Ancestors overseas

There are many records to help you trace your ancestors’ movements to and from the UK.

If they came from abroad, you may find a wealth of detail about them in naturalisation records, among others. However, not every alien citizen applied for naturalisation – though it granted them the same rights and protection enjoyed by British subjects.

Where to find immigration records

The records, available at the National Archives, contain the administrative papers involved in granting a foreign subject a naturalisation certificate.

They give details such as name, current residence, date and place of birth, occupation, names of parents, marital status, children, the length of time resident in the UK and the declarations of acquaintances as to the truth of the information declared and the suitability of the individual to receive a certificate of naturalisation. This information may help you search the records of the country from which your ancestor came, and thereby work that branch of the tree further back.

Incoming passenger lists (1878-1960) are available online at Many other sets of records have been preserved for particular categories of immigrants and can be consulted in person at the National Archives. These include alien registration cards and internment records for the two world wars.

Online, also holds inwards passenger lists from 1948-1960, and charts immigration to the UK over the past 200 years. For more information about immigration records, have a look at the National Archives research guide.

 There is a closure of 100 years on naturalisation documents created after 1922, but if the papers that you want to see are not yet open for consultation, you could make an application to view them under Freedom of Information.

Where to find emigration records

Other ancestors might have left these shores, whether permanently or for a period of time. They may have been involved in running the Empire, and therefore made voyages back and forth, or a whole family may have sailed together to start a new life abroad.

A useful place to start searching for them is the outbound passenger lists, which are available at or its sister site These records contain the details of 24 million passengers who left these shores on long-distance voyages, for example to Australia, America and India, between 1890 and 1960. They do not contain records of those who travelled to Europe.

When you have a destination for your ancestors, you can look for records created in their new home, for example, incoming passenger lists, naturalisation records and standard genealogical documents. For emigrants whose destination was New York, detailed records of those who passed through Ellis Island can be consulted at

For further information about emigration records and to investigate specific groups and destinations, have a look at the National Archives research guide.

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