Sharing Your Family History: Immigration Stories

Whether it’s Ellis Island in New York, USA; the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, Australia or Pier 21 in Halifax, Canada many of us have family or ancestors who have proudly or nervously or desperately or reluctantly borne the title of immigrant.

Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Photographer, Ingfbruno; used with permission under C.C. BY-SA 3.0

My family’s story isn’t something I really thought much about until the first time one of my daughters came to me with a family tree project – it seems like every few years one of them would have to do some sort of family history research (the most recent was this year in Tasha’s fourth year history class in university). My advice to you, is if you do have to help one of your kids with research for a class project, save it somewhere because you’ll likely have to do it again, hehe! Anyways, it turns out that I found family history to be quite interesting, so when we got the chance to visit Halifax and learn a bit more we were happy to!

My grandma Ann was a war bride. She was born in the Netherlands and lived there during World War II. My grandpa Michael was one of many Canadian soldiers who participated in the liberation of the Netherlands. The two met and were married. Grandma followed grandpa back to Canada after the war, arriving at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia with a cruise ship full of other brides with similar stories.

My grandma Ann is the young lady on the left.

My grandma Ann is the young lady on the left.

Pier 21 has been turned into an Immigration Museum, one of the most interesting attractions in Halifax, in our opinion. We visited in October, enjoying the tour hosted by a tour guide, the twenty minute movie and the interactive area of the museum. The focus is on immigration to Canada from the initial European settlement in the mid 1700s until today.

I think they’ve done an excellent job of presenting real stories of immigration from a variety of points of view – not everything presented is ‘happy’. Much of it is sad – some of it downright, embarrassing… all of it thought provoking. The stories are often presented in an oral interview video format, so you can hear the voice and witness the expressions of the people who have experienced the Canadian immigration process first hand.

Pier 21 Entrance

The entrance to Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia
Photo © Darren Guenther

Immigration is also examined, in quite a frank manner, from the perspective of the aboriginal people who, to this day, have very little say in the influx of people from around the globe who have radically impacted their traditional way of life.

Although the museum has done a good job of including family friendly areas that will engage children, mom and dad will likely have to accept a less in-depth visit than they would get without the kids along. It’s a great time to share family stories with them though!

The family history centre at Pier 21.

The family history centre at Pier 21.
Photo © Darren Guenther

The most visited/exciting part of Pier 21 is the archives where they happily assist visitors in finding the immigration documents of ancestors. The archives cover Pier 21 and other points of entry into Canada. The immigration museums in other countries have similar services. You can get copies of documents and pictures of many of the boats with the assistance of professional genealogists as well as providing them with information and copies of photos to expand their archives.

We had a great time during our tour – easily spending three hours there (the time flew by). We plan to return another time so we can spend more time in the research area. (You can also email them for research help if you’re unable to make it to Halifax).

About Leanne
Wife, mom and the woman behind the scenes of the DLTK's Crafts for Kids websites. The websites are a terrific hobby -- run by (me) Leanne, a mom with two girls as my official craft testers and my husband as my technical support. DLTK are the first initials of each of the people in my family (I'm the L!) Whenever we send out little cards or whatnot, we sign 'love DLTK' ... when I started the website I used the initials. Had I known the website would get actual strangers visiting it, I would have picked a less mysterious name but we're all stuck with it now!

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