How to look for records of... Aliens’ registration cards 1918-1957

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • All

1. What are these records?

These records are the registration cards for over 600 immigrants to Britain, known as ‘aliens’ in the legal terminology of the time, who arrived between 1918 and 1957. They cover the London area only and include British-born wives of aliens, who lost their British status upon marriage.

These cards are drawn from The National Archives series MEPO 35 which covers aliens resident in London from 1914.

The cards available for download here represent just a sample of the tens of thousands of cards that were issued. Although the cards are a small sample, they do include some notable cases, including Joe Coral the bookmaker (MEPO 35/16/2). You can only download a card if the person in question was born more than 100 years ago.

Aliens were legally required to register with the police from 1914 onwards and to pay a registration fee. In return they received a certificate. The documents we have digitised are the registration cards created by the police.

2. What information do the records contain?

The information provided on the cards includes:

  • full name
  • date of birth
  • date of arrival in the UK
  • marital status
  • details of any children
  • address
  • employment history (including employer’s name and address)
  • date of naturalisation (with the Home Office reference if applicable)

The cards usually include at least one photograph and for most cases there are continuation cards.

The cards also record any subsequent changes to the following details:

  • name
  • address
  • marital status
  • nationality
  • employment or occupation

3. How do I search the records?

You can search the records in Discovery, our catalogue, by filling in the form below.

When searching by last name, you can use last name at birth if different, or alias.

You don’t need to complete every field to find a record.

4. What do the records look like?

The cards are in different colours – blue cards were for males, yellow for females and white for continuation cards (for both males and females).

The first example shows us the alien registration card of Joe Coral, founder of the famous British bookmakers. It features the typical head-and-shoulders photograph found in these registration cards. It also reveals that he was born in Warsaw in December 1904.

Joe Coral (catalogue reference: MEPO 35/16/2)

Joe Coral (catalogue reference: MEPO 35/16/2)

The second example is his continuation card for 1932-1935. In the ‘Remarks’ column it shows that in 1932 Joe Coral was fined for failing to notify the police of change of address. It also gives some details about his marriage in July 1932.
Continuation card of Joe Coral (MEPO 35/16/2)

Continuation card of Joe Coral (MEPO 35/16/2)

The third example covers 1935-1943. Coral was cautioned by letter in 1935 for failing to report the marriage which took place in 1932. By 1938 he declared his occupation as Commission Agent.
Continuation card of Joe Coral (MEPO 35/16/2)

Continuation card of Joe Coral (MEPO 35/16/2)

The last extract from Joe Coral’s cards shows that in 1943 he was cautioned again by letter for failing to notify an intended change of address. The details on the cards continue until his application for naturalisation in 1952.
Continuation card of Joe Coral (MEPO 35/16/2)

Continuation card of Joe Coral (MEPO 35/16/2)

5. Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?

If you cannot find the person you are looking for here, it may be for one of the following reasons:

  • his or her name was recorded under a different spelling – you might need to try searching for spelling variants
  • the person’s card is not part of the online sample – we hold around a thousand registration cards for aliens resident in London since 1914 but not all of them are available to download (search by person’s name for the document reference of any card which is not part of the online sample by using the MEPO 35 search in our catalogue – with a document reference you can order copies of the document to be sent to you or you can visit us to view the original document in person)
  • the registration card has not survived
  • the card has not been made available to the public – some of the more recent cards are not publicly accessible because they feature people who could still be alive

It’s also possible that the case was closed. This usually happened if the person:

  • died
  • returned to his or her country of origin
  • moved to an area outside the metropolitan area
  • became a naturalised British subject