada, each province took an individual census, and they also maintain separate historical records like vital records and immigration records. It will help to narrow down where your Canadian ancestors lived in order to extensively search the variety of records available for that territory or province.
Military records are available for your ancestors who might have fought for both Canada and the U.S., depending on the war or conflict. These records will tell you more about where the regiment fought and the rank of your ancestor. Immigration records also will help tell the story of your ancestors' journey to America or to Canada from another country. You could learn who traveled together, where they traveled from, a destination address, and even the name of their American or Canadian sponsor. Both Canadian and American records are more easily accessed with many available online, and you can start to fill in the earlier blanks on your family tree and watch it grow with each new discovery.
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