How to look for records of... Emigrants

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Visit us in Kew

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

Pay for research

This is a brief guide to help you find records of someone who emigrated from Britain. Large-scale emigration has taken place from Britain and Ireland to the USA, the West Indies, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Around 25 million people are believed to have emigrated between 1600 and 2000.

What do I need to know before I start?

As there are relatively few records of people leaving Britain, the best place to look is often in the archives of the destination country.

Most of our records are about emigration as a subject rather than about particular emigrants. Though our collection contains the names of many emigrants, they are not indexed.

Try to find out:

  • the name and date of birth of the person who emigrated
  • the name of the ship they travelled on
  • the ports of departure and/or arrival

What records can I see online?

Outward passenger lists (1890-1960)

Search outward passenger lists on (£) for lists of passengers leaving from UK and Irish ports and travelling to places outside Europe, including the USA, Canada, India, New Zealand and Australia.

Emigration to Barbados (1678-1680 and 1715)

Search for details of emigrants from England, and later Britain, who settled in Barbados on (£) within Colonial Office papers and correspondence (CO 1/44 and CO 28/16), which include a census of the white population in Barbados from 1715.

Early emigration from Britain (1634-1822)

Search a variety of emigration records from intermittent year ranges between the 17th and early 19th centuries, brought together from the Treasury, the Exchequer, the Colonial Office and the Audit Office, on (£) including details of emigrants from Britain to:

  • Canada 1815 and 1818-1822 (AO 3/144)
  • America and the West Indies 1634-1638 and 1740-1761 (CO 1/8-9 and CO 324/55-56)

These records also feature weekly emigration returns showing people leaving for the New World from British ports 1773-1775 (T 47/9-12).

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Emigration original correspondence and entry books (1814-1871)

Browse Discovery, our catalogue, in CO 384 and CO 385 for information about settlers or people intending to settle in British North America, Australasia, the West Indies and other places.

Land and Emigration Commission papers (1840-1894)

Browse our catalogue in CO 386 for correspondence, entry books and registers of the Agent General for Emigration, the South Australian Commissioners and the Land and Emigration Commission. The series includes registers of births and deaths of emigrants at sea from 1854 to 1869, lists of ships chartered from 1847 to 1875, and registers of surgeons appointed from 1854 to 1894.

Records of the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (1940-1959)

The Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) was set in June 1940 up to administer offers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA to care for British children in private homes. Evacuation continued until 17 September 1940, when SS City of Benares was torpedoed en route to Canada with the loss of 77 children.

Search our catalogue (DO 131) by name for case histories of all the CORB children evacuated overseas during the Second World War.

Narrow your search by using quotation marks to find a person’s full name, such as “John Williams”

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Passenger lists and records in overseas libraries and archives

Contact libraries, archives and other organisations in the country to which the person travelled – many have copies of original material. Major ones to try are the Library of Congress, Washington, the US National Archives and Records Administration, the Ellis Island Foundation, New York, Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, the National Library of Australia, Canberra, the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, Archives New Zealand, and the National Archives of Ireland.

5. What other resources will help me find information?


Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Read ‘Migration Records’ by Roger Kershaw (The National Archives, 2009).


Look at the Ship’s List website for information about passenger lists to Canada, USA, Australia and even some for South Africa, as well as immigration reports and newspaper records.

Find information about British emigrants to Argentina and Uruguay in the 19th and 20th century at

Find information about child migrants sent from Britain to Canada, Australia and other Commonwealth countries from the 1860s-1960s using the On Their Own website.

Search the Immigrant Ancestors Project for information about the birthplaces of immigrants.


Watch Where Did They Go To: Emigration records at The National Archives by Roger Kershaw.