A quarter of Canadians unaware of where ancestors emigrated from

Research reveals that nearly a quarter of Canadians don't know their own family's immigration story

  • Majority (90 per cent) of Canadians feel that immigration is important to Canadian culture
  • Yet almost a third can't identify the first immigrant in their family
  • More than 60 per cent of Canadians would consider taking a DNA test to confirm their ancestry


TORONTO, Jan. 26, 2016 /CNW/ - With the topic of migration currently on the news agenda, new research¹ reveals that many Canadians are in the dark when it comes to their own family's immigration story.

According to research commissioned by Ancestry, the world's largest online family history resource, nine out of 10 Canadians agree that immigration is important to our country. Canada was the first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy with a focus on keeping citizens' identities and cultures encouraging all Canadians to "take pride in [our] ancestry"². However, our actual knowledge of our own past leaves a lot to be desired.

Almost a third (32 per cent) of Canadians admit that they don't know when the first member of their family immigrated to Canada, with an additional quarter (24 per cent) saying they don't know where their ancestors emigrated from.

"Canadians have a very positive theoretical attitude toward immigration, but from a practical standpoint, they know very little about their own immigration story or their ancestors' role in shaping our country," said Kevin James, PhD, Professor, Department of History at University of Guelph.

"We've all arrived from someplace else and this history of immigration has helped to create the rich diversity of people and cultures that have become the hallmark of modern Canada. It's fascinating to explore early migrant groups to understand the diversity of each person's experiences, which were often tragic and full or hardship, but ultimately redeemed by the success of those who followed in their path."

Ancestry can help connect the dots of your family history and bring to light the immigration stories in your own family. Research may reveal family connections to waves of migration into Canada throughout our country's history including:

  • The thousands of Irish immigrants who fled the Potato Famine in the mid-1800s, many arriving dead or dying at the Québec quarantine station of Grosse Isle. Over the course of the next four years, 230,000 Irish immigrants arrived in Canada and by 1871, Irish-Canadians comprised more than 24 per cent of the total Canadian population.
  • Today the Greeks are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, but there were only 39 people claiming to be from Greek descent in all of Canada in 1900. Between 1900 and 1911 this number grew to 2,000, with most arriving as refugees following the war between the Greeks and the Turks.
  • The 170,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing Austro-Hungarian oppression beginning in 1891³ contributed to the growth of the prairie provinces, as did the nearly 7,500 Doukhobor, who were a spiritual Christian religious group of Russian origin who came to Canada between 1898 and 18994 seeking refuge from Russian persecution. Their impact, as farmers and in helping build infrastructure is still seen today, as are their descendants.


Many interesting refugee stories can be found by delving into historical records, such as that of Peter G. Makaroff. While most Doukhobor were farmers, Peter, with the help of the Quaker community, left the life of toil to begin his studies in Philadelphia before obtaining his law degree at the University of Saskatchewan in 1918. He became the first Doukhobor to receive his law degree in Canada⁵. Within 20 years of immigrating to Canada, Makaroff was recognized as one of Canada's top young lawyers, and eventually turned to politics, serving one term on City Council and running as a Farmer-Labour candidate in the 1934 provincial election.

While historical records have long been the best way to discover the personal details and stories of one's ancestors, a new chapter in family history research is DNA testing. The national survey reveals that almost two-thirds of Canadians have an interest in DNA testing for the purposes of confirming their ancestry and learning more about their family's immigration story.

"Adding DNA data to existing historical records is like hitting a warp speed button on family history research," said Lesley Anderson, family historian and content specialist for Ancestry. "With AncestryDNA you can not only discover long-lost family connections, but also see your ethnic makeup and learn about migration patterns of your ancestors from nearly a thousand years ago."

More information about AncestryDNA can be found at dna.ancestry.ca. To start your family tree and discover your story, please visit ancestry.ca. 

Ancestry.ca was launched in January 2006 and is part of Ancestry.com, the world's largest online family history resource with more than 2 million subscribers across all its websites. More than 16 billion records have been added to the Ancestry.com sites and users have created more than 70 million family trees containing more than 6 billion profiles. In addition to its flagship site ancestry.com, the company operates several global Ancestry international websites along with a suite of online family history brands, including Archives.com, Fold3.com, Newspapers.com, and offers the AncestryDNA product, sold by its subsidiary, Ancestry.com DNA, LLC, all of which are designed to empower people to discover, preserve and share their family history.

Launched in Canada in June 2015, the AncestryDNA test uses microarray-based autosomal DNA testing to look at more than 700,000 locations across an individual's entire genome through a simple saliva sample. This approach provides a much more detailed look at one's family history than other existing Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA tests that only look at specific branches of a person's family tree. AncestryDNA kits are available for purchase for $149 plus shipping at dna.ancestry.ca

¹ Research carried out by Ancestry as part of the 2016 Canadian Family History Knowledge Survey

² Government of Canada "Canadian Multiculturalism: An Inclusive Citizenship" http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/multiculturalism/citizenship.asp

³ Government of Canada "Canada: A History of Refuge" http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/timeline.asp

⁴ Library and Archives Canada "Doukhobors" http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/history-ethnic-cultural/Pages/doukhobor.aspx

⁵ Doukhobor Genealogy Website "Peter G. Makaroff, WC, Canada's First Doukhobor Lawyer" http://www.doukhobor.org/Makaroff.html

SOURCE Ancestry.ca

For further information: Caitie Wallman / Karolina Olechnowicz, Media Profile, 416-342-1823 / 416-342-1822, caitie.wallman@mediaprofile.com / karolina.olechnowicz@mediaprofile.com

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