There is no single, standard format. Passenger lists vary in size and in length, they changed over time, and different shipping lines had their own pre-printed forms. Some are decorative and beautiful historical documents, others are more functional in their appearance. Some are typed, others are handwritten; some record only a minimum of detail about the passengers, others include a wealth of information down to exact address and ultimate destination overseas.
The passenger lists in BT27 include long-haul voyages to destinations outside Britain and Europe. While countries such as Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and USA feature strongly, all continents are covered and you will find passengers on ships sailing to all parts of Asia, the Caribbean, South America and West Africa, even to remotest oceanic islands such as South Georgia Island.
These voyages often called en route at additional ports, including those in Europe, and any passengers disembarking at these stops are included. Voyages from all British (English, Welsh and Scottish) ports, and from all Irish ports before partition in 1921 and all Northern Irish ports after partition, are covered in BT27.
In theory if not in practice, there are no domestic British or purely European voyages in BT27, and no lists for Merchant or Royal Naval vessels or for troop ships. In addition, crew on passenger lists are not normally shown, although the captain or master is usually named on the header pages and some pre- printed and other lists do give details of senior staff.
Finally, there are no incoming voyages to Britain. These are contained within The National Archives" BT26 record series, which is available to search in person in the public search room at Kew. BT26 has not yet been digitised and no name index exists for passengers. However, voyages indexed by ship name are being added to TNA's online catalogue - a link to which is included in the Useful links and resources section to the right.
If you are unsure how a name was spelt, or cannot find it with the usual spelling, try using the wildcard facility. The wildcard is denoted by a * and can be used in both the first name and the last name search fields.
For example, if you search for William Lancaster and you type in William Lan*, your search will return a list of results that include names such as William Lane or William Landau - as well as William Lancaster.
Where an age is given for a passenger in the original list, we have calculated the approximate year of birth using the simple subtraction of the age from the year of voyage. However, two points need to be noted.
Firstly, the simple calculation ignores the date of voyage within the year: for instance, a passenger who was aged 21 and who travelled on 1st January 1911 is more likely to have been born in 1889, while a passenger of the same age who travelled on 31st December 1911 is much more likely to have been born in 1890, yet both will displayed in your results with the calculated year of birth of 1890.
Secondly, a passenger who is shown as aged 30 on a voyage on 10th June 1935 may have been travelling on their 30th birthday and only just turned 30, or they may have been on the eve of their 31st birthday.
For these two reasons, we use a default +/- 2 years when you search by year of birth. You can of course reduce this option to 'exact' or '+/- 1 year' but you may be less likely to achieve a successful result if you do. You need to bear in mind also that a significant proportion of passengers are shown on the original list without an age - these 'blank' ages are shown in your returned results together with those of the right year of birth, so that you can consider them as well.
All British ports found so far within the BT27 passenger lists are given in an alphabetical A-Z drop-down list. The default setting is All, which allows you to search all ports at the same time. However, if you know that a particular passenger left from a particular port, or are only interested in passengers sailing from a particular port, you can select (for instance) Southampton from the list.
Researchers should note that there is no strict geographical relation between, for example, a passenger's last address within the British Isles and the port from which they embarked overseas. For instance, a person living in Scotland is more likely to have sailed from Glasgow or one of the other Scottish ports. However, they will not have sailed from, say, Glasgow if their destination overseas is not served by a shipping line operating out of that port, or if sailings there do run but are not departing at the date at which they need to travel.
If a port is not in the drop-down list, this means that (to the best of our knowledge) there are no sailings from it. By providing the drop-down list, we save a researcher from searching for information which is not within the database. For example, if there are no sailings from Ramsgate in Kent, there is no point in a researcher typing Ramsgate in a search field.
As well as searching for your ancestors in the passenger lists by their name it is also possible to browse by ship. This will allow you to view all of the voyages that a ship undertook from the UK, between 1890 and 1960.
Whilst the ships listed in the Passenger Lists records are all departing from ports in the UK, not all of the ships themselves are British.
The inclusion of Dutch, German, Swedish, Portuguese and other foreign ships means that some ships will have names that may initially look like mis- transcriptions. Variations of spelling have been standardised as far as possible to avoid confusion and to ease searching. For Dutch ships, for example Damsterdijk, also spelt Damsterdyk, only one version of the name has been selected, allowing you to view passenger lists for both spellings with one search.
Likewise German ships which would naturally include an umlaut in their name may be spelt with a 'u' or with a 'ue'. These ships' names have also been standardised, i.e., Munchen/Muenchen is listed under Munchen only.
Names have also been standardised where they appear variously as one or two words, e.g., Ionic Star and Ionicstar.
Please note that different ships with the same name have not been distinguished in the ship search. The Titanic is an exception, with the ill- fated 1912 vessel and its 1894-1900 namesake listed separately.
Passenger lists usually give details of the overseas port to which the passenger is sailing, while remaining silent on the country in which the port is situated. In many cases, the country is self-evident, i.e., Boston is of course in USA, Melbourne in Australia and so on. However, in other instances, the port in question can be small and obscure, or now known by a different name, or not have a unique name.
Wherever we can, we have paired each port with its matching country. This matching process enables a researcher to search by country when they do not know to which port within the country their passenger sailed. For example, you may know that your passenger sailed to Chile without knowing whether he or she disembarked at, say, Antofagasta, Iquique or Valparaiso. If you wish to search by country, simply select the country but leave the destination port dropdown at its default 'all ports within destination country' setting.
It is not necessary to select a destination country before searching. However, given the size of the database, unless you are dealing with a rare or distinctive name, you may find that you need to select a country (or to work through a selection of counties one at a time) for your results to be manageable.
Please note that the A-Z drop-down list of countries includes larger and less precise entities such as Africa, Antarctica, Far East, Mediterranean Ports and South America, for cases where more specific information is not available.
If you want to search all ports within a destination country, do not select a destination port.
If you do open up a destination port drop-down list, you will see an A-Z alphabetical list of available ports. If you also see a more generic option in the drop-down alongside specific ports, it is important to note that this is not an 'all ports' option. For instance, in the New Zealand drop-down list, you will see a list of ports from Auckland to Westport from which to choose. However, within this alphabetical listing there is also an entry called New Zealand. If you select this option, you will be returned only entries where New Zealand (rather than a more specific port) has been given on the passenger list.
Many passengers are described as going on a round trip or a tourist cruise, and these are all grouped together under the single header Round Voyage. In most instances, you will find more information by looking at the image of the list.
The Persian Gulf is included under Iran but a voyage marked as heading for that destination might of course have called at ports on the opposite side of the Gulf: you need to search under Iran to cover this possibility.
Finally, the islands of the Caribbean have been grouped together under a single West Indies heading, with the exception of the large islands of Cuba, Haiti/Dominican Republic and Jamaica, which have their own entries. Ascension is included under St Helena. The Azores, the Canaries and Madeira are given their own identities within the destination country list. Hong Kong is included under China.
Passenger lists are not always clear or precise as to their exact routes and any ports of call on their way to their final destination. It is important to note that wherever a voyage has one or more ports of call prior to its final destination, there may be a difference between where the ship is going and where a passenger on board is going: for instance, the ship may be sailing to Sydney, Australia but passengers may disembark at, for example, Bombay in India if that is one of the ports of call en route.
Wherever possible, given destination ports are those of the passenger not of the ship. However, where this is unclear or not stated, the destination of the ship is given for the passenger instead.
We have constructed the database in such as way so that, where a port has had two names within the period covered by the BT27 data series, the ports are joined together in the drop-down list and therefore are searched together. For example, in the 1890s passenger lists the city known as Jakarta was generally referred to as Batavia, so if you select the destination country Indonesia you will find that we have joined together these two names as Jakarta (Batavia) in the dropdown list of ports.
Please note that not all ports are sea ports. River ports on such navigable rivers as the Amazon and the Yukon mean that, for example, inland locations such as Manaus (Brazil) and Dawson City (Canada) are included.
Names of places have been standardised in the port dropdown list, of course, but also in the transcriptions. This means that you are likely to find what initially appear to be discrepancies when you click through to the image of the passenger list. For instance, in the South African dropdown list there are the important ports of Durban (Port Natal) and Port Elizabeth (Algoa Bay). In the early decades covered by BT27, you are likely to see these places written on the actual lists as Natal (sometimes abbreviated simply to N) and Algoa Bay (often shown as A Bay).
Some destination ports can be difficult to distinguish in the early handwritten records. For instance, Curacao (West Indies) and Caracas (Venezuela) can look extremely similar and it is not always possible to be confident that you have identified the correct place (not least because a single voyage to the Caribbean could conceivably call at both places). Accordingly, you may wish to check under both Curacao and Caracas if you are trying to find a person who went to one or other of these destinations.
Old Calabar and New Calabar are different places within Nigeria but have been merged within the dropdown list of Nigerian ports, as many entries in the passenger lists simply state Calabar. In each case, viewing the image of the passenger list will reveal the exact term used and the precise destination of the passenger.
A few destinations in Africa which have yet to be allocated a country are included under Africa in the dropdown list. At the time of writing, these include Jones River, Plantation and Stoopville.
For November and December 1960 only, sea departure cards are available to view, as well as the regular passenger lists, in some cases. However, in some cases there are cards without corresponding lists, as well as lists without cards. The sea departure cards are not linked to corresponding passenger lists (where they exist), and so you may be returned two results for the same person on the same voyage. Generally, in our experience, cards give more biographical information than their matching lists. However, often you will need to view both card and list, as sea departure cards usually do not contain details of destination, although they do have the date and departure port, meaning that you should be able to tell if a card relates to the same voyage as a passenger list found in your search.
As well as giving you additional information, sea departure cards give you a chance to view a person's signature. If the card is for a child, you will be able to view the relevant parent's detail on the reverse of the card; similarly, if you find a parent travelling with a child, you will be able to view both sides of the card for the same charge. Sea departure cards are marked on the search results as 'card'.
If your search returns a large number of results you may wish to sort them by clicking on the column heading, to help you scan the list of records. For instance, if you search by last name without a first name, results without given forenames top the list, followed by the initials and exact first name matches in alphabetical order: if you click the First Name column header, results will be sorted so that the order is reversed and initials and first names top the list, with the blanks coming at the end of the list.
A typical passenger list can be divided into three parts. There is a header, providing details about the ship and its voyage. There is then the body of the list, giving details of the passengers travelling on board. Finally, there is the summary section, which gives statistical detail on the number of passengers and usually a signature and stamp from the Board of Trade (BT), to which the list was sent by the shipping line.
The three parts of a list may be on a single page or spread over two or more pages.
Some shipping lines produced passenger lists in duplicate or even triplicate for the Board of Trade. This means that there can be two or even three originals of some of the passenger lists within the BT27 series. Such duplicates were written out again by hand (not produced using carbon paper). The differences between these different copies of the same list are usually cosmetic but there are sometimes also minor differences in content or in the Board of Trade's annotations or stamps upon them.
These duplicate lists have been scanned to preserve the integrity of the BT27 dataset. Researchers should note that this means that occasionally you may see two entries for the same individual which correspond to two different original copies of the same list.
A solution is being designed so that customers will only be charged once for the information contained within these duplicate pages.
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