Cousins via Canada? by Juliana Smith

Ludevit Skokan, line 5, page 1Last week I posted a press release on the blog about a new database of Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 that was added to Available to and World Deluxe subscribers this collection includes roughly 7.2 million names of passengers arriving in Canadian ports.

While this is fantastic news for folks with Canadian roots, it’s also good for many Americans, who may not realize that they have cousins in Canada or Ludevit Skokan -Canadian PL 1927 2.gifancestors who traveled through our northerly neighbor on the way to the U.S.

When the database first rolled, I got that gleam in my eye that comes when I see an opportunity to learn something new about my family. I already knew that my Kelly ancestors had come to the U.S. after first stopping in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the 1820s. Perhaps some of my later Irish immigrants did as well. For much of the nineteenth century, travel to Canada was cheaper than a direct route to the U.S. and at times was promoted by steamship companies. Many immigrants followed that advice.

With this in mind, I was tempted to drop everything and start pillaging that database in search of family, but alas, after an extended weekend I had a full plate with work and a ton of things to do around the house, so I made a mental note to search it later. A few days went by and I had a call from our friend Megan Smolenyak. We were talking about the database and she reminded me that in 1921, when the U.S. began imposing quotas on immigrants according to nationality, many eastern Europeans turned their eyes toward Canada.

According to They Became Americans,

“The emergency immigration quotas heavily favored natives of northern and western Europe and all but closed the door to southern and eastern Europeans.”

While my Polish and Hungarian ancestors arrived around the turn of the century, might I find other relatives? That thought put me over the edge. I was off!
When I saw the wealth of information found on many of these records, I knew that I should make myself comfortable. Even if I didn’t find an ancestor, just browsing the various entries was enlightening and I settled in for the night exploring the collection.

As with their American counterparts, earlier passenger arrivals are a bit leaner in information, but they’re still worth a look, particularly if you know enough about the person you’re looking for to identify him or her. A 1906 arrival for Elat Szucs told me that he arrived in the port of New York, New York (with a final destination of Sydney, Nova Scotia). He was age seventeen, was carrying $10, and left from the port of Antwerp on board the S.S. Vaderland. He was single, able to read and write, and his occupation was listed as labourer. The nation or country of birth was given as “Hung. Magyar” For immigrants coming from the British Isles, the county of origin is also provided.

A Skokan is Found!
None of my relatives ever mentioned Canadian cousins, but since it’s possible that they had lost touch with family in the old country, I can’t rule it out. Armed only with a surname and town of origin in a part of Hungary that now lies within Slovakia, a search for Skokan, my great-grandmother’s maiden name, turned up ten hits.

All of the Skokan hits were for records from the later 1920s. They give the place of birth of the immigrant, as well as the address of the nearest relative in the country from which he or she emigrated. I really hadn’t held out much hope for finding anything substantial in the search, but since my ancestors hailed from small towns, if I could find another Skokan from the same area, it would be a clue worth pursuing. By researching other families who hailed from the same part of Hungary/Slovakia, I might be able to connect with another researcher and exchange information. If it turns out they were unrelated, this will be important information when it comes to taking my research across the ocean. As Michael’s article in this newsletter reveals, it’s important to be familiar with other families bearing the same surname to keep them straight and not risk applying the records to the wrong family.

About halfway through the hits, I came upon Ludevik Skokan, whose place of birth was listed as Hosusovo, Czechosl. (Click on the image of this record to enlarge it.) My Skokan ancestors were from a town called Hosszuszo, which looks a bit similar. It was a long shot, but I plugged the name into Google and found a map that showed the hit for Hosusovo right on top of Dlha Ves–the current name for the town of Hosszuszo. Just to be sure, I did another search for “Hosusovo coordinates” and “Dlha Ves coordinates” and sure enough they share the exact same coordinates!

I went on through the rest of the hits and found one more Skokan (Ondrej) from Hosusovo and another from a nearby town.

More to Research
Clearly I have a ways to go. Again, it’s not a good idea to assume a relationship simply based on a name, but this is definitely a lead I will be pursuing. I need to learn more about more recent Canadian records, like directories that may include him. (Coincidentally Ancestry just posted a large database of Canadian city directories this week.) And I’ll also want to research in the U.S. as well. I can check the database of St. Albans Border Crossings, 1895-1956 to see if he eventually made his way to the United States.

Fortunately his passenger arrival gives me quite a bit of information to go on, including his wife’s name and the name of the farmer who has guaranteed him work—John Skokan (which also happens to be the name of my great-grandmother’s father). To see all of the details included on this record, go to the blog to see the image.

Search Tips

  • Search for the immigrant’s given name in his or her native language, as well as the anglicized version. I saw both Jan and John, Istvan and Stephen, and Erszebet and Elisabeth on the lists. is a good resource for learning given names in various languages.
  • Be familiar with border changes and city/town/county name changes, as well as alternate location names. Mapquest and Google both come in handy for locating towns and information. Whether you have Jewish roots or not, if your ancestors were from Central or Eastern Europe, JewishGen’s Shtetl Seeker is also a wonderful tool. I also picked up a copy of the “Genealogical Gazetteer of the Kingdom of Hungary,” compiled by Jordan Auslander at a recent conference and it’s been very helpful in my research. Look online and at local libraries for gazetteers that cover areas in which your ancestors lived.

Here are some other helpful publications:

“By Way of Canada: U.S. Records of Immigration Across the U.S.-Canadian Border, 1895-1954 (St. Albans Lists),” by Marian L. Smith
(National Archives: Prologue, Fall 2000, Vol. 32, No.)

Although this article is based on the St. Albans lists, it contains helpful information on immigration to and through Canada.

They Became Americans: Finding Naturalization Records and Ethnic Origins,
by Loretto Dennis Szucs (Ancestry, 1997)

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for ten years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at [email protected], but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.


8 thoughts on “Cousins via Canada? by Juliana Smith

  1. Thanks for all of that Canadian sites it has really helped me put alot Questions to rest alot of my Family Started out in Canada they came to N.B. then some of them migrated to Western Canada Late 1800s Again Thanks alot…………… David

  2. I was very excited to see the new listing of Canadian destinations for immigrants as I live in Canada. I immediately found that a young brother of my Grandpa (13) came to Canada at the same time as his sister who had pre-arranged employment in Ontario. Until then, we did not know the date either had arrived. He came west at some time and she married the oldest son of the family (a real scandal) and moved to the United States. Also am looking at the info. to find when a big family of Hunts arrived in Canada as they had all come at different times. What a boost to my research! Thanks so much for listing this in your blog, Juliana. I always read your articles with GREAT interest.

  3. I have had fun searching the Canadian Passenger Lists. However, the departure date, name of Captain, shipping line etc. are not always shown – something I am interested in. I found if I got the name of the ship for my ancestor and the date of arrival from the Ancestry index, then I could go to the Canada Archives/Canada Collections and, by typing in the ship’s name, then clicking on the relevant date I could find on page 1 (and/or sometimes the last page) more details about the trip.
    Also, another member of Ancestry contacted me (thru Ancestry Trees) some time ago mentioning my gr gr grandfather who was Captain of the ship Orient bringing passengers to New York in 1842. I finally got the bright idea to type in only the name of the ship in the New York Passenger Lists and look at PAGE 1. Now I have a copy of his declaration with signature “et al” for that trip!

  4. The majority of the early settlers in Canada were families from England who received Western Land Grants from the British Monarch for services rendered. Many of the americans which emigrated to Canada were loyal to the British Crown and left the States during the time of the war of independence. The United Empire Loyalists, (UE) is the only hereditary title in Canada.

  5. In 2002, when one of my teen-age daughters wanted to do a Family History project on finding which port my grandmother’s ship sailed to from Sweden in the early 20th Century, I had her call the Family History Library in Salt Lake City in preparation for our visit. For years I had wondered where her ship docked, and exactly when she came to the U.S., but was discouraged at having to search through so many ports and ships records. Luckily, my daughter talked to a gentleman who knew about emigration during the time period and happened to mention that many people came through Canada because it was less expensive. When we visited the Family History Library this same gentleman helped us until we found the ship’s record of her crossing the Atlantic in 1910 on the SS Canada, docking at Montreal, Quebec. She took a train from there to her destination in the U.S. Many of her family members did the same thing. So, don’t neglect Canadian ports! You might find your ancestor coming through Canada on their way to the U.S.

  6. Concerning Slovakia, I have found, from families who were born and originated from this country, that women in that region add the suffix “ova” to their last name. For example if the males last name is Hudak, all males in the family have the last name of Hudak. When a woman is married into that family or has daughters, their last name becomes Hudakova. I thought this might be of some help for people doing research in this area.

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