Finding Ancestors using Passenger Lists

In your hunt for elusive information, one brilliant resource that you have at your disposal is passenger lists. The excitement of finding your ancestor on a list of ship passengers brings an absolute thrill and can fill in details that were previously cloudy. provides a wealth of information online. Their BT27 records are an invaluable resource with 24 million passengers accounted for on 164,000 passenger lists. This incredible resource was previously only available for viewing at the public search room in Kew; however, thanks to a dedicated data capture team, researchers around the world now have 24/7 access to these records – and never have to leave the comfort of their home!

Happy Canada Day
Happy Canada Day (Photo credit: Anirudh Koul)

Who can be found on the passenger lists?

The passenger lists primarily document mass migrations prior to WWI, when nearly all travel was via ships. A huge number of British citizens moved abroad between 1890 and 1914, with an estimated 125,000 moving to the USA, 50,000 to Canada, and 25,000 to Australia each year in that period. After WWI, emigration was increasingly controlled, and though it continued, destinations shifted somewhat. Australia, for example, became a very popular destination.

The majority of passengers on the lists are, of course, British emigrants; however, many European trans-migrants are also included. During this time, trans-migration was hugely popular due to the cheap package deals made available by railroad and steamer companies. Many on the lists began their journeys in continental Europe, and only stopped in Britain on their way to their final destination.

Of course, scattered among the immigrants are a substantial number of business and leisure travelers. Businessmen, civil servants and diplomats often had cause to travel frequently, thus their names may appear often. Wealthier families traveled abroad on pleasure cruises or to visit family. Researchers will often find the names of these travelers appearing multiple times throughout the various records – one time for each journey.

Where were travelers headed?

The passenger lists on provide records of long-haul voyages. You’ll find coverage of voyages to all continents, including Asia, South America, West Africa, and the Caribbean. The most prominently featured destinations include Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

The lists document voyages setting out from all British ports, including those in Wales and Scotland, as well as those from Irish ports before partition in 1921. After 1921, only the Northern Irish ports are covered in the records.

The passenger lists  also provide a record of any port calls en route, including stops in Europe. If passengers disembarked at any port along the way, the passenger lists will show a record of it.


How are the passenger lists formatted?

Unfortunately, there was no industry standard for the recording of passenger lists. Different shipping lines had their own method of recording information, as well as their own pre-printed forms (which often changed over time as well). Thus, lists vary greatly in length and size. Some are typed out neatly, while others are handwritten. Some contain a surprising amount of information on passengers, including their exact home address as well as their ultimate overseas destination. Others contain only the very basics on each passenger.

How can I find specific passengers?

The online search feature makes finding specific passengers fairly easy. In many cases, you can simply put in your available information and quickly browse the results to find what you’re looking for.

At times, however, you might be unsure of the spelling of a name. The wildcard feature helps solve this problem. For example, if you’re searching for a Howard Greene and are unsure of the spelling, put in Howard Gr*, and you’ll get a list of results including names like Howard Grove, Howard Grady – and Howard Greene.

3 Replies to “Finding Ancestors using Passenger Lists”

  1. I cannot work out what actual dates your records cover. I am working on emigration from Dorset in the 1800s. Would you have more than Ancestry, at the moment their records only partially cover this period?

    1. Now this is really confusing!!
      What makes you think that we hold any records?
      This is the website related to a conference that is taking place in 2013 about Migration to, from and within the British Isles. I think your question should be directed to findmypast

    2. Find my Past’s Passenger Lists leaving UK records cover 1890 to 1960. It would be worth looking on Cyndi’s List for other records of passages, though.


Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.