Database Of 18 Million UK-Bound Passengers Made Available Online

By Tara Booth Published: 21 October 2008

A photo of a man sitting a desk pointing at papers

TV presenter and family history enthusiast Tony Robinson was on hand at the launch of The Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960. © Ancestry.co.uk

Researching your family tree may have just got easier thanks to a new online database detailing the arrival of millions of men, women and children who came to Britain by sea between 1878 and 1960 from British colonies around the world.

The Incoming Passenger Lists 1878 - 1960, launched by website ancestry.co.uk and digitised in partnership with The National Archives, contains records of more than 18 million immigrants, business travellers, tourists and returning ex-pats and their descendants.

Genealogists and family history enthusiasts can research a passenger’s name, age, occupation, port of departure, origin and intended address in the UK via the website.

Josh Hanna, Senior Vice President of Ancestry International, said: “These records are a vital resource for anyone tracing their family’s movements to the UK from around the world and collectively reflect a period of huge economic and social change for Britain and its colonies during the twilight days of the British Empire.”

A book with old yellowing paper with lists on.

The average age of immigrants travelling to the UK was 25 and the majority were young, single men or those travelling with their family. © Ancestry.co.uk

“This collection documents the creation of a new, multicultural Britain, which challenges traditional notions of what it is to ‘be British’ by providing UK family history enthusiasts with an opportunity to explore both the recent British and distant foreign origins of their ancestors.”

The lists reveal more than 16 million names that entered Britain over the 80-year-period, many from South America, India and South Africa.

This mass migration to the UK throughout this period consequently led to a dramatic increase in the population, which doubled from 24.5 million to 52 million.

Famous descendents from passengers include footballer Theo Walcott, whose Jamaican grandfather Councillor Joe Walcott MBE arrived at Avonmouth in 1949 on the S.S Cavina. And Julia McIymont, mother to Diane Abbott, the first black female MP, sailed into Bristol from Jamaica in 1950 on the S.S Ariguani.

Digitising and indexing the passenger lists reportedly took 25,500 man hours, the equivalent of one person working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for three years.

A man stands while holding a large board which has lists on.

Family history enthusiast Peter Roff discovered his father, John Roff, arrived in the UK in 1919 at the age of three. © Tara Booth / Culture24

Speaking at the launch, Peter Roff, who was presented with a list detailing his father’s arrival in the UK from Uruguay in 1919, said: “The online lists are very encouraging for this day and age. Families are distributed all over the world and it allows people to understand where people came from and the circumstances at the time.”

“I’ve spent nearly 30 years researching my family tree; it’s a number one interest of mine. I have 3,000 people on it so far dating back to the mid 1600s and it’s great to be able to fill gaps.”

To access the online database, a free 14-day trial is available at www.ancestry.co.uk/.

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