Prologue Magazine

By Way of Canada

U.S. Records of Immigration Across the U.S.-Canadian Border, 1895–1954 (St. Albans Lists)

Fall 2000, Vol. 32, No. 3 | Genealogy Notes

By Marian L. Smith

As researchers increasingly discover the large number of immigrants who came to the United States via Canada, they more frequently turn their attention to U.S. immigration records of arrivals to Canada or from Canada into the United States. These records, held at the National Archives, are popularly known as the "St. Albans Lists." Although in many ways U.S.-Canadian border immigration records are easier to use than their passenger list counterparts for ports such as New York, Boston, or Philadelphia, they are a complicated and interrelated set of documents. To use them effectively, one must understand both who will and will not be found in those records as well as how each record may or may not relate to another document in the U.S. National Archives or the National Archives of Canada. This article discusses the records' origin and arrangement, then presents examples to illustrate their use.

A large number of immigrants came to the United States via Canada during the mid- and late nineteenth century, and for them there is no U.S. immigration record. They landed in Canada where no U.S. officer met them or recorded information about their arrival in the United States. The always-growing number of immigrants who chose this route in the late 1800s finally convinced the United States, in 1894, to build and operate the bureaucratic machinery necessary to document the many thousands who each year entered at points along its northern border.

In earlier years immigrants landing in Canada were largely from Britain, Scandinavia, northern Europe, or Russia. In the 1880s, as the United States began to impose more stringent immigration rules at its own ports of entry, even more immigrants from the same regions and elsewhere chose to travel via Canada to avoid the trouble and delay of U.S. immigrant inspection. By the 1890s, steamship companies began to advertise passage through Canada as a more desirable route for immigrants who wished to avoid U.S. inspectors. While much of this traffic remained Irish, Swedish, Norwegian, or Russian, the business of carrying Italians, Greeks, and others from Mediterranean ports to Canada grew.

This evasion of immigrant inspection spurred the U.S. government to action. In 1894 the U.S. Immigration Service entered into an agreement with Canadian railroads and steamship lines serving Canadian ports of entry to bring those companies into compliance with U.S. immigration law. The steamship lines agreed to treat all passengers destined to the United States as if they would be landing at a U.S. port of entry. This meant completing a U.S. ship passenger manifest form and selling tickets only to those who appeared admissible under U.S. law. Canadian railroads agreed to carry only those immigrants who were legally admitted to the United States to U.S. destinations.

For its part, the U.S. Immigration Service stationed immigrant inspectors at Canadian seaports of entry to collect the manifests and inspect U.S.-bound immigrants. The largest Canadian Atlantic ports were Quebec and Montreal (summer) and St. John and Halifax (winter). Furthermore, between 1895 and 1906 the U.S. placed inspectors at northern land border ports of entry. Beginning in 1895, immigrants destined to the United States were subject to the following procedure upon arrival in Canada: U.S. immigrant inspectors at seaports inspected immigrants bound for the United States after they passed Canadian quarantine. If admitted, the inspector issued each passenger a "Certificate of Admission" showing he or she had been inspected and admitted. Railroads required all passengers who landed in Canada within the last thirty days to present their Certificates of Admission before boarding a U.S.-bound train. Then, when the train stopped at the border, another U.S. inspector boarded the train and collected the Certificates of Admission. In this way, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) tracked and connected an immigrant's arrival at the seaport and his subsequent physical entrance into the United States.

At land border ports, inspectors also prepared another manifest list (Form 1-Canada). Similar to a ship passenger manifest, the form was titled "List or Manifest of Alien Passengers Applying for Admission to the United States from Foreign Contiguous Territory." This border port manifest often relates to immigrants who had been in Canada for months or years and applied for admission to the United States at a land border port. Before October 1, 1906, the records include only those immigrants born outside Canada. Beginning on that date the records include Canadian-born immigrants.

Form 1-Canada contains all information required under U.S. immigration law, and sometimes more. To account for immigrants who lived in Canada before moving to the United States, Form 1-Canada contained additional columns for recording original arrival information. These columns called for the port, date, and steamship that originally carried the immigrant to Canada. The information allowed the INS to check Canadian ship passenger lists for that immigrant and allows researchers to do the same today.

At the end of each month, U.S. officers at Canadian seaports and land border ports of entry sent their ship or border lists to the INS Canadian Border District Office in Montreal.1 There, the lists were filed chronologically by year and month, then alphabetically by port. In some cases, ship lists from seaports would be filed at the beginning of a month's records, followed by the land ports in alphabetical order. The lists are today found in two of the National Archives' St. Albans Lists publications, divided largely by geography: Manifests of Passengers Arriving in the St. Albans, VT, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1895–1954 (NARA microfilm publication M1464) and Manifests of Passengers Arriving in the St. Albans, VT, District through Canadian Pacific Ports, 1929–1949 (NARA microfilm publication M1465). Most immigrants from Europe would be found in M1464.

Unless one knows the date and port of arrival, one gains access to the manifest lists by first searching one of two large Soundex indexes. The INS began to create the indexes in the 1930s by sponsoring a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to transcribe nearly all available information from the lists to manifest cards, which were then filed by Soundexed surname. Researchers benefit from the existence of a comprehensive index to all arrivals between 1895 and 1917 and the majority of arrivals from Canada into Eastern and Midwestern States to 1927. The Soundex indexes are divided chronologically—one before and one after 1924 (NARA microfilm publications M1461 and M1463).

Changes to records procedure on the northern border affected the Soundex index, and these changes do not always correspond to the 1924 division date. After June 1917, the Soundex index included only arrivals/admissions east of the North Dakota/Montana state line. Later, after July 1, 1927, the index generally includes only those arrivals/admissions east of Lake Ontario. Thus the St. Albans Soundex 1895 to 1924 (NARA microfilm publication M1461) can only be considered complete between 1895 and 1917, and largely complete after 1917. After 1929, there is no geographically comprehensive index.

The later St. Albans Soundex, dating from 1924 to 1952 (NARA microfilm publication M1463) is a much smaller set. It remains unclear whether this set indexes only seaport arrivals or includes only certain land border admissions. It is known the later Soundex can be useful in locating records of immigrants who arrived in the United States at any port of entry before 1940, many of them in the 1930s, who either entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed their temporary visas. The Alien Registration Act of 1940 revealed these immigrants' illegal status, and they soon applied for an immigrant visa and adjustment of immigration status in the United States. When a visa application was approved, the applicant had to travel outside the United States to collect the visa and return through a U.S. port of entry where a record of admission for permanent residence could be filed. Thus the post-1924 Soundex (M1463) contains records of many alien residents of the Northeast and Midwest who traveled to Montreal in the early 1940s so they might legally re-immigrate to the United States. Many of these World War II–era "re-immigrants" are Canadian-born individuals who arrived prior to 1924 or Jews who somehow made their way from Europe to the United States in the 1930s or very early 1940s.

According to documented INS records procedure, Soundex cards for those immigrants admitted at land border ports after June 30, 1929, were supposed to be filed only at the actual port of entry where the immigrant entered the United States. See a list of arrival records available on National Archives microfilm.

As noted above, while some St. Albans Soundex cards constitute a complete record, most also serve as index cards containing references to port records filed chronologically. The following early twentieth century examples will illustrate how the St. Albans Lists operate.

A researcher searching for Wasyli Piotroczuk's immigration record may or may not know when, where, or how he arrived in the United States. Perhaps she knows only that Wasyli was born in Russia in the mid-1880s and came to the United States as a young man destined to Chicago. Searches of the indexes to passenger arrivals at New York, Boston, and Philadelphia are either fruitless or yield so many possible immigrants that the search seems hopeless.

A search of the early St. Albans Soundex (M1461) produces a card for a Wasyli Piotroczuk, born ca. 1884 in (Turna?), Russia, destined to his uncle Pavel Viosluk in Chicago. The card contains all the information normally found on a large ship list. The card is located by 1) Soundexing the surname; 2) finding first names beginning with "W" (similar given names may be grouped together by place of birth), and; 3) searching for Wasyli.

The Soundex card also contains information about the immigrant's arrival in Canada. In this case, it says Wasyli arrived on the SS Campanello on April 3, 1912, at Halifax, Nova Scotia. With this information, one proceeds to the passenger manifests for Canadian seaports and land border ports (M1464). The ship and port manifests look identical or similar to ship lists for U.S. seaports, but their arrangement has one important difference: They are filed first by year and month, then by port and ship.

To find Wasyli's ship list, then, one must first find the St. Albans manifest records for April 1912. Once that year and month are located, one then searches within that month for the port, which in Wasyli's case is Halifax, Nova Scotia. Upon locating Halifax, one searches for the ship Campanello. Though the ship list contains little additional information about Wasyli not already learned from the Soundex card, the list does indicate the Campanello left Rotterdam on March 23, 1912. The list also reveals other Campanello passengers traveling with Wasyli to the United States.

Note well that only those passengers who declared a U.S. destination will be listed in U.S. ship passenger records of arrivals at Canadian seaports. Because the United States listed such complete information for U.S.-bound immigrants, Canadian ship lists for the same passengers will contain only summary information. However, Canadian lists do usually provide a ticket or contract number that might be useful when searching for emigration records on the other side of the Atlantic. While Canada apparently did not spend time collecting information on U.S.-bound migrants, Canadian ship passenger lists contain complete information for immigrants destined to Canadian Provinces.

Mandel Kaufman's grandchildren may have known he was a Russian Jew born in 1883 but knew little about his actual immigration. They would be excited to find Mandel's Declaration of Intention to naturalize, filed in a Michigan county court in 1910, stating his arrival in the United States in October 1905. But searches of every ship arriving at New York in that month and year produced no record of Mandel. Did he give the wrong date? Were they wrong to assume he entered the U.S. at New York? What might they do to find this record of their immigrant grandfather, who lived and worked in Detroit?

A search of the St. Albans Soundex begins to resolve this mystery. A card for Mandel Kaufman shows his age, occupation, place of birth, and the name of his wife left behind in Russia. This should be enough information to identify him as the same Mandel Kaufman. The card indicates he entered the United States for the first time at Detroit, Michigan, on March 31, 1908, and contains all the information included in a standard U.S. immigration passenger list of that year. His last permanent residence was Toronto, Canada. Furthermore, the Soundex card indicates Mandel arrived in Canada at Quebec during October of 1905, aboard the SS Lake Michigan.

A separate search of the St. Albans passenger lists does not produce a record of Mandel aboard the Lake Michigan in October 1905. Mandel was likely on that vessel, but he was not at that time destined to the United States. Rather, he was destined to Canada and so would not be included in the U.S. record. Only U.S.-bound immigrants will be found on the U.S. list, while all immigrants aboard the Lake Michigan will be listed on the passenger list submitted to the Canadian government and now available at the National Archives of Canada. In this way the St. Albans Soundex can also serve as a partial or limited index to Canadian immigration records.

Though not found on a U.S. ship list, Mandel is listed on a manifest of aliens arriving at the port of Detroit during the month of April 1908. Like Wasyli's ship list, the record holds little or no additional written information beyond that found on the Soundex card. Review of the port manifest in this case does reveal that Mandel was traveling alone.

Ship lists of U.S.-bound passengers at Canadian ports of entry often contain the same stamped or handwritten annotations as are common on ship passenger lists for New York or Boston. On the Campanello's ship list, for example, one sees a passenger on line 11 whose record has been stamped "Deported" in the left margin. Reference to the same name, Gregori Charczuk, on the Canadian Archives manifest shows a stamp reading "Hospital" in the left margin. Such stamps are not unusual on U.S. passenger lists, and were it not for additional information in this case one would assume the immigrant Gregori Charczuk was hospitalized and deported due to contagious disease or some other medical condition.

Additional information in this case is suggested by the handwritten annotation scrawled across his record, which reads:

"[deported] April 24, 1912—See Montreal File 10932/358—appealed from excluding decision of BSI-Sec'y affirms exclusion as per Bureau letter of 4/16/12."

This cryptic language translates to the following: Gregori Charczuk was excluded (i.e., barred from entry) by U.S. officers at Halifax. Like all other excluded immigrants he was held for a hearing before a Board of Special Inquiry (BSI), a panel of three inspectors who reviewed the inspector's initial decision. In most cases Boards of Special Inquiry overturned the inspector's decision and admitted the immigrant. In Gregori's case, they upheld the decision to exclude and deport him. Gregori then appealed the decision of the BSI to the Bureau of Immigration in Washington, D.C., hoping the commissioner of immigration or secretary of commerce and labor would overturn the BSI's decision. But in a letter of April 16, 1912, the secretary affirmed the exclusion, so Gregori Charczuk was deported on April 24, 1912.

Only a fraction of BSI cases were appealed to Washington, D.C., but those cases created files in Washington, which are today in the National Archives.2 Gregori's file contains nine pages-three of them a transcript of his original BSI hearing in Halifax, which took place the morning of April 4, 1912, after all the other Campanello passengers departed on their various trains. The transcript reveals that Gregori was not at all sick. Rather, he appeared to be only fifteen years old, not twenty-two as he claimed. Nor had there been any communication from the friend in Chicago Gregori claimed was waiting for him. Thus the inspectors excluded him as a Likely Public Charge (LPC) and sent him to the Dominion Immigration Hospital to await a decision in his case. It is unknown whether Canada's government hospital was the only detention facility available to U.S. immigration officials at Halifax or if they arranged to keep him there because they did not want to place a boy with no family in their regular detention quarters.

Correspondence in Gregori's file indicates that the owners of the SS Campanello, the Uranium Steamship Company, were instrumental in drafting Gregori's appeal of the BSI decision. The appeal was written on Uranium Steamship Company stationery and signed by an agent of the company in Halifax. Given the steamship company was responsible not only for paying Gregori's return fare but also liable to pay his expenses until the next return voyage approximately two weeks later, one can see the company's interest in Gregori's admission. Ultimately, Gregori Charczuk was deported and departed Halifax on April 24, 1912, aboard the SS VolturNo. 3

The immigration records of Wasyli Piotroczuk and Mandel Kaufman and the deportation record of Gregori Charczuk all demonstrate that the U.S. immigration procedure familiar to us at large U.S. ports of entry also occurred at Canadian ports of entry after 1895. That procedure created official government records available today at the U.S. National Archives, through LDS Family History Centers, and other research institutions. United States records of immigration from or via Canada (the St. Albans Lists) are a genealogical researcher's treasure.

List of Arrival Records: NARA Microfilm Relating to Canadian Admissions and Border Crossings


1. Because this comprehensive set of records was compiled at Montreal, they would be better named the "Montreal Lists." But in later years INS moved its Canadian Border District Office from Montreal to St. Albans, Vermont. Thus when INS eventually transferred copies of the records to the National Archives, the records came from St. Albans, and it is from this latter location we derive the unhelpful name "St. Albans Lists." It is unhelpful because too many researchers assume from that name the records only pertain to arrivals across the Vermont/Canada border.

2. All Board of Special Inquiry decisions resulted in a file created at the District Office in Montreal, which explains the reference to "Montreal File 10932/353." But District Office case files were destroyed decades ago. Only appeal cases in Washington, a fraction of the total, survive today at the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, DC.

3. Case of Gregori Charczuk, file 53392/193, box 411, Accession 60A600, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Record Group 85, National Archives Building, Washington, DC.


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.