With the topic of migration currently on the news agenda, new research¹ reveals that many Canadians are in the dark when it comes to their own family’s immigration story.
During a recent research project we commissioned, we found nine out of 10 Canadians agree that immigration is important to our country. Canada was the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy with a focus on keeping citizens’ identities and cultures encouraging all Canadians to “take pride in [our] ancestry”². However, our actual knowledge of our own past leaves a lot to be desired.
Almost a third (32 per cent) of Canadians admit that they don’t know when the first member of their family immigrated to Canada, with an additional quarter (24 per cent) saying they don’t know where their ancestors emigrated from.
Ancestry can help connect the dots of your family history and bring to light the immigration stories in your own family. Research may reveal family connections to waves of migration into Canada throughout our county’s history including:
- The thousands of Irish immigrants who fled the Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, many arriving dead or dying at the Québec quarantine station of Grosse Isle. Over the course of the next four years, 230,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Canada and by 1871, Irish-Canadians comprised more than 24 per cent of the total Canadian population.
- Today the Greeks are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, but there were only 39 people claiming to be from Greek descent in all of Canada in 1900. Between 1900 and 1911 this number grew to 2,000, with most arriving as refugees following the war between the Greeks and the Turks.
- The 170,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing Austro-Hungarian oppression beginning in 1891³ contributed to the growth of the prairie provinces, as did the nearly 7,500 Doukhobor, who were a spiritual Christian religious group of Russian origin who came to Canada between 1898 and 1899⁴ seeking refuge from Russian persecution. Their impact, as farmers and in helping build infrastructure is still seen today, as are their descendants.
Many interesting refugee stories can be found by delving into historical records, such as that of Peter G. Makaroff. While most Doukhobor were farmers, Peter, with the help of the Quaker community, left the life of toil to begin his studies in Philadelphia before obtaining his law degree at the University of Saskatchewan in 1918. He became the first Doukhobor to receive his law degree in Canada⁵. Within 20 years of immigrating to Canada, Makaroff was recognized as one of Canada’s top young lawyers, and eventually turned to politics, serving one term on City Council and running as a Farmer-Labour candidate in the 1934 provincial election.
While historical records have long been the best way to discover the personal details and stories of one’s ancestors, a new chapter in family history research is DNA testing. The national survey reveals that almost two-thirds of Canadians have an interest in DNA testing for the purposes of confirming their ancestry and learning more about their family’s immigration story.
- Kevin James, PhD, Professor, Department of History at University of Guelph: “Canadians have a very positive theoretical attitude toward immigration, but from a practical standpoint, they know very little about their own immigration story or their ancestors’ role in shaping our country.”
- Kevin James, PhD, Professor, Department of History at University of Guelph: “We’ve all arrived from someplace else and this history of immigration has helped to create the rich diversity of people and cultures that have become the hallmark of modern Canada. It’s fascinating to explore early migrant groups to understand the diversity of each person’s experiences, which were often tragic and full or hardship, but ultimately redeemed by the success of those who followed in their path.”
- Lesley Anderson, family historian and content specialist for Ancestry: “Adding DNA data to existing historical records is like hitting a warp speed button on family history research. “With AncestryDNA you can not only discover long-lost family connections, but also see your ethnic makeup and learn about migration patterns of your ancestors from nearly a thousand years ago.”
To start your family tree and discover your story, please visit ancestry.ca.
¹ Research carried out by Ancestry as part of the 2016 Canadian Family History Knowledge Survey
² Government of Canada “Canadian Multiculturalism: An Inclusive Citizenship”
³ Government of Canada “Canada: A History of Refuge”
⁴ Library and Archives Canada “Doukhobors”
⁵ Doukhobor Genealogy Website “Peter G. Makaroff, WC, Canada’s First Doukhobor Lawyer”