Irish Genealogy and Family History

Canada's most recent census returns list the Irish as the fourth largest ethnic group in Canada with almost 4.5 million Canadians claiming either some or full Irish lineage. Indeed, this bond between Canada and Ireland has been in existence for centuries.

The first known Irish-born immigrant to Canada was Tec Cornelius Aubrenon, who arrived in New France in 1661 and remained until his death in 1687. However the Irish presence in Canada can be dated even earlier than the arrival of Aubrenon. As early as the middle of the 16th century, Irish fishermen from the south of Ireland frequently traveled to Newfoundland for part of their catch.

By far, the largest immigration of the Irish to Canada occurred during the mid-19th century. The Great Irish Potato Famine of 1847 was the cause of death, mainly from starvation, of over a million Irish. It was also the motivation behind the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Irish to North America. Because passage to Canada was less expensive than passage to the United States, Canada was the recipient of some of the most destitute and bereft Irish.

Passage was difficult for those making the 3,000 mile voyage from Ireland. Crammed into steerage for over six weeks, these "Coffin Ships" were a breeding ground for many diseases. The primary destination for most of these ships was the port of Québec and the mandatory stop at the quarantine island of Grosse Île. By June of 1847, the port of Québec became so overwhelmed, that dozens of ships carrying over 14,000 Irish queued for days to make landing. It is estimated that almost 5,000 Irish died on Grosse Île and it is known to be the largest Irish burial ground exclusive of Ireland. Many Irish immigrants played a major role in Canadian society. Perhaps one of Canada's more famous immigrants from Ireland was Canadian Parliamentarian Thomas D'Arcy McGee.

Apart from the annual St. Patrick's Day parade hosted by numerous cities, towns and communities across Canada, the proud presence of the Irish in Canada today is also manifest in the myriad of Irish societies and associations spread across the nation. There are also several Canadian associations for Irish studies as well as university programs and courses devoted to this same theme.

Research at Library and Archives Canada

Names of Irish immigrants can be found in different series of records, mainly passenger lists. For the years before 1865, we suggest that you consult first the following online resources.

Immigrants at Grosse Île

This database includes information on 33,026 immigrants whose names appear in surviving records of the Grosse Île Quarantine Station between 1832 and 1937. Names were extracted from different kind of documents.

Immigrants at Grosse Ile (1832-1937)

Immigrants before 1865

Library and Archives Canada holds a number of lists that have been identified and indexed by name in a database, formerly known as our Miscellaneous Immigration Index. Many of the records relate to immigrants from the British Isles to Quebec and Ontario, but there are also references to settlers in other provinces. The database also includes other types of records such as lists of the Irish settlers brought to the Peterborough area of Ontario in the early 1820s, the declarations of aliens for Lower Canada and names of some Irish orphans.

Immigrants before 1865

Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book

Upon their arrival, many poor immigrants had to rely on benevolent societies for assistance when they arrived in North America. The Montreal Emigrant Society was established in 1831. Its main purpose was to provide transportation for immigrants who had arrived at Montreal from Quebec and were destined for settlement in different parts of Lower Canada (Quebec) and Upper Canada (Ontario). Library and Archives Canada holds one register of names of immigrants for the year 1832 from the Montreal Emigrant Society (RG 7 G18). The passage book has been digitized and is available online. The use of this digitized database is facilitated by a name index.

Montreal Emigrant Society Passage Book (1832)

Passenger lists, 1865-1935

The names of Irish immigrants coming to Canada after 1865 can be found in immigrations records.

Passenger Lists, 1865-1935.

Other series of documents

Library and Archives Canada also holds some private fonds regarding Irish families such as:

  • Heney Family collection, 1710-1980 (MG 25 G 347)
    • Collection consists of genealogical charts and information concerning the Heney Family of the Ottawa area, and related families.
  • Radcliffe Family fonds, 1832-1833 (MG 29 A 52)
    • Letters written by members of the Radcliff family to friends and family in Ireland.
  • Diary of an Irish immigrant woman, 1869 (MG55/29)
    • Diary of an Irish immigrant woman which describes her experiences while travelling in 1869, from Dublin to Canada on the sailing ship Lady Seymour with her family.

Research in Published Sources

Search for books on Irish in AMICUS, using authors, titles or subject terms such as:

  • Irish genealogy
  • Irish genealogies
  • Irish Canada
  • Irish immigration
  • Irish immigrants

Research at Other Institutions and Online

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