By Debbie Beavis, 1999, revised by Børge Solem 2007
The British Board of Trade outbound passenger lists
Transmigration via England
An other valuable source for tracing Norwegian emigrants is the British Board of Trade outbound passenger lists. Dating from 1890 to 1960 these were compiled for the Statistical Department of the Board of Trade. With no other immigration or emigration records required to be compiled at this period, these represent the only way of identifying travelers passing through British ports en route for the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Deposited some years ago at the Public Record Office in Kew, England, they are available to the public for searching.
The British lists are held in two classes:
BT26 - Passenger Lists, Inwards, 1878-1888 and 1890-1960
BT27 - Passenger Lists, Outwards, 1890-1960
These records have limitations, the main being that the two classes are not intended to record the names of every passenger entering or leaving British ports. Briefly, inbound lists show names of passengers arriving in the UK from ships which began their voyage outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, regardless of where the passengers embarked. Outbound lists contain the names of passengers leaving the UK on ships bound for ports outside Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, regardless of where the passengers were due to disembark. Lists for ships travelling between European/Mediterranean ports into or out of British ports, were retained only for a three week period before being destroyed.
This has great significance for those tracing Norwegian emigrants, for it means that there are no surviving records showing these passengers arriving into ports on the east coast of England or Scotland. Their means of travel is well documented and we know that having arrived into a port on the east coast they then were transported by train to their departure port where they boarded a transatlantic liner for the final leg of their voyage. It is at this point that the British lists come into their own. Because the ships were bound for ports outside Europe, the names of all passengers embarking on these ships were shown and this is where the names of the Norwegian emigrants will be found.
From 1890 up to 1906 when the passing of a new Merchant Shipping Act brought different requirements for recording the nationality of 'alien' passengers, the only way of identifying such emigrants was a tick in the column stating 'foreigner.' Searching the lists at this period requires an understanding of Norwegian surnames and spellings in order to spot them in amongst a melee of other nationalities.
After 1906, the recording of alien passengers changed. From this date, the aliens are separated from British passengers and split between two categories, Aliens - Transmigrants (A), and Aliens - Non-Transmigrants (B). Category A Transmigrants record Norwegians and others passing through the UK bearing through-tickets. From this date, the name of the steamship line bringing these passengers into the UK should be shown along with the nationality of the emigrant. There are a significant number of lists which go beyond legal requirements - not only do they show the name of the steamship line which brought the emigrant to the UK, but also the name of the ship and the date of arrival into a specified port in the UK. Throughout the rest of the period to 1960, there are little changes relating to the recording of transmigrant passengers. British lists contain only basic biographical information. The precise information legally required varied over the years, but in general is likely to show the following information:
Surname; first name plus sometimes middle initial; age; occupation; class of travel; whether travelling alone or accompanied by husband or wife (not necessarily meaning whether or not married); nationality, steamship line which brought passenger to the UK, country of intended future permanent residence (of more than one year's duration). The earliest lists can prove disappointing, with sometimes details only of cabin passengers and no note of the name of steerage passengers. The lists of cabin passengers are most unlikely to contain anything of use to those searching for the average emigrant.
A word about the filing of the lists, and some points which may be useful to bear in mind when considering a search - the lists are boxed in annual sequence, and within each year, are filed in alphabetical order of departure port. Within the records for each port, the lists are boxed in monthly order. As previously explained, the lists are not filmed and not indexed. Without the name of the transatlantic ship, there are no finding aids. Searching is time-consuming in these old documents, many falling to pieces, or so faded as to make searching difficult. Complicated (to the uninitiated) naming patterns can mean that a passenger may be difficult to identify. Searchers with problems locating a passenger may find it useful to remember the following.
The usual route taken by these passengers was a Hull arrival, and a subsequent departure through Liverpool, but it should be borne in mind that departures from Greenock or London are not uncommon. Emigrants bound for the United States may have entered the continent through a Canadian port, and lists for ships heading for Canada should be included in a search if a passenger proves hard to locate on the expected route. If a passenger's departure from Christiania can be located, their departure from the UK is likely to have been within the following seven days, though some appear to have been delayed for up to another week or more, for reasons which are unclear. The discovery of the name of the ticket agent in Norway can often reveal the valuable clue of the name of the steamship line which was to carry the emigrant on their transatlantic voyage. Any searcher who has a rough date of sailing but no specific ship name to help them in their search, should expect to spend several hours searching lists but persistence usually pays off, and a photocopy may be obtained showing this part of an emigrant's voyage to a new life.
In January 2007 a new database was made available by ancestorsonboard for passenger lists of ships leaving the UK 1890-1960, with data available for 1890-1899. It will be complete by early 2008. To search the database is free but to view the actual passenger lists images, you have to pay a fee, or more correctly, purchase units, where you pay for each image you want to look at.
Hunting Passenger Lists - read more >>
- Chapter 1: Emigration Records - Sources (By Børge Solem & Trond Austheim)
- Chapter 2: Canadian Records (1865-1935) (by Sue Swiggum, Trond Austheim & Børge Solem)
- Chapter 3: Searching the Canadian Immigration Records Database (by Annette Fulford - 2002)
- Chapter 4: US arrivals - Customs Passenger Lists (by Sue Swiggum, Trond Austheim & Børge Solem)
- Chapter 5: Port of New York Passenger Records (By Jo Anne Sadler, 2003
- Chapter 6: Norwegian Emigration Records (By Børge Solem)
- Chapter 7: The British Board of Trade outbound passenger lists, (By Debbie Beavis)