Most people can find relatives who in the past were forced or chose to go overseas. A wealth of material in British and foreign archives can help you to track them down

Britons abroad - A roaming nation

 At some stage you will probably discover family members who emigrated from the British Isles, for reasons ranging from religious persecution to transportation or just the search for a better life.
Hundreds of thousands of people left for the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries. Around 10 million Britons emigrated in the 19th century, to the United States and all parts of the British Empire. Searching for overseas links with your past is exciting. But it is crucial to do your homework before undertaking research abroad.


Start by investigating published guides to records for the country of emigration and take a look at the records held in British and Irish archives. Join a family history society associated with the country. Some can be contacted through the Federation of Family History Societies or have links with the Society of Genealogists.


Having done the groundwork and acquired new leads, you will know which overseas records are likely to help and where to find them. As a result, research abroad is much more likely to be a success.

 

British emigration records at a glance

The National Archives (TNA - formerly PRO) has Colonial Office, Board of Trade, Treasury and Home Office records relating to emigration as well as ,passenger lists, indentures (of assisted emigrants) and some overseas civil records (in group RG). Passports were not required before 1914, but some registers of passports from 1795 are in class FO 610. Records of an earlier document, the ‘Licence to Pass beyond the Seas', are in classes E 157 and CO 1.

Records of Irish transportees are at the National Archives of Ireland. The Centre for Migration Studies has an emigration database. TheRoyalIrishAcademyhas a list of emigrants from Co. Londonderry and Co. Antrim; a copy is held, at the Public Record: Office of Northern Ireland, whose other records include passenger lists (1847-71) for the J. & J. Cooke-and the McCorkill shipping lines fromLondonderry.

The National Archives of Scotland holds records of Scottish emigration, including some for criminal transportation. Records of theHighlandand Island Emigration Society (reference HD 4) list assisted emigrants who went toAustraliafrom 1852 to 1857. Scots who applied to emigrate from 1886 to 1889 are listed in AF 51. Some details of emigrants inManitoba,Canada, after 1889 can be found in AF 51/188-211.

Specialist archives, such as that of the Society of Genealogists, have vast collections of material from all over the world, particularly theAmericasandAustralia, as well as bibliographies and other reference books.

Use web sites such as http://www.familysearch.org to explore surname links, in the country to which your ancestors emigrated.

Farewell to the Highlands and Islands

By the early part of the 20th century, many thousands of men and women had sailed west, lured by the prospect of new land to farm and the challenge of Canadian outback life. Most are unrecorded in Scotlandbut you may find their names in passenger lists at the TNA or in the National Archives of Canada. You can also consult immigration records in Canadaup to 1920 - and later if you have the permission of the immigrants or proof of their death.

Britons Abroad - Planting roots in America

In search of fortune and freedom

 If your ancestors sailed to theNew Worldto seek a fortune or pursue their religion, or were transported convicts, a range of documents can help you to trace them

Emigration from Britainto the Americasbegan as early as 1585, when Sir Walter Raleigh founded a settlement on Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina. This failed, as did several others. It was not until 1607 that the first successful British settlement was established at Jamestown, which soon became the centre of the thriving colony of Virginia. In 1620 another major settlement sprang up in New England, when the Mayflower arrived from Plymouth. Among the new immigrants she carried were 36 Puritan refugees, the first of many religious dissenters to settle there.


Building the great plantations Virginia attracted large numbers of workers for its tobacco plantations. Thousands of them arrived under an arrangement known as the ‘headright' system, whereby 50 acres of land were granted to whoever paid an emigrant's fare to the colony.


Some settlers paid their own fares and farmed their 50 acres, but many more fares were paid by plantation owners who would then claim a new arrival's land and secure his services for up to seven years. The names of such indentured servants appear in official lists of headrights, held at the TNA in classes CO 1 and CO 5.

Tied by indenture

As the colonies grew, and new ones sprang up, the practice of indenture became more widespread. Before the Act of Union in 1707 Scots were not allowed to be employed in the colonies as indentured workers, but from 1710 they too crossed theAtlanticin large numbers. Many indenture records are held at the TNA and Guildhall Library.

Puritan founders of New England

The dissenters of New Englandwere driven by the desire to practise their religion in freedom. If your relatives were among them, find out which church they belonged to, and where it was based in Britain. Records of the church may help you to find their place of origin.


Early settlers are also listed in detailed biographical registers such as the Directory of Scottish Settlers inNorth America,1625-1925 (D. Dobson,GPC, Baltimore, 6 vols, 1984-6) or The Complete Book of Emigrants (PW Coldham,GPC, Baltimore, 4 vols, 1987-93), also on CD-ROM.

Sentenced to transportation

From about 1617 until the outbreak of the American War of Independence in 1775 , the law courts of Englandand Wales, and also Scotland, provided another major group of emigrants to the Americas. These were men, women and children who fell foul of the law and received a sentence of transportation, usually for either 7 or 14 years. Some were vagrants, while others were criminals (both serious and petty), rebels or even prisoners of war.


People were also transported from Ireland to the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries.
See Emigrants fromIreland toAmerica 1735-43 (ed. F. McDonnell,GPC,Baltimore, 1992).

Where to find transportation records

A good place to start is The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage, 1614-1775 (P .W, Coldham,GPC, Baltimore, 1988), which lists convicts and tells you where they were tried. Bonded Passengers toAmerica(P.W Coldham,GPC, Baltimore, 1983) includes an overview of other published information.

If the transportee was convicted in a court of assizes, the records may survive at the TNA or, for Welsh transportees, the National Library of Wales. Contracts to transport convicts may be among quarter sessions records at county record offices.

As the cost of their passage was funded by the State, convicts to be transported are also listed in Treasury records at the TNA (class T 1); some are indexed. They include the name of the ship, its master and its destination inNorth Americaor theWest Indies.

 

Later waves of emigration

Large-scale emigration to Americafrom Britainand Irelandcontinued well into the 20th century. Between 1837 and 1920 it is estimated that some 6. 5 million people made the journey. Passenger lists from 1890 to 1960 are at the TNA (class BT 27) but you need to know the ship, its port of departure or date of sailing. Registers in TNA class BT 32 list ships sailing from each port for the period 1906 to 1951.
As there were no major Welsh ports for emigration, most Welsh emigrants left via English ports, such as Liverpool, Bristol and London.


Many Irish people emigrated viaLiverpool, but passenger lists were deposited at the port of arrival and are not archived inIreland. The National Archives inWashington holds customs passenger lists from 1820 and immigration passenger lists from 1883, which are also available on microfilm at Family History Centres.

Britons abroad - Setting sail for Australia

Many records exist for the founding fathers ofAustralia, whether they were convicts, assisted immigrants or free settlers who went in search of gold

A new life down under

Free settlers sailed toAustraliain search of land and work, formed small communities and built their own homes. For them it was a country, of hope and promise. For convicts (who were transported in 1793), the immediate prospect was near-slave labour. The weakest did not survive the long voyage from Britain - 26 per cent of those on the second fleet to sail to Australia died at sea; another 14 per cent died within eight months of landing. But the hardiest, who lived to complete their sentence, were finally able to start a new life with a grant of free land.

In 1783, after eight years of war, Britainwas forced to relinquish control over 13 rich colonies that became the newly independent United States of America. An immediate consequence was a sudden increase in Britain's' convict population.


Thousands of prisoners who would have been transported toAmerica had to live on prison ships, called hulks, which were moored inBritain's rivers and coastal waters. A solution was needed. In 1787 a fleet of 11 ships set-off to establish a new penal colony atBotany Bay on the east coast ofAustralia. A second fleet followed in 1790 and a third left in 1791. In all more than 160,000 people were transported toNew South Wales until 1840 and to other parts of Australia until 1868.

Tracing a transported ancestor

Extensive records of transportees exist at the TNA and in state archives in Australia. Details of convicts who sailed on the early fleets appear in books such as The Founders of Australia: a biographical dictionary of the first fleet (M. Gillen, Library of Australian History, 1989), The Second Fleet: Britain's grim convict armada of 1790 (M. Flynn, Library of Australian History, 1993) and The Third Fleet Convicts (R. J. Ryan, Horwitz Grahame, 1983).


For later transportees, records are in the TNA or inAustralia. As there is no single list of names, it helps to know the year of transportation.

Narrowing down your search

One place to start is the census records, or musters, of early Australian settlers conducted in Australia. Some are in the TNA; several have been published. They often state the place of conviction and the ship's name and date of arrival in Australia. This helps you to consult the 21 volumes of transportation registers in the TNA (class HO 11), which are arranged according to the names of ships, and when they sailed.


Trial records may briefly mention a transported ancestor's background and conviction. A better source of information are petitions for clemency in the TNA (classes HO 17 and 18), with an index (class HO 19).


CONVICTS' FAMILIES A petition for a family reunion can be very useful. Wives often asked to join convict husbands, and male convicts who had served four years of their sentence could ask for wives and children to be given free passage to Australia.


The petitions and accompanying papers are full of family details. They are in the TNA (classes PC 1 and HO 12) and in the National Archives of Ireland under Free Settlers Papers 1828-1952.

Transportation from Ireland

Convicts were transported from Irelandfrom 1791 to 1853, and in 1868 the practice was restored in order to send 63 Irish nationalists to Western Australia.


Many records of these forced emigrants are in the National Archives of Ireland. They include Prisoners' Petitions and Cases 1788-1836 and Transportation Registers 1836-57.They can be accessed by name at http://www.nationalarchives.ie/

Those who chose to go: free settlers

Australia also attracted free settlers, such as traders and farmers, whose numbers soared after the discovery of gold in the 1850s. They may be listed in the many published 19th-century musters or censuses. The 1828 census for New South Wales, with details of over 35,000 people, is at the TNA (class HO 10).


Passenger lists may also help. Those for ships leaving British ports from 1890, arranged by port and date of sailing, are held at the TNA (class BT 27).


Earlier lists are noted in National Register of Shipping Arrivals, Australia and New Zealand (A. G. Peake, Australian Federation of Family History Organisations, 3rd ed., 1992). On-line try http://www.list.jaunay.com/ausnzpassengers/


For other key records, consult the National Archives of Australia or web site http://www.cohsoft.com.au/afhc/netrecs.html

Reproduced by kind permission of The Reader's Digest Association Limited, Explore Your Family's Past © 2000.

For further information please visit the Reader's Digest website www.readersdigest.co.uk

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