An Overview of German-Russian Genealogy Research in Canada

 

by Carolyn Schott with assistance from Murray Gauer, Bev Gutenburg, and Merv Weiss
 

Originally published in the June 2009 Heritage Review


Where in Canada did most GRs settle?
How do I get started researching my ancestors in Canada?
What census records are available to research my ancestors?
Are there any other similar lists available that are more recent?
How do I research other vital statistics like births, marriages, and deaths?
How did someone become a Canadian citizen and what records are available to help me find my ancestor’s citizenship papers?
What information is available about land grants where my ancestor settled?
How do I contact the provincial archives for information?
What passenger lists are available for those immigrating to Canada?
Can any of these passenger lists be viewed online?
How do I access passenger list microfilms from the Canadian archives?
Are there any passenger lists specifically for German-Russians arriving in Canada?
My ancestor arrived in a Canadian port, then went to the U.S. How do I find this person?
How can I access local town history books where my ancestors lived?


1.    Where in Canada did most GRs settle?

The first GRs in Canada were probably the Choritza Mennonites who settled south of Winnipeg, Manitoba in the 1870s. In Saskatchewan, Black Sea GRs (including many from Dobrudscha) began arriving around 1885 and were concentrated in the southern part of the province. There are many GR settlements in the St. Joseph Colony regions (one on the Trans-Canada Highway just south of Regina and the other in the area surrounding Tramping Lake), near Allan and Holdfast, and the Prelate-Fox Valley area, as well as near other communities such as Rosthern, Watrous, Herbert, and Moose Jaw. Most of the Germans in the Rosthern, Herbert, and Moose Jaw areas were Mennonites from Manitoba. Those in the St. Joseph’s Colonies, Allan, and Holdfast were primarily Catholic.

 

GRs began settling in Alberta in the 1890s, many of them coming from Volhynia and Galicia. Many of these GRs settled in the southeastern part of the province. Many Bessarabians settled in the Medicine Hat area. For more information on GRs coming to Canada, see Chapter 18 of From Catherine to Khruschchev and The Germans in Canada by K.M. McLaughlin.

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2.    How do I get started researching my ancestors in Canada?

There are several very helpful sites with information and links to Canadian research resources.

 

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3.  What census records are available to research my ancestors?

The latest census that has been released to the public is the 1916 census. For a more detailed list of censuses available for each province, see:  

 

*   www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-911.001-e.html. Many of these censuses have been indexed, and in some cases images of the census are available online.

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4.    Are there any other similar lists available that are more recent?

As part of the WWII war effort, all adults were required to be registered from 1940-1946. The registration included everyone 16 years of age or older, except for members of the armed forces, religious orders, or those confined to an institution. Some of the records for people who died between 1940 and 1946 were destroyed.

 

Records are not available online, but can be requested from Statistics Canada. Individual records will only be released with proof that the person has been deceased for at least 20 years. For more information on how to request this data, see:
www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-911.007-e.html

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5.    How do I research other vital statistics like births, marriages, and deaths?

Family births, marriages, and deaths were almost always registered in the local church records. One must directly contact the church and town where your ancestors lived to see if these records are available.

 

Beginning in the late 1880s, provinces in Canada also began requiring civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths. These records are available from vital statistics offices in each province. To list the ones most helpful to German-Russian researchers:

 

*  Alberta – the Provincial Archives of Alberta has an index of records from 1898 to 1905. For 1906 and later, one must know where the birth, marriage or death took place to locate the record. For more information, see: www.culture.alberta.ca/archives/referenceservices/genealogy.aspx

 

*  Saskatchewan– the Department of Health Vital Statistics Unit has records beginning in 1895. Their website has an online search for births prior to 100 years ago, and deaths through 1917. See: www.isc.ca/VitalStatistics/Genealogy/vsgs_srch.aspx Genealogical copies of birth registrations are available to direct relatives. For the procedure and fees, see: www.isc.ca/Default.aspx?DN=2014,2010,10,1,Documents

 

*Manitoba – the Vital Records office has birth, marriage, death information beginning in 1882. They also have an incomplete collection of church records prior to 1882. Their online search has deaths to 1938 (70 years ago), marriages to 1928 (80 years ago), and births to 1908 (100 years ago). See: vitalstats.gov.mb.ca/Query.php and www.vitalstats.gov.mb.ca/Genealogy.html

 

See www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-906.006-e.html for a more detailed list of contact information for each province or the Can Genealogy website for links to vital stats databases for other provinces.

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6.    How did someone become a Canadian citizen and what records are available to help me find my ancestor’s citizenship papers?

Canada had a residency requirement prior to a person applying for citizenship. The residency period changed over time. From May 1868 to May 1910, the requirement was 2 years. From May 1910 to June 1919, the requirement was 3 years. From June 1919 to February 1977, the requirement was 5 years. Naturalization was necessary to get title to “proved up” homestead land.

 

A card index exists for naturalizations from 1854 to 1917, but it contains minimal information. (The original records for that time period were destroyed.) Records after 1917 are more detailed. Some provincial archives also have naturalization records available.

 

To get a copy of naturalization records, one must write to Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Ottawa. For format of requests and costs, see:

www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-908.011-e.html

 

There is an online database to search naturalization records from 1915 to 1932, although access is sporadic. See: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/naturalization-1915-1932/index-e.html

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7.    What information is available about land grants where my ancestor settled?

An online search is available for Western Land Grants, those lands granted between 1870 and 1930 in Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the railway belt of British Columbia. However, these land grants contain only minimal information. See:
www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/western-land-grants/index-e.html

 

The actual homestead records, available from provincial archives, include much more detailed information. Some indexes are available online.

 

Alberta:
Index to Homestead records 1870-1930 - www.abgensoc.ca/homestead/index.htm
Applications for Land Patents 1885-1897 - www.abgensoc.ca/patent/index.htm

 

 Saskatchewan:
Homestead records 1872-1930: www.saskhomesteads.com/
Canadian Pacific Railway land sales: ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesCPRSearch.aspx

Manitoba:
Canadian Pacific Railway land sales - ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesCPRSearch.aspx

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8.    How do I contact the provincial archives for information?

The provinces most likely to be of help to GR researchers are:

 

· Alberta: www.culture.alberta.ca/archives/

· Saskatchewan: www.saskarchives.com/

· Manitoba: www.gov.mb.ca/chc/archives/

· British Columbia: www.bcarchives.gov.bc.ca/index.htm

 

9.    What passenger lists are available for those immigrating to Canada?

For the years 1865-1935, passenger lists were the main immigration form. These records are arranged by port and by year. Records mentioned as available by the Canadian archives are:

 

· Quebec City and Montreal (Quebec), 1865-1935;

· Halifax (Nova Scotia), 1881-1935;

· Saint John (New Brunswick), 1900-1935;

· North Sydney (Nova Scotia),1906-1935 (these include mostly ferry arrivals from Newfoundland and St-Pierre-et-Miquelon, with a few passengers in transit from other countries);

· Vancouver and Victoria (British Columbia), 1905-1935;

· Via New York, 1906-1931; and other eastern United States ports, 1905-1928 (these lists include only the names of passengers who stated that they intended to proceed directly to Canada).

 

Some tips for researching these:

 

* Lists for the port of Quebec include passengers who disembarked at Montreal between 1865 and 1921. Those ports were closed during the winter months when the St. Lawrence River was frozen.

* From 1919 to 1924, ports were supposed to use form 30A, which was filled out for each individual, rather than the large sheet passenger manifests. This form was used inconsistently, so if your ancestor arrived during those years, they may be on either this form or a regular passenger list.

* Quebec tended to be used more frequently than Halifax in the summer. If you don’t know what port your ancestor arrived at, Quebec is a better bet to start with.

 

* For information on passenger lists before 1865 or after 1935, see: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-908-e.html

 

* A good overview of how passenger lists can be used for research is available at: members.shaw.ca/nanaimo.fhs/

 

* Many Canadian immigrants traveled to Canada through the U.S. so checking the U.S. passenger lists can sometimes resolve a road block. See: www.stevemorse.org/, www.castlegarden.org/ and aad.archives.gov/aad/series-list.jsp?cat=GP44

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10.    Can any of these passenger lists be viewed online?

Yes!

· Quebec (including Montreal) from 1 Jun 1906 to 13 Oct 1910 is indexed by surname and shows a transcription of the passenger list that includes name, age, date of arrival, ship name, and microfilm reference to find the actual passenger list (microfilms are available at the Canadian National Archives). See: http://www.members.shaw.ca/nanaimo.fhs/

 

· Quebec from 1865 to 1900 are indexed by surname, with transcription of name, age, date of arrival, ship name, and microfilm reference at: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/passengers-quebec-1865-1900/001082-100.01-e.php

 

· All ship arrivals 1865-1922 can be searched by name of ship. No individual passenger information is available, but you can link to images of the passenger lists to do your own search. See: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/passenger/001045-100.01-e.php

 

· Arrivals at Grosse Île Quarantine Station between 1832 and 1937. See: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/grosse-ile-immigration/index-e.html

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11.    How do I access passenger list microfilms from the Canadian archives?

The list of passenger lists and microfilm numbers is available at: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-908.003.02-e.html. The microfilms themselves can be viewed at a Family History Center or a local library by requesting them on interlibrary loan in Canada. See: www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/ill/s16-211-e.html

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12.    Are there any passenger lists specifically for German-Russians arriving in Canada?

Yes, the SGGEE website has some helpful hints (and links) on how to search the GR extractions of Canadian passenger lists that are available on the Odessa Digital Library website. SGGEE also has an alphabetized version of the list. See: www.sggee.org/

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13.    My ancestor arrived in a Canadian port, then went to the U.S. How do I find this person?

Border crossings from Canada into the U.S. from 1895-1954 were tracked in the "St. Albans records" (named after one specific border crossing, but the records include all border crossings into the U.S. from Canada). For an explanation of these records and a link to microfilm numbers at the U.S. National Archives, see: www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2000/fall/us-canada-immigration-records-1.html

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14.    How can I access local town history books where my ancestors lived?

The Our Roots website has an online search engine of local town history books, including images of the contents. When searching, try the Advanced Search (which seems to find books more reliably than on the initial search page). See: www.ourroots.ca/e/index.aspx 

Some communities (for example Imperial, Saskatchewan), have an extensive collection of books available through interlibrary loan. The Saskatchewan Genealogical Society Library has a Saskatchewan Residents Index to help locate entries, but there is a fee to get copies.