The Panama Canal Zone

panama canal-mapIf you came across a relative, especially a young male, who did not appear on specific census records between the early 1900s and the 1930s and you don’t know what happened to him during those years, you might need to exam the records held by the site on the American Panama Canal Zone.

With the construction of this massive project, of a canal connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean, first a 1903 treaty granted a strip of land in the center of the country Panama to the United States for the purposes of construction of this canal. It would eventually allow ships to travel much faster from ocean to ocean. This canal and strip of land on either side was known as the Canal Zone and was U. S. Territory. It remained so, even after construction was completed in 1914. By 1979 the country of Panama joined operation of the Canal Zone and by December 31, 1999 it was totally turned over to Panama.

The building of this great canal needed many Americans between 1903 and 1914 to get it completed, then more in the coming years to operate it. This just might be where some of your ancestors could have gone seeking work.

Using the more than the 144,900 records gathered from the National Archives, you can search using to see if a relative worked there. To learn more about the Panama Canal zone the site has information on FamilySearch.

To begin searching the Panama Canal 1905-1937 site place a surname in the search box. These records cover employment documents and sailing lists. Have some general information on the relative, such as full name, birth year and where they had lived. Review any names that come up, examining for anything that tie-in to your family.

There is a transcription to study first, but you can also view and then download the actual original document. That record with have full names, when they arrived in Panama, their wage, their job there, how long they stayed and if they job / wages changed. The record for John B. Kershaw Panama-John B. Kershaw-engineeringshowed he arrived in March 1910 and left in April 1915. His starting wage was 65 cents per hour as a machinist. Do click the arrow to the next image which would be back of the record.

Find a record you can download to your computer.

Compare that to Joe Bixler who arrived Jan. 19, 1905 as a carpenter and to be paid $75 a month. Panama-Joe Bixler-carpenterHe only remained until Feb. 28, 1905. Living in the wilderness was extremely difficult and many men could not do it.

It shows if a relative appeared to be missing for a few months during that time frame, they may have tried to work on the Panama Canal. Try a number of surnames on your tree, just might find that missing or previous unknown relative.

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