This is a brief guide to help you find records of an immigrant to the UK. Records about foreigners coming during the past 600 years to live in the UK were created by various government departments at different times. They are held in a range of record series, but there is no composite index of names. Many records of immigration have been destroyed.
What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the date and place of arrival in the UK
- the country of origin
- the means of travel to the UK
What records can I see online?
Certificates of alien arrivals and returns and papers (1810-1869)
Search and download certificates of alien arrivals (HO 2) and returns and papers (HO 3) on ancestry.co.uk (Â£). The records can be searched by name of alien, date and port of arrival and country/place of origin.
Aliens’ entry books (1794-1921)
Browse aliens’ entry books, 1794-1921, including indexes to certificates of alien arrivals (HO 5/25-28) on ancestry.co.uk (Â£).
Aliens registration cards (1876-1991)
Search a sample of aliens registration cards in MEPO 35 on our website (Â£).
Incoming passenger lists (1878-1960)
Search incoming passenger lists from BT 26 on Ancestry.co.uk (Â£) for people arriving by sea from countries outside Europe and the Mediterranean area.
Non-parochial registers (1567-1858)
Search non-parochial registers in RG 4 on BMDregisters.co.uk (Â£) for records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials of refugees kept by the French, Dutch, German and Swiss churches for various periods between 1567 and 1858.
Alien subsidy returns and letters of denization (1330-1550)
Search for records of immigrants living in England between 1330 and 1550 on the online England’s immigrants database, drawn from alien subsidy returns in E 179 and letters of denization in C 67.
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Naturalisation case papers (1789-1934)
Search Discovery, our catalogue, in HO 1, HO 45 and HO 144 by last name (surname) and nat* for naturalisation case papers.
Naturalisation case papers (1934-c1968)
See our guide on Naturalised Britons.
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (Â£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (Â£).
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
Records held elsewhere
Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.
What other resources will help me find information?
Did you know?
If immigrants came to Britain from Ireland or the British colonies they were called Britons. If they came from elsewhere (including Scotland before 1707) they were called aliens.
In 1793 the Aliens Act introduced the first official immigrant registration system. It was introduced to manage the influx of people coming to Britain to escape the French Revolution.
People other than those from British colonies or Ireland had to register with a Justice of the Peace, giving their name, rank, address and occupation. The records of Justices of the Peace may survive in local record offices.
In 1905 a new Aliens Act meant that aliens could only enter the UK at the discretion of the authorities. After 1919 they had to register with the local police.
There are no passenger lists for people arriving in the UK by air.