March 9, 2009 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand emigration patterns of my ancestors.

In my research, I've found a few (separate) instances of ancestors of mine emigrating from Canada to the U.S. in the 19th century, after (presumably) emigrating from Britain to Canada at some point prior.

It seems like a very Big Deal to cross the ocean so it seems to me that you would want to get it right the first time. Why would they go to Canada first and then the US?

I realize it's a sort of unanswerable question but I just wondered if conditions were more favorable for immigrants from Canada vs Europe at that point in time.
posted by chickaboo to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did they already have family in Canada? Or nonfamily people from their home region/village/city?

There's also this: The second wave from Britain and Ireland was encouraged to settle in Canada after the War of 1812, which included British army regulars who had served in the war, by the colonial governors of Canada, who were worried about another American invasion attempt and to counter the French-speaking influence of Quebec, rushed to promote settlement in back country areas along newly constructed plank roads within organized land tracts, mostly in Upper Canada (present-day Ontario).

Also, Canada was still a British colony when your ancestors came over; I don't know the details of emigration in that case, but I don't think they'd have had to go through an Ellis Island-type of experience.

As to why they moved to the U.S.: Because there were jobs here they wanted that were scarcer in Canada? More/different/better opportunities for what they wanted? Other family members who emigrated to the U.S.?
posted by rtha at 9:07 AM on March 9, 2009

I'm sure someone knows better, but moving to Canada was just a matter of "moving", and a huge percentage of the growing Canadian population was from Britain. Going to the states meant changing your citizenship.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:14 AM on March 9, 2009

Canada didn't actually become a sovereign state until 1867, and even long after that, there would have been very few legal obstacles for a subject of the Queen to move from one of her dominions to another.
posted by musofire at 9:19 AM on March 9, 2009

I, too, have a similar Canadian heritage. What I discovered is that one branch of the family were British military personnel who were entitled to Land Grants upon arriving in Lower Canada (today's Quebec). Another branch of my family left Scotland after the father lost his extensive business holdings due to losses from the Napoleonic War. Yet another part of my family had actually lived in the States but had Loyalist (to the British Crown) and crossed over to Lower Canada shortly after the Revolution in the States.

In all instances, it was simple for these folks to live in Canada because of Canada's ties to England.

Here are some helpful places to conduct further research. They helped me discover the Land Grant connection, and in the process turned the story of just my ancestor into finding his siblings and parents, and led me to find their origins in the UK.

That's My Family is a federated database that connects several databases into one easy search engine.

Library and Archives of Canada has a very nice section on genealogy that can help give framework to your research findings and point you in the direction of sources you may not know about. I've actually just used their photocopying services to obtain Land Grant records.

Good luck with your search!
posted by kuppajava at 9:22 AM on March 9, 2009

It kind of depends when your folks emigrated to Canada, and then where they settled.

First of all, Canada is pretty fucking cold, and that would have been a problem in the 19th century. Second, the country is hard to farm. They may have been promised free land in Timmins or Fort Calgary as an incentive to move to Canada, but when they go here they may have decided that trying to farm muskeg or living in a leaky sod house was not the life they were expecting.

There were few manufacturing centres in Canada at that time, so unless they settled in Montreal or Toronto, they would probably be farming. Or perhaps they were merchants... what did they do?

Meanwhile, we need to know when your folks arrived in Canada and when they departed for the States. Because of the country's sheer size (in terms of hospitable areas) and population, there would have been more opportunities in the States. There were more manufacturing centres. There was more money.

As to why they didn't go to the US first, it's probably because Canada (if Confederation had happened by the time your folks got there) was a British colony. They may have been indentured servants or something.

Give us more info, please!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:22 AM on March 9, 2009

It might be useful to determine if any relatives remained in Canada and have descendants.
posted by Pants! at 9:24 AM on March 9, 2009

I'm another whose ancestors came from Northumberland to the US via Canada. Our family history doesn't really talk about the why - I wish it did. I'll be curious to know what you discover.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:35 AM on March 9, 2009

nthing the whole Canada thing. Also, sometimes people had enough money to get to places like Halifax or Montreal, but not enough to go further. So they would stay for a few years, get used to the "New World" build a nest egg and then move on.
It still happens! I was recently hospitalized in Boston and I got to talking with my Irish nurse. She and her husband had emigrated to Halifax Nova Scotia and then moved down to the states after a few years. I think that's kinda neat.
posted by pentagoet at 9:37 AM on March 9, 2009

It seems like a very Big Deal to cross the ocean so it seems to me that you would want to get it right the first time.

I'm not sure I understand this part of your question- thousands of people emigrated to whatever port their ship went to, went to visit their friends or relatives (who often sponsored them), and then made an arduous trek to somewhere else. It's not so much a case of "not getting it right" as having few options for ocean travel. Many people wanted new opportunities and new resources, so rather than stay in a crowded port city, they left for greener pastures. As for Canada, it was generally easier for a British citizen to sail to British territory and then cross a fairly porous border, than have to deal with tighter restrictions upon entering the US.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:52 AM on March 9, 2009

Once you've crossed an ocean chasing a better opportunity, what's the big deal with then moving a few hundred miles overland.

Consider also, that the US was their goal all along. They may have gone to Canada first because the chance presented itself, and it got them an ocean closer to their goal. My understanding is that the legalities of going from the UK to Canada were probably pretty minimal.
posted by Good Brain at 10:03 AM on March 9, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far - this has been very helpful.

One set lived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and had a child born in Massachusetts in the US in 1889, so they emigrated at some point prior to that.

The other (unrelated set) were born in Canada (no known location) in 1809 and had children born in Brooklyn NY.

I'm presuming based on their names that england is the likely origin for both families.
posted by chickaboo at 10:52 AM on March 9, 2009

I'd also like to add that between New England and Eastern Canada there was (and is) a lot of travel back and forth. I remember reading a book about the Franco community in NE and it wasn't uncommon to have mill workers who were generally laid off during slow periods in places like Lowell and Biddeford,, head home to Quebec to work the farm and / woods (logging).
My SIL's parents-US citizens of Acadian/Quebec origin- spent the first few years of their married life working the woods in northern Quebec.
posted by pentagoet at 11:35 AM on March 9, 2009

I was going to say the same thing as pentagoet. The age of sail and the importance of Halifax, Lunenburg, etc. at the time meant there was a lot of travel between the Atlantic Provinces* and New England. A lot of women used to work as nurses there (still do) and either settle or come back after working for a bit. I believe there is even mention of this in one of the Anne of Green Gables books.

Sailing means that the distance between the Atlantic Provinces and New England was a lot shorter than say between the Atlantic Provinces and Central Canada (I mean, I guess it is an actual shorter distance too but it was also easier). I think my ancestors (moved from US to Ontario/Nova Scotia as Loyalists) just kind of thought that New England and the Maritimes** as just one big area and that the border was flexible.

I imagine that there would have been some good transportation links through Ontario and NY back then too (canals? railroad?) that could have helped your ancestors move.

*Nova Scotia, PEI, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland
**Nova Scotia, PEI, and New Brunswick
posted by hydrobatidae at 1:30 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

One thing that no one has directly mentioned is US immigration restrictions. It's been a while since I've looked closely at it, but iirc there were, at various times in the 1800s, employability and country of origin requirements for (legal) acceptance into the US, and it was easier to emigrate from Canada than the British Isles (depending upon exactly where in the British Isles).
posted by jlkr at 2:33 PM on March 9, 2009

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