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Tracing emigrants and immigrants

Ship passenger lists are the official record of people travelling by ship. Government records of such migration to or from Britain are at the National Archives. There are gaps in the national record and more importantly, some records were never kept. For instance, there are no lists of those emigrating from Britain to Ireland among the passenger lists 1890-1960, and no records were kept after 1960 at British ports of emigrants or immigrants. The National Archives` leaflet explains how to use the passenger lists.

Frustratingly, there is no name index to the passenger lists, so you need to know the port and date of departure, and the name of the ship. For emigrants, it is usually easier to trace the official records of their country of arrival. The ongoing series of the Passenger and Immigration Lists Index is a guide to those arriving in North America from the first European settlements to the twentieth century. It is available in book form, as a CD-ROM and as a subscription database. Christina Schaefer`s Guide to naturalization records of the United States (Genealogical Publishing Co, 1997) helps to explain these useful records.

About 20 million people passed through Ellis Island, New York as immigrants to America in the period 1880 and 1930. Their records are available to search online at www.ellisisland.org. Other countries that experienced large-scale immigration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Canada and Australia, have official records of arrivals in their national archives. 

Moving Here [website] is a website devoted to the experience of migration for those who came to England over the last 200 years. It concentrates on the Caribbean, Irish, Jewish and South Asian communities, and offers access to more than 150,000 items from its many partner organisations. It also allows people to record their own experience of `Moving Here`, and add their own photographs.

There are many websites about passenger lists, immigration and emigration. If you are just starting out using the Internet, check out the national archives first, because they usually offer practical guides to their holdings and how to use them. We have covered Britain`s National Archives in this section, but other countries like the USA and Canada will offer something similar.

There are also commercial websites offering access to computerised records, and a huge number of websites created by enthusiasts. These offer masses of links and it would be easy to get bogged down by the large number of them. Two websites offering many links to other site are Cyndi`s List and The Ships List. Cyndi`s List [website] is a huge resource for genealogists worldwide. The Ships List [website] will lead you to details of passenger records, immigration reports as well as lists of ships.

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