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- Passenger Lists leaving UK 1890-1960
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What information do passenger lists contain?
There is no single, standard format. Passenger lists vary in size and in length, they changed over time, and different shipping lines had their own pre-printed forms. Some are embellished historical documents, others are more functional. Some are handwritten, others are typed; some record a minimum of detail about the passengers, others include a variety of information including address and destination.
The Passenger Lists leaving UK 1890-1960 are held in the National Archives in Britain. The records are also known by their National Archive reference BT27.
What are the types of voyage included?
The passenger lists in BT27 include long-haul voyages to destinations outside Britain and Europe. While countries such as Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and USA feature strongly, all continents are covered and you will find passengers on ships sailing to all parts of Asia, the Caribbean, South America and West Africa, even to remotest oceanic islands such as South Georgia Island.
These voyages often called en route at additional ports, including those in Europe, and any passengers disembarking at these stops are included. Voyages from all British (English, Welsh and Scottish) ports, and from all Irish ports before partition in 1921 and all Northern Irish ports after partition, are covered in BT27.
What types of voyage are excluded?
In theory if not in practice, there are no domestic British or purely European voyages in BT27, and no lists for Merchant or Royal Naval vessels or for troop ships. In addition, crew on passenger lists are not normally shown, although the captain or master is usually named on the header pages and some pre-printed and other lists do give details of senior staff.
Finally, there are no incoming voyages to Britain. These are contained within The National Archives" BT26 record series, which is available to search in person in the public search room at Kew. BT26 has not yet been digitised and no name index exists for passengers. However, voyages indexed by ship name are being added to TNA's online Catalogue.
Year of birth
Where an age is given for a passenger in the original list, we provide the approximate year of birth by simply subtracting the age from the year of voyage. However, two points need to be noted.
- This simple calculation ignores the date of voyage within the year. For example, a passenger aged 21 and who travelled on 1st January 1911 is likely to have been born in 1889, while a passenger of the same age who travelled on 31st December 1911 is much more likely to have been born in 1890. Both will displayed in your results with the calculated year of birth of 1890.
- A passenger who is shown as aged 30 on a voyage on 10th June 1935 may have been travelling on their 30th birthday, or they may have been on the eve of their 31st birthday.
Also a significant proportion of passengers are shown on the original list without an age - these "blank" pages are shown in your results as well as those of the right year of birth, so consider them as well.
All ports found so far within the BT27 passenger lists are given in an alphabetical A-Z drop-down list. The default setting is All, which allows you to search all ports at the same time. However, if you know that a particular passenger left from a particular port, or are only interested in passengers sailing from a particular port, you can select (for instance) Southampton from the list.
There is no strict geographical relation between, for example, a passenger’s last address within the British Isles and the port from which they embarked overseas. For instance, a person living in Scotland is more likely to have sailed from Glasgow or one of the other Scottish ports. However, they would not have sailed from Glasgow if there were no ships going to their destination, or leaving when they needed to travel.
If a port is not listed, to the best of our knowledge, there are no sailings from it.
Name of Ship
The ships listed in the Passenger Lists records are all departing from ports in the UK, however, not all of the ships are British.
The inclusion of Dutch, German, Swedish, Portuguese and other foreign ships means that some ships have names that may look like mis-transcriptions. Spelling has been standardised as far as possible to avoid confusion. For example, the Dutch ship Damsterdijk is also spelt Damsterdyk. Only one version of the name has been selected, which allows you to view passenger lists for both spellings with one search.
Similarly, German ships which would include an umlaut in their name may be spelled with a "u" or with a "ue". These names have also been standardised, i.e. Munchen/Muenchen is listed under Munchen only.
Names have also been standardised where they appear variously as one or two words, e.g. Ionic Star and Ionicstar.
Details of the overseas port to which the passenger is sailing are usually provided in the Passenger lists. Generally, the country in which the port is situated is not included. In many cases, this is self-evident: i.e. New York is of course in USA, Sydney in Australia etc. However, the port in question could be a small, obscure one, or now goes by a different name, or not have a unique name.
Wherever we can, we paired each port with its matching country. This enables you to search by country when information on which port within the country your passenger sailed from is unavailable. For example, you may know that your passenger sailed to Chile without knowing if they disembarked at, say, Antofagasta, Iquique or Valparaiso.
The Persian Gulf is included under Iran but a voyage marked as heading for that destination might have called at ports on the opposite side of the Gulf: search under Iran to cover this possibility.
Finally, the islands of the Caribbean have been grouped together under a single West Indies heading, with the exception of the large islands of Cuba, Haiti/Dominican Republic and Jamaica, which have their own entries. Ascension is included under St Helena. The Azores, the Canaries and Madeira are given their own identities within the destination country list. Hong Kong is included under China.
Passenger lists are not always clear or precise as to exact routes or any ports of call on their way to their final destination. Wherever a voyage has one or more ports of call prior to its final destination, there could be a difference between where the ship is going and where a passenger on board is going: for instance, the ship may be sailing to Melbourne, Australia but passengers may be going to Bombay in India if that is one of the ports of call en route.
Wherever possible, given destination ports are those of the passenger not of the ship. However, where this is unclear or not stated, the destination of the ship is given for the passenger instead.
Where a port has had two names within the period covered by the BT27 data series, the ports are joined together in the drop-down list and therefore can be searched together. For example, in the 1890s passenger lists Jakarta was usually referred to as Batavia.
Please note that not all ports are sea ports. River ports on navigable rivers such as the Amazon and the Yukon mean that inland locations such as Manaus (Brazil) and Dawson City (Canada) are included.
Names of places have been standardised in the port list, and also in the transcriptions. This means that you are likely to find what initially appear to be discrepancies when you click through to the image of the passenger list. For example, in the South African dropdown list there are important ports such as Durban (Port Natal) and Port Elizabeth (Algoa Bay). In the early decades covered by BT27, you are likely to see these places written on the actual lists as Natal (sometimes abbreviated simply to N) and Algoa Bay (often shown as A Bay).
Some destination ports can be difficult to tell apart in the early handwritten records. For example, Curacao (West Indies) and Caracas (Venezuela) can look extremely similar and it is not always possible to be sure that you have identified the correct place (especially as with this example, a single voyage to the Caribbean could have called at both places). We advise you to check under both Curacao and Caracas if you are trying to find a person who went to one or other of these destinations.
Old Calabar and New Calabar: these are different places within Nigeria but have been merged within the dropdown list of Nigerian ports, as many entries in the passenger lists state Calabar. In each case, viewing the image of the passenger list will reveal the exact term used and the precise destination of the passenger.
Sea departure cards
For November and December 1960 only, sea departure cards are available to view, as well as the regular passenger lists, in some cases. However, in some cases there are cards without corresponding lists, as well as lists without cards. The sea departure cards are not linked to corresponding passenger lists (where they exist), and so you may be returned two results for the same person on the same voyage. Generally, in our experience, cards give more biographical information than their matching lists. However, often you will need to view both card and list, as sea departure cards usually do not contain details of destination, although they do have the date and departure port, meaning that you should be able to tell if a card relates to the same voyage as a passenger list found in your search.
As well as giving you additional information, sea departure cards give you a chance to view a person's signature. If the card is for a child, you will be able to view the relevant parent's detail on the reverse of the card; similarly, if you find a parent travelling with a child, you will be able to view both sides of the card for the same charge. Sea departure cards are marked on the search results as "card".
Structure of a list
Passenger lists can generally be divided into three parts. The header, providing details about the ship and its voyage. Then there is the body of the list, giving details of the passengers travelling on board. Finally, there is the summary section, which provides details on the number of passengers and generally includes a signature & stamp from the Board of Trade (BT), to which the list was sent by the shipping line.
The three parts of a list may be on a single page or spread over two or more pages.
Genuine duplicate lists
Some shipping lines produced passenger lists in duplicate or even triplicate for the Board of Trade. This means that there can be two or even three originals within the BT27 series. Such duplicates were written out again by hand. The differences between these different copies of the same list is usually cosmetic but there can be minor differences in content or in the Board of Trade's annotations or stamps upon them.
These duplicate lists have been scanned to preserve the integrity of the BT27 dataset. Researchers should note that this means that occasionally you may see two entries for the same individual which correspond to two different original copies of the same list.