During the 19th century many of our ancestors arrived in the UK from all round the world by sea. Despite how long it took to travel, people in those days moved around far more than you might think. Some came to the UK to find jobs, or to gain new skills in Britain’s booming mining, textile and manufacturing industries. Others came to study, or were passing through and decided to stay longer than planned. Sometimes people arrived in Britain to escape economic hardship or religious and political persecution in their homeland.
Although people arriving in Britain weren’t legally required to register their status with the authorities until 1914, in most cases information about them was written down in the passenger list of the ship they sailed in. These were kept and indexed by the Board of Trade and you can search over 16 million records in our UK Incoming Passenger Lists 1878–1960. Aside from immigrants and passengers passing through UK ports, these records include plenty of people who left the UK for a better life in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, India or China, and later returned to visit family, or to resettle.
Searching passenger lists
This collection includes arrivals from all around the world, apart from European and Mediterranean ports. You’ll find plenty of interesting information about travellers and their journeys such as name, age, travel dates, ports of departure and arrival, and frequently their home town and nationality. Families travelling together were usually recorded as groups, and being able to see a list of accompanying children provides useful research clues. Some researchers are surprised by how often people they thought had left the UK for good are seen to return time and again in these records.
Ancestors from overseas may also appear in the Alien Arrivals Collection 1810-11 and 1826-69. The data here is from official documents completed when passengers arrived in the UK from places like Russia, Germany, Poland and Scandinavia. There are 650,000 records to search and they include information such as name, date of arrival, ship, nationality and more. Because the Incoming Passenger Lists only begin in 1878, this collection is a great supplement to the Incoming Passenger Lists, taking your searches for traveller ancestors as far back as 1810.
Some researchers love to track down the black sheep in their family trees. If you’re one of them then the Australian Convict Transportation Registers will be of great interest, as well as England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791–1892, which also includes Transportation records. In many cases, a transported convict could apply to have his wife and family brought to Australia to join him after his sentence, and records of them can be found in the Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists for New South Wales 1826–1922.