Everything You Need to Know about United States Border Crossing Records

July 9, 2020  - by 
Immigrants in Canada

The United States borders both Canada and Mexico. If you have immigrant ancestors who entered the United States through Canada or Mexico—or even had ancestors who lived near the border—you might find them in collections of U.S. border crossing records.

You’re unlikely to find U.S. border crossing records before 1895. That’s because recording arrivals at land borders, such as the borders between the United States and Mexico and the United States and Canada, was not required by early immigration acts.

Immigration records of arrivals at the Canadian border began in 1895 and at the Mexican border in 1906. Initially, card manifests for each person were used to record information about arrivals in the United States across land. These cards contained information similar to the information found on a passenger list.

Information found on a manifest card may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Full name
  • Place of birth
  • Age and sex
  • Marital status
  • Occupation
  • Point of arrival in the United States.
  • Final destination
  • Physical description
  • Individual picture or family picture

Mexican Border Crossing Records

Old photo of a couple from Mexico

You might be surprised to learn that it was not only Mexican nationals who crossed the land border between the United States and Mexico. Europeans also entered in this fashion. For example, many Syrians and Japanese entered at Eagle Pass, Texas, in 1906 and 1907. You might also find your Palestinian or Filipino relatives may have crossed the Mexican and United States border at Brownsville, Texas.

Indexed immigration records for Mexican border crossings between 1903 and 1957 can be searched for free on FamilySearch.org. These records are only in index form; however, you may be able to use the information from the index to locate additional records for your ancestor in digital form.

When searching for these records, keep in mind that they are alphabetically-arranged and filed by surname, then first name. Because many Mexican citizens had double names, their cards may be filed as if the second part of the double name were not there. If a persons last name was Gomez-Miguel and their first name was Maria, then the card may be filed as Gomez, Maria. Surnames like De La Vega could be filed simply under Vega.

screenshot of us border crossing record from Mexico

Canadian Border Crossing Records

Prior to 1895, the United States did not keep records of crossings on the northern land border. For this reason, many immigrants traveled to Canadian ports and then over the border to the United States to avoid delays or complications of immigration.

These early immigrants were often from Great Britain, Scandinavia, or Russia. In the 1890s, it was quite popular for steamship companies to advertise passage through Canada as easier to settle in the United States. This led to more immigrants from Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, and Greece.

Immigration records for the border between the United States and Canada are commonly known as “St. Albans Lists.” This record collection contains an index and passenger manifests and covers the years between 1895 and 1956.

us border crossing record from Canada

To find records for arrivals at the Canadian border between 1895 to 1956, researchers can search the index on FamilySearch.org. With the information found in the index, you may be able to find a digital image of the manifest card for your ancestor.

Information found on a manifest card may include the following:

  • Full name
  • Current address
  • Age and sex
  • Marital status
  • Nationality
  • Place of birth
  • Occupation
  • Physical description
Couple with child stand outside in a field in Canada

If you have had difficulty finding your immigrant ancestors arrival in a U.S. port, it may because they sailed to Mexico or Canada and entered the U.S. over land. Try looking for your immigrant ancestors border crossing records by clicking on the links below!

Amie Tennant

Amie Bowser Tennant is a genealogy researcher, writer and presenter.She writes blog articles and other content for many top companies and societies in the genealogy field. Her most treasured experience is working as a consultant for family history. Amie lives with her husband and three children in Ohio, surrounded by many of her extended family.

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