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British Passenger List Records

by Debbie Beavis

Passenger list information is available in the Public Record Office (PRO). There is NO index to this material. The lists are boxed up in annual sequence:

  • outbound 1890-1960
  • inbound from 1878-1888 [very very few]
  • inbound 1890 to 1960

Within each year, they are further broken down into ports, and each port sequence is then further boxed in rough month order. There is inevitable overlap and some sharing of boxes. As an example, for the year 1890 outbound, there are 20 boxes of lists for Liverpool departures alone. A further 6 for Queenstown, 6 for London.... and so on - a total of 41 boxes to be searched, just for the year 1890.... each of those boxes will have at least 1 ship travelling to the United States or Canada, many boxes will have a dozen or more.

There is considerable variation in the size of the lists. Some are just notepaper size, especially the really early ones. Most however are about 18 x 20 inches and on very flimsy paper which time in many cases is turning into crisp tissue paper. The writing is quite often fading badly, or has bled from 19th century indelible ink, so that it is almost illegible. The later ones are typed, later still they are alphabetical up to a point. Within the boxes, the lists are not packed in any order. Each list must be unfolded to see which ship and which destination. The PRO doesn't undertake searches in passenger lists.

Lists Not Available:

  • Passenger lists are not available for ships travelling
    • between ports in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England
    • ferry boats, including Cross-Channel, North Sea and Irish Sea ferries
    • ships travelling between England and all European ports or any ports which lie on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, including all islands in the Mediterranean, such as Malta, UNLESS the ship's voyage started or ended outside that area.
  • Cruise ships
  • Voyages which happened before 1890 unless it was one of the very few lists which escaped the bonfire, but they are only for a few arrivals in Queenstown between 1878 and 1888
  • Ships bringing trans-migrants into the east coast ports in the UK (Hull, Grimsby etc) from Scandinavia, Germany, Holland, Belgium for example before shipping out through Liverpool, Leith etc. You can only pick these up in British lists by finding them leaving on transAtlantic ships or others bound for beyond-Europe destinations. No Wilson Line arrival lists into Hull!
  • You cannot find the names of passengers who boarded ships in (say) Antwerp, which then called in to Dover or London for example before continuing to the US, Canada etc. So if your passenger boarded a Red Star Line ship in Antwerp which took on more passengers in Dover en route for the US, you will not find the names of those already on board when she arrived in Dover.
  • Soldiers on purely troop-ship voyages
  • Ships which sank before they reached their port in the UK.

There are, on occasion, exceptions to these rules. It is often easier to find your passenger arriving at their final destination on trans-Atlantic and Australia voyages rather than in the British departure records.

Records From Ports In Scotland

From 1890-1960 there are only three choices for Scottish departures. The passenger lists are boxed as follows:

  • LEITH holds the lists for Edinburgh departures
  • DUNDEE holds those for departures further north on the east coast.
  • GLASGOW holds west coast departures for Greenock and Glasgow

Scottish emigrants can sometimes be hard to find. It is very tempting to assume that Scottish emigrants left from Scottish ports - even when they lived quite near to a suitable port in fact they often travelled south by train and picked up one of the larger, faster and perhaps more comfortable ships leaving from Liverpool, London or even Southampton.

Births/Deaths/Marriages At Sea

The General Register Office's (GRO) Marine Registers record births and deaths at sea on ships registered in Great Britain or Ireland from 1 July 1837. These are available through LDS libraries everywhere. The IGI covers events 'at sea.' Less well known however are the records held at the Public Record Office in Kew, England. If the name you are seeking does not appear in the Marine Registers of the GRO, then you should consider a search in the records held at Kew.

Briefly, the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854 required masters of UK registered ships to deposit logs of their voyages with the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen. Details of births, marriages and deaths of passengers were extracted, entered into registers, and the details forwarded periodically to the GROs of England (and Wales), Scotland and Ireland. (Note however that marriages were not recorded by the GRO who hold no marriage records in the Marine Registers.)

These records are held in the following series of records:

  1. BT158 Births, Deaths and Marriages of Passengers At Sea 1854 - 1890

    These have been filmed and may consequently be available through your LDS library. Note that marriages were recorded only up to 1883 and births only up to 1887.

  2. BT159 Registers of Deaths of British Nationals at Sea 1875-1888 and BT160 Registers of Births of British Nationals at Sea 1875-1891

    These have also been filmed and may be available through your LDS library. These registers also include deaths of seamen.

    BT334 Registers and Indexes of Births, Deaths and Marriages of Passengers and Seamen at Sea, 1891-1972

    In an ideal situation, all these entries should appear in the GRO Marine Registers but in practice there are many omissions as records were not always forwarded. The GRO Marine Registers themselves began much earlier than the BT records mentioned above but again there are many omissions in the early years. As stated, marriage records are not recorded in the Marine Registers. It will be seen therefore that in order to search for a record of an event at sea, it may be necessary to search all of the above sources. Recognize also that until the Registration Act of 1874, Masters were not required by law to notify the RGSS of births and deaths on board and although the events should have been entered into the log this was not always done.

    Finally there is also a class of miscellaneous returns at the PRO:

  3. RG32 General Register Office: Miscellaneous Returns of Births, Marriages and Deaths.

    These record births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials of British subjects, nationals of the Colonies, Commonwealth and countries under British jurisdiction, on British and foreign ships. These records are available on film, are indexed in RG43 also filmed, and may therefore be available through the LDS library system.

For more information and on-line leaflets, check out the sources at the PRO's website.

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Last updated: January 31, 2011 and maintained by and M. Kohli