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Guide reference: Domestic records information 50
Last updated: 15 June 2010

1. Why use this guide?

This guide will prove useful if you are looking for:

  • information on how to find records of foreigners who came to live in Britain from the 13th century onwards 
  • information on the various government departments that recorded the arrival and existence of foreigners in Britain and the nature of the records which these departments created

You may wish to start your research by consulting our beginners' guides to research on immigrants, emigrants, passengers or naturalised Britons.

2. Essential information

Searching for information about immigrants can be difficult. Many of the records at The National Archives are incomplete and some record series may only cover certain periods or types of immigrant.

The following definitions will aid an understanding of the records:

2.1 Aliens

An alien is a person present in a country who is not a citizen of that country.

2.2 Denizens

The denizen was neither a citizen nor an alien but someone whose status was comparable to permanent residency today. The last known denization was granted in 1873. Denization was gradually and eventually completely replaced by the process of naturalisation.

2.3 Naturalisation

Naturalisation is the acquisition of citizenship by a person who was not a citizen of that country when he or she was born.

3. Early Chancery records

The earliest references to immigrants in England are in records of Chancery and the Exchequer. In records of Chancery there are documents relating to:

Both cover the period Hen III to Hen VIII (1207-1547).

4. Records of the Exchequer

Records of the Exchequer include various documents and records relevant to immigration from 1229 to 1830:

  • 1229 to 1483: E 106, King's Remembrancer: extents of alien priories, aliens etc, which covers the period Edw I to Edw IV. The series includes documents relating to possessions of laymen who were foreign subjects and accounts of fines imposed on alien clergy
  • 1523 to 1561: E 179, Exchequer subsidy rolls, including names of foreigners living in the city and suburbs of London and details of the taxes levied on them
  • 1207 to 1830: E 101, Exchequer accounts various, including accounts of transactions involving foreign merchants living in London. These records extend over a long period, from Hen III to Charles I - see PRO Lists and Indexes, No. XXXV, pp 103-107

5. State papers

The following state papers domestic include returns of strangers in London and elsewhere from 1232 to 1603, as well as other references to aliens:

  • 1547-1553: SP 10 - Edward VI
  • 1553-1558: SP 11 - Mary I
  • 1558-1603: SP 12 - Elizabeth I 
  • 1547-1624: SP 13 - Elizabeth I: large documents
  • 1603-1640: SP 14 - James I 
  • 1547-1625: SP 15 - addenda 
  • 1232-1665: SP 16 - Charles I
  • 1649-1660: SP 18 - interregnum
  • 1649-1688: SP 29 and SP 30 - Charles II

From 1560 onwards the state papers domestic contain names of Huguenots from France and Walloons from the Low Countries who emigrated as a result of Spanish persecution.

Some lists of the people mentioned in the above records also appear in the printed Calendar of state papers, domestic, Edw VI to James I (1537-1625), Vols I to V, which each have indexes and can be searched using State Papers Online (institutional subscription required - access is free on the public computers at The National Archives) and British History Online.

You may be able to find names in the indexes to the printed calendars of SP 14-16, 18, 29 and 30.

Lists of names from these records can also be found in R E G Kirk, Returns of Aliens in London, 1523-1603, as well as:

  • names of members of French and Dutch churches in London in 1561 and 1562
  • returns of aliens in London in 1571
  • lists of refugees settled at Norwich, Colchester, Rye, Sandwich, Canterbury and other parts of England

Short lists of names can also be found in J S Burn, The history of the French, Walloon, Dutch and other foreign Protestant refugees settled in England from the reign of Henry VIII to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

Lists of denizations of refugees escaping from the persecution of Huguenots in France, 1681 to 1688, are available in William A Shaw (ed), Letters of denization and acts of naturalization for aliens in England and Ireland, 1603-1700.

6. Parliament or patent rolls

Immigration records can be found in:

  • parliament rolls (C 65) - these contain records of many acts of naturalisation over a long period from c.1400
  • patent rolls (C 66 and C 67) - these contain records of grants of denizations by letters patent c.1400-1844

7. Treasury in-letters

Treasury in-letters (T 1) contain references to refugees and other foreign people who received annuities, pensions and other payments for their support, or in return for services rendered to the Crown. These can be traced in the indexes to printed volumes of the Calendar of Treasury papers, which covers the period 1556 to 1745.

8. Non-parochial registers

The non-parochial registers (RG 4, 1567-1858, and RG 8, 1646-1970) received from the General Register Office include:

  • records formerly kept in the French, Dutch, German and Swiss churches in London and elsewhere
  • registers of births and baptisms, marriages and burials for various periods between 1567 and 1857

These registers can be searched online at BMDregisters, for a fee.

9. Embarkation lists and other records of early 18th century Palatine settlers

Embarkation lists of Palatine subjects shipped from Holland to England in 1709 are contained in a bundle of Treasury in-letters in T 1/119. Although these people were originally seeking a new life in the New World, many stayed in England. Other references to Palatines can be found in:

  • the State Papers Foreign, Holland (SP 84)
  • Colonial Office records (CO 5/1230-1231)

Lists of names traced in these series have been printed in W A Knittle, Early eighteenth century Palatine emigration; L D MacWethy, The book of names especially relating to the early Palatines and the first settlers in the Mohawk Valley; and in New York genealogical and biographical records, XL and XLI.

10. Denization, alien arrival and naturalisation records

For information about denization and naturalisation see our naturalised Britons guide and our more in-depth research guide naturalisation and citizenship: grants of British nationality.

10.1 Certificates of alien arrivals

HO 2 contains original certificates of arrival of individual aliens in England and Scotland, arranged under the ports of arrival. These certificates include:

  • nationality
  • profession
  • date of arrival
  • last country visited
  • signature and other details

An alphabetical index of certificates of arrival of German, Polish and Prussian people, 1847-1852, is available in the Open Reading Room.

Early certificates appear to have been destroyed. However, some records survive for the following dates:

  • 1810-1811: FO 83/21-22 - aliens arriving in English ports
  • July-November 1826: CUST 102/393-395 - accounts of aliens arriving in the port of London
  • October 1826-August 1837: CUST 102/396 - accounts of aliens arriving in the port of Gravesend

All the certificates of alien arrivals referred to above are available to download and can be searched by name of alien, date and port of arrival, and country/place of origin on ancestry.co.uk.

Images of certificates of arrival of aliens issued at the port of Hull from 1793 to 1815 are available at movinghere.org.uk. The originals are held by Hull History Centre.

10.2 Entry books

Earlier certificates under the Aliens Act, 1826, have not survived, but several indexes to certificates under both acts, covering 1826-1849, are in HO 5/25-32.

HO 5 contains entry books of out-letters relating to aliens and naturalisations, and registers of applications for denization. They also include indexes to the certificates of arrivals in series HO 2. The entry books in HO 5 are available to download and browse on ancestry.co.uk.

10.3 Returns and papers

HO 3 consists of returns of alien passengers made by masters of ships under section 2 of the Aliens Act of 1836. The lists survive for the period July 1836 to December 1869 but none survive from January 1861 to December 1866. The returns and papers in HO 3 are available to download and can be searched by name of alien, date and port of arrival and country/place of origin on ancestry.co.uk.

11. Records of French émigrés

Letters and papers concerning French émigrés, 1789 to 1814, can be found in:

  • HO 69, Home Office records in the series of Bouillon papers
  • PC 1, Privy Council unbound papers
  • FO 95, Foreign Office miscellanea, series I
  • WO 1, War Office in-letters

A descriptive note about all these letters and papers, and a full list of them in typescript, is available in the Open Reading Room. There are also names in registers and on pension lists in Treasury records of the French Refugees Relief Committee (T 93) for the period 1792 to 1828. These are described in PRO lists and indexes, no. XLVI (1922).

12. Passenger lists

Inward passenger lists are in Board of Trade record series BT 26 (1878-1960) and BT 27 (1890-1960). For information on passenger lists, please see our beginners' guide to research on passengers and our more in-depth research guide on passenger lists.

13. Aliens registration cards

You can search online in MEPO 35 for a sample of 1,000 surviving aliens registration cards for the London area, dating from 1914.

Owing to the sensitive nature of these cards they are closed during the lifetime of the individuals concerned or until they can be assumed to be deceased. See section 16 for information about how to request restricted records under the Freedom of Information Act.

14. Internment tribunal cards

The Aliens Department internees index in HO 396 (1939-1947) consists of 307 sets of records which give details of mostly Germans, Austrians and Italians and their spouses who were interned or considered for internment by tribunals.

The records are usually grouped by nationality, and are in alphabetical order within each set. Within the binders are slips with personal details on the front and sometimes information about the individual's case on the reverse. Details usually include:

  • date of birth
  • address
  • occupation and details of employers

Slips concerning aliens who were considered for internment but were not actually interned are open without restriction.

Where an individual was actually interned, only the front of the slip is open to access without restriction. Please see section 16 for information about how to request restricted records under the Freedom of Information Act.

For more information about internees, please see our beginners' guide to research on internees.

15. Records of the London Reception Centre at the Royal Patriotic Schools

This collection details the development of policy for the screening of internees at the Royal Patriotic School (RPS) between January 1941 and June 1945. The London Reception Centre was established to process aliens arriving in the UK, to gather intelligence from them on conditions in occupied Europe, and to screen arrivals for possible enemy agents. The screening centre for men was located at Trinity Road, Wandsworth, and at nearby Nightingale Lane for women.

The files include:

  • interrogations of civilians arriving in the UK from abroad (KV 2)
  • correspondence and minutes of meetings of the sub-committee of the Home Defence (Security) Executive set up to run the London Reception Centre at the RPS (KV 4)
  • lists of categories of people to be processed by the RPS (KV 4/339)
  • reports of inspection visits to the school (KV 4)
  • a list of the administrative staff at RPS in May 1941 at serial 68B (KV 4/240)
  • a detailed note on the history of RPS at serial 211A (KV 4/342)
  • a report from March 1941 at serial 49A (KV 2/339) which summarises the Security Service view of the schools and their importance

The files contain only passing references to individual cases, with a few exceptions.

16. Freedom of information

Some records referred to in this guide are not open to public inspection. Under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, however, you can request a review.  You can write to our Enquiry Service, The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU or use our online contact form.

17. Records in other archives

Other archives with records about foreigners settling in the UK:

18. Further reading

The following publications are available in the The National Archives' library. Where there is a link the publication is available to buy in The National Archives' bookshop:

Burn, J S, The history of the French, Walloon, Dutch and other foreign Protestant refugees settled in England from the reign of Henry VIII to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (London, 1846)

Calendar of Treasury papers, 1557-1696 (PRO)

Calendar of Treasury papers, 1729-[1745] (PRO)

Coldham, Peter Wilson, English adventurers and emigrants, 1609-1660: abstracts of examinations in the High Court of Admiralty with reference to colonial America (Baltimore, 1984)

Colvin, Ian D, The Germans in England: 1066-1598 (London, 1971)

Grannum, Guy, Tracing your West Indian ancestors (Public Record Office readers guide, XI, 2002)

Hirschfeld, Gerhard, Exile in Great Britain: refugees from Hitler's Germany (Leamington Spa, 1984)

Kershaw, Roger, Migration records: a guide for family historians (Kew, 2009)

Kershaw, Roger and Pearsall, Mark, Family history on the move: where your ancestors went and why (Kew, 2006)

Kershaw, Roger and Pearsall, Mark, Immigrants and aliens: a guide to sources on UK immigration and citizenship (TNA Readers Guide XXV, 2004)

Kirk, R E G and Kirk, Ernest F (eds), Returns of aliens dwelling in the city and suburbs of London from the reign of Henry VIII to that of James I (Aberdeen, 1900-1908)

Knittle, W A, Early Eighteenth Century Palatine Emigration (Philadelphia, 1937)

Lahiri, Shompa, Indians in Britain: Anglo-Indian encounters, race and identity, 1880-1930 (London, 2000)

List and Index Society, General Register Office list of non-parochial registers and records in the custody of the Registrar-General of births, deaths and marriages (List and Index Society, XXXXII, 1969)

MacWethy, L D, The book of names especially relating to the early Palatines and the first settlers in the Mohawk Valley (New York, 1933)

New York Genealogical and Biographical Records, XL and XLI (New York, 1909 and 1910)

Public Record Office, List of various accounts and documents connected therewith formerly preserved in the Exchequer and now in the Public Record Office: bundles 1-603 [Henry III to George III] (London, 1912)

Raj, Dhooleka S, Where are you from: middle class migrants in the modern world (London, 2003)

Shaw, William A (ed), Letters of denization and acts of naturalization for aliens in England and Ireland, 1603-1700 (Lymington, 1911)

Sponza, Lucio, Italian immigrants in nineteenth century Britain: realities and images (Leicester, 1988)

Swift, Roger and Gilley, Sheridan (eds), The Irish in Britain 1815-1939 (London, 1989)

Swift,  Roger and Gilley, Sheridan (eds), The Irish in the Victorian city (Beckenham, 1985)

Tepper, Michael (ed), New World immigrants: a consolidation of ship passenger lists and associated data from periodical literature (Baltimore, 1979)

Guide reference: Domestic records information 50

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