Devon Noel Lee
US Border Crossing Records: A Genealogy Gold Mine
Passenger records aren't the only genealogy gold mine for migratory ancestors. For example, the Canadian and Mexican borders historically maintained records of who entered the US, where they've been, and where they went.
How Far Back Do Border Crossing Records Go?
Thanks to several immigration laws, the US government began documenting who entered the US. These records help genealogists trace their ancestors so long as they crossed the border at official land-based checkpoints. US/Canada border records began around 1895 in St. Albans, Vermont, with US/Mexico records starting 11 years later in 1906.
Before these dates, you won't find federal border crossing records.
What Do These Records Document?
Many border crossing records are available to search for free on FamilySearch (Canadian border). They often list some or all of the following details:
Place of birth
Age and sex
Point of arrival in the United States.
Individual picture or family picture
While you can view many Canadian original records, the Mexican border records do not include the original image alongside the index search. To view the original Mexican card manifests, you would use the information from the index to consult the Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 from the National Archives.
Watch this video to see examples.
Who Crossed the Border?
You might think you'll only find Canadians or Mexicans crossing the closest border to their home country. However, land crossings happened as frequently as ocean travel. Therefore, you will find a variety of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, and African nationalities represented in these collections.
Don't exclude a search of these records because your ancestors weren't from Mexico. Fellow researchers have found Europeans, Syrians, Japanese, Palestinian, and Filipino immigrants in the collection.
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Be Ware of the Double Names
In many cultures, individuals had double surnames. For example, Sofia Hernadez y Espinosa or Gustave Bonickhausen dit Eiffel. They may also have topographical surnames, such as De La Cruz.
Also, your ancestor's name may not appear with one of the names or the topographical portions of a surname. When searching the records, look for the following:
Hernadez, Sophia AND Espinosa, Sofia.
Bonickhausen, Gustave AND, Eiffel, Gustave
If you can't find your ancestors' port of arrival or passenger lists, give border crossing records a try. Additionally, discover your ancestors who frequently returned to their homeland in Canada or Mexico. You might learn more about them by tracking how often they cross the border.
For more valuable genealogy research tips, check out the following: