Last week I posted a press release on the blog about a new database of Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935Â that was added to Ancestry.ca. Available to Ancestry.ca 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, itâ€™s also good for many Americans, who may not realize that they have cousins in Canada or ancestors 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,
â€œThe emergency immigration quotas heavily favored natives of northern and western Europe and all but closed the door to southern and eastern Europeans.â€
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 didnâ€™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 theyâ€™re still worth a look, particularly if you know enough about the person youâ€™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 itâ€™s possible that they had lost touch with family in the old country, I canâ€™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-grandmotherâ€™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 hadnâ€™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 Michaelâ€™s article in this newsletter reveals, itâ€™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.Â (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 â€œHosusovo coordinatesâ€ and â€œDlha Ves coordinatesâ€ 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, itâ€™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 recentÂ Canadian records, like directories that may include him. (Coincidentally Ancestry just posted a large database of Canadian city directories this week.) And Iâ€™ll also want to research in the U.S. as well. I can check the database of St. Albans Border Crossings, 1895-1956Â 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 wifeâ€™s name and the name of the farmer who has guaranteed him workâ€”John Skokan (which also happens to be the name of my great-grandmotherâ€™s father). To see all of the details included on this record, go to the blog to see the image.
- 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. BehindtheName.comÂ 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, JewishGenâ€™s Shtetl Seeker is also a wonderful tool.Â I also picked up a copy of the â€œGenealogical Gazetteer of the Kingdom of Hungary,â€ compiled by Jordan Auslander at a recent conference and itâ€™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:
â€œBy Way of Canada: U.S. Records of Immigration Across the U.S.-Canadian Border, 1895-1954 (St. Albans Lists),â€ 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)
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.