How to use passenger lists for family tree research

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12 February 2015
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Find out how passenger lists can help you find ancestors who travelled to the UK from overseas, or left Britain for a new life in another country.

Find out how passenger lists can help you find ancestors who travelled to the UK from overseas, or left Britain for a new life in another country.

Passenger lists can be an invaluable source for researching emigration and immigration. If you can’t find someone on the census, passenger lists may be worth a look, in case they were in fact living overseas.

Passenger lists created in Britain

Inbound

Investigate inbound passenger lists at Ancestry.co.uk, using BT 26 incoming passenger lists for 1878-1960 for ships arriving in Britain from ports outside Europe and the Mediterranean.

Moving Here has images of inwards passenger lists for March 1948-October 1960 which brought groups of Indian and Caribbean migrants to the UK - all free to search and download.

Outbound

The UK has few records of people who left voluntarily. Those that do survive are the outward bound passenger lists in BT 27, which contain the names of people leaving the UK from ports in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales for final destinations outside Europe and the Mediterranean. Findmypast.co.uk and Genes Reunited hold indexes and digitised images of the BT 27 outbound passenger lists from 1890-1960.

The Scottish Emigration Database (free) contains transcripts of records of more than 21,000 passengers who embarked at Glasgow and Greenock for non-European ports between 1 January and 30 April 1923, and at other Scottish ports between 1890 and 1960.

The Scottish Archive Network (SCAN; free) has a digital archive of Highlands and Islands passenger lists, 1852-1857.

Passenger lists created overseas

Passenger lists created overseas may be found in other archives around the world. Try browsing Cyndi’s List for links on ships and passenger lists at Cyndis List.

You could also try contacting the major libraries and archives in the country where your ancestor travelled to or from, as they may well hold original records.

Explore America’s official immigration centres 1820-1954 at Castle Garden and Ellis Island. To trace ancestors who may have arrived at a different port, or who crossed the border from Canada or Mexico, try Joe Beine’s guide at Gene Search, which details US ports of arrival and their available passenger lists 1820-1957 and includes Canadian and Mexican border crossing records.

The National Archives of America has plenty of useful immigration information.

Ancestry has a number of overseas immigration records in its ‘Immigration and Travel’ category, such as passenger arrival records for Canada, North America and Australia, but you are likely to need a worldwide subscription to view them.

Aliens

You can search 300,000 naturalisation records at The National Archives, including Naturalisation case papers, 1789-1934 and 1934-c1968 (not all records survive).

More than 150,000 unique naturalisation and denization records are now available on TheGenealogist with records ranging from 1609 to 1960. As well as providing the date an ancestor may have received British naturalisation or denization, other details may include a change of name when they arrived in the UK.

Explore records of ‘aliens’ at Ancestry.co.uk, using England, Alien Arrivals 1810-1811 and 1826-1869, indexed with digitised images. These include the Aliens Entry Books 1794-1921, which feature Home Office correspondence about aliens, indexes to aliens’ certificates 1836-1852 and applications for naturalisation.

The retired Moving Here website had images of alien certificates issued at the port of Hull 1793-1815. You can access an archived version of the site here.

Transported convicts

Between 1787 and 1868 more than 160,000 people were transported to Australia. Search records of transportees to Australia, 1787-1879, (including HO10, HO11 and CO209/7) on Ancestry (worldwide subscription required to view records), and search the Ireland to Australia Transportation Database at The National Archives of Ireland.

Passenger lists in 3 easy steps

  • Check the BT 26 inwards passenger lists for ancestors who travelled to the UK, and explore the BT 27 outwards passenger lists for ancestors who may have emigrated.
  • Consult overseas archives to trace ancestors who travelled to or from another country.
  • To find out what information you may be able to find within the records, be sure to read the ‘About’ section for each collection.

Note: Findmypast, TheGenealogist and Ancestry are subscription/pay-per-view websites. An Ancestry worldwide subscription may be required to view some immigration/emigration records.

Don't forget, you can read the other getting started guides on Family Tree's website, and for more detailed expert advice, read Family Tree magazine every issue! You can download our latest issue right now! Family Tree is available as a digital edition – visit www.pocketmags.com, the App StoreGoogle Play or Amazon Appstore. Single issues, back issues and subscriptions are available for PC, Mac, eReaders, smartphones and tablets. A free sample is also available for all devices.

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Image credit: © Michelle Lee, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).