England, Passenger Lists, Passports, and Overseas Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Passenger Lists

Records of passengers arriving at and leaving British ports are far inferior to those kept in North America and Australia. Prior to 1878 there were few kept and most have disappeared, and after 1960 the system was discontinued owing to the increase in air travel; no air passenger lists have been kept.

In addition, the surviving Board of Trade (BT) lists have not been filmed or indexed, although finding aids for the lists themselves exist on film. Further details on passenger lists are in The National Archives (TNA) research guide D56 and Beavis published a good report on using British Passenger lists at TNA.

Chart: Finding Aids to PRO Passenger Lists

Inwards lists 1878-1888, 1890-1960 (BT 26)
FHL film 917035
Outwards lists 1890-1909 (BT 27)

Outwards lists 1909-1960 (BT 27)
FHL film 916576
List of Passenger registers 1906-1951 (BT 32)

The extant material held at TNA (The National Archives) and useful to the genealogist can be divided into two groups:


Ships carrying immigrants and Britons returning home after visiting or working abroad.

Prior to 1878

  • Ÿ Lists of aliens arriving 1810-1811 in FO 83/21-22.
  • Ÿ Index (only) of certificates issued to aliens arriving 1826-1849 in HO 5/25-32.
  • Ÿ Original certificates of arrivals of aliens 1836-1852 in HO 2, arranged by port. Each certificate contains his or her name, nationality, profession, date of arrival, last country visited, and signature.
  • Ÿ Lists of alien passengers made by masters of ships 1836-1860, 1867-1869 in HO 3
  • Ÿ HM Steam Packet passenger lists to, from and within the Mediterranean area 1831-1834 in ADM 30/35.

1878-1888, 1890-1960 Arrivals on vessels starting their journey outside of Europe and the Mediterranean are listed in Board of Trade Passenger Lists, Inwards (BT 26) by port (and small ports tend to be listed with a neighbouring larger one) and then by year and date.

Thus you need to know the port, month and year of arrival; if this is not known but you have the name of the ship, then the Register of Passenger Lists for 1906-1951 can be helpful.

There is now a nominal index to (East) Indian and Caribbean migrants to the UK 1948-1960 and the actual lists with full details of each immigrant can be viewed online.


Ships carrying emigrants and Britons going to visit or work abroad.

Prior to 1890 Very little still exists, merely the following:

  • Some passengers to New England, Barbados and other colonies 1634-9, 1677 in E 157 which have been printed in Hotten.
  • Ÿ Passengers on board vessels to North America in 1630s is in CO 1.
  • Ÿ Emigrants to the New World and to Europe 1773-1776 were listed with name, age, occupation, reason for leaving the country, last place of residence, date of departure, and destination in T 47/9-12 and a card index exists at TNA.
  • Ÿ Emigrants to New Zealand as cabin passengers and applicants for free passage are in CO 208.
  • Ÿ HM Steam Packet passenger lists to, from and within the Mediterranean area 1831-1834 in ADM 30/35.


The Board of Trade Passenger Lists, Outwards (BT 27) list those going to final destinations outside Europe and the Mediterranean. They are arranged by port and date and there are separate lists for British (and Commonwealth) and Alien passengers.

Other Passenger Lists

It is intended that a future volume in this series will deal extensively with immigration to, migration within and emigration from Britain. Some of the sources for Britons going abroad include:

  • ŸEmigrants from Britain whether self-financed or assisted by government or parish authorities.
  • Transportation of convicts from Britain to North America, West Indies and Australia. Records can be found at TNA and also in county assize records
  • Indexes of passenger lists are now widely available online.
  • ŸImmigrants to the New World and the Antipodes. These are generally kept in the country of arrival at the national level in USA and Canada, or provincial/state level notably in South Africa and Australia.


From the time of William the Conqueror the monarch controlled the movement of his subjects overseas and the early letters of introduction were gradually replaced by other forms of establishing identity and nationality. In particular the gentry, who were expected to fill leadership roles in time of war, had to get such permission to leave Britain if they wished to take the grand tour of Europe so that their whereabouts would be known.

Only a few countries required documentation in order to enter, and this applied in particular to the English employed as merchants, teachers etc. in Russia.

It wasn’t until the late 18th century that any type of passport document was issued and these were a single sheet of paper until 1914. Surviving early records in E 157 at TNA include:

  • Licences to Pass Beyond the Seas 1572-1578.
  • Registers of soldiers taking the Oath of Allegiance before going to serve in the low countries 1613-1624.
  • Licences for persons going abroad, chiefly to Holland 1624-1632.

Passes were issued in the 17th and 18th centuries; early ones are more informative than those after 1793, which may only show a name, date and passport number. Extant records include:

  • Entry books of passes issued by the Secretaries of State from 1674-1784 are in SP 44 and others are in FO 366.
  • Registers from 1795-1948 in 14 volumes are in FO 610 (except Mar-May 1915 in FO 613). They are not terribly informative, giving merely the date of application, name, destination, fee paid and either ‘by whom recommended’ or ‘remarks’. Useful clues but not proving that they actually went to that country at that time. Blake has provided illustrations of 1851 and 1920 registers.
  • Indexes of names of passport applicants 1851-1862 and 1874-1916 are in FO 611. A commercial firm, Find My Past has digitized these and created an online index. The database is free but is of limited use as it is searchable only by the first three letters of the surname (1851-62) or first letter only (1874-1903), and one has to do each year separately. For example, it will tell me that there are 65 hits for surnames beginning with the letter D for a certain year. Viewing the images costs about 20p each.
  • About 2,000 sample passports 1802-1961 have been kept in FO 655, a 1901 example issued in Gibraltar is illustrated by Blake, and shows the applicants place of birth and occupation as well as his intended destination.
  • Some miscellaneous correspondence, and representative case papers and survive at TNA and sometimes in consulate or embassy records.

Actual regulations for the issuance of passports were not drawn up until 1846, and those who availed themselves of this method of establishing their bona fides were mainly merchants and diplomats. They were issued for a single journey only and had to be signed afresh for any further usage. However the vast majority of those travelling overseas during the 17th to early 20th centuries did so without any formal document.

Only in 1914 did it became mandatory for British citizens travelling abroad to hold a passport. The first booklet-type British passport was issued in 1922; photos were added and space for visas to be stamped.

It appears that none of the passport material has yet been filmed by the GSU. Martin Lloyd has written on the history of passports worldwide,The Passport: The History of Man’s Most Travelled Document and some further information on TNA passport holdings can be found in their research guide D60. Brian Meringo wrote on visas and passports for travel to France.

Other Overseas Records

Huge amounts of other records concerning British diplomacy and foreign affairs, exist at TNA in State Papers from 1500-1782 and then the Foreign Office from 1782-1960. Atherton describes the different types of records held and how to access them. TNA research guides which cover subjects of interest to those researching Britons abroad include:

D107 Emigrants
D25 State Papers Ireland 1509-1782
D50 Immigrants
L15 Transportation to America and the West Indies 1615-1776
L17 Transportation to Australia 1787-1868
O10 Colonial Office: Advisory Committees
O12 Foreign Office: Card Index 1906-1910
O13 Foreign Office: Card Index 1910-1919
O14 Foreign Office Records from 1782
O16 Refugees and Minorities
O17 Embassy and Consular Archives
O2 State Papers Foreign
O3 Privy Council and the Colonies
O30 Researching British Colonies and Dominions
O31 Dominions Office
O32 Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies
O33 Colonial Office: Registers of Correspondence 1849-1926
O34 Colonial Office: Registers of Correspondence 1926-1951
O36 Government Gazettes of the British Empire and Commonwealth
O53 Emigrants to North America after 1776

Consular and Embassy Archives

These are in the Foreign Office (FO) collection at TNA, date from the 1820s to the early 20th century and include records of:

  • Correspondence to and from the diplomatic and consular posts and between them and other foreign and British representatives abroad.
  • Registers of births, marriages and deaths of British subjects abroad (less complete than the set at ONS, but you don’t have to buy a certificate).
  • Consular courts.
  • Commercial records of many kinds.
  • Papers about British churches and cemeteries.
  • Estates, wills and deeds of British subjects.

In 1906 a card index system was introduced and in the 1920s new registers and printed indexes (see TNA research guides O12-O14, O17).

Overseas Records Collections

Records of personal estates abroad may be found amongst estate papers of the gentry wherever they are now located, for example in county archives or private collections. The HMC (Historical Manuscripts Commission), now part of TNA, keeps a list of all known collections and their accessibility; some have been microfilmed by the GSU.

Yeo and White’s 1995 work, The British Overseas has details and discussion of several types of records of Britons overseas held in the UK and a few elsewhere.

Chart: West Indian Estate Accounts 1833 Payne MSS, Bedfordshire County Record Office)

Increase of Slaves
Jan 1
On the Estate this day
Jan 30
Betsy Violet born of Nancy Jack


May 22
Sally Mike born of Joan Mike


Aug 19
Tommy born of La Lisby

Sep 9
Nancy Mills born of Puggy


Sep 25
William Payne born of Kisby

Oct 8
Peter Thomas born of Sylvia

Oct 30
Francis Payne born of Bella


Decrease [of Slaves]
Jul 22
Ambrose died of hisnop [?]

Nov 30
Francis Payne an Infant died of fever


Dec 31
On the Estate this day

H = Horses, HC = Horned Cattle, M = Mules

Increase of Stock
Jan 1
On the Estate this day
Dec 16
By purchase from James Berridge


Decrease [of Stock]
Jan 15
A steer died from obstruction of the bowels


Mar 9
“ from age and purging


Apr 12
A bull died from urine blood


May 15
A steer"


Jun 18
A bull"


Aug 10
A steer died from inflammation in the bladder


Aug 10
Knock in the head with farey [?] & glanders

Oct 28
Died from old age and debility


Dec 31
On the Estate this day

Additional Information

See: England Passenger Lists

See: England Emigration and Immigration

See: British Citizens Overseas Birth, Marriage and Death Records

Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Education,Health and Contemporary Documents offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.