National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Emigration Records

Emigration Records

There are unfortunately very few records in National Records of Scotland (NRS) which list names of emigrants. The Colonial Office, based in London, was responsible for emigration in the 19th century and its records are held by The National Archives (London) (TNA). They also hold the surviving outward passenger lists from 1890.

Voluntary emigrants

We hold the records of the Highland and Island Emigration Society set up by private subscription to alleviate destitution in the Highlands by promoting and assisting the emigration of Highlanders to Australia. Between 1852 and 1857 the Society assisted almost 5000 men, women and children to leave western Scotland for Australia. Their details were recorded in the Society’s passenger lists (NRS reference HD4/5). They record the name, age and residence of each emigrant. You can search index-linked digital copies of these records online for free. Please see the Highland and Island Emigration Society records guide on our ScotlandsPeople website for further details.

A state-aided scheme was set up in the 1880s to assist emigrants from Lewis and Harris to settle in Manitoba, Canada. Names of the emigrants involved in this scheme appear in the files of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (NRS reference AF51).

Other references to individual emigrants, including correspondence, may be found scattered among a wide variety of records. You should search our electronic catalogue for details. There are also publications in the NRS 'History at Source' series which you may find useful: 'The Emigrants', 'The Scots in America', 'The Scots in Canada', 'The Scots in Australia and New Zealand'.

Sources elsewhere

Visit the SCAN website Knowledge Base for information on sources for emigration, passenger lists and emigration societies held in other archives.

The National Archives (London)

The National Archives in London (TNA) hold the records of the Board of Trade, Colonial Office, Home Office and Treasury, which contain a great deal of information on emigration, some of it more easily accessible than others. These include, for example, passenger lists (1890-1960), medical journals from emigrant ships, letters from intending emigrants and registers of troops shipped to all parts of the world. TNA also holds census records for New South Wales and Tasmania for some of the years between 1788-1859 (TNA reference HO10). Many of these records are not indexed. Detailed guidance can be found on TNA's website. The website Ancestors On Board provides access to the Board of Trade Outward Passenger Lists (TNA reference BT27) for long-distance voyages leaving the British Isles from 1890-1927. You can either pay-per-view or subscribe to this site to download and view images of passenger lists.

Merseyside Maritime Museum Liverpool was the main port of departure for emigrants from Britain and Europe for much of the 19th century. The Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool acts as a clearing house for information on sources of emigration. They have built up a select library of emigration sources in published form, including copies of the indexes of assisted emigrants to Australia. They also hold an extensive collection of narrative accounts of emigrant voyages. Detailed information sheets can be found on their website.

Research abroad

It is worthwhile finding out as much as possible in printed sources and local records in the country of arrival before tackling record sources in Britain. Immigration records, such as arrival lists, have been found to provide more comprehensive detail than the departure lists available in Britain. Below are details of publications listing emigrants or giving guidance to sources, which you may find useful.

Further reading

P W Filby and M K Meyer, 'Passenger and Immigration Lists Index - A Guide to Published Arrival Records, 1538-1900' (Gale Research Company, Detroit, 1981), 7 vols with supplements

P W Filby, 'Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography, 1538-1900' (USA and Canada) (Detroit, 1988)

D Dobson, 'Directory of Scottish Settlers in North America, 1625-1825', 7 vols. (Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, 1984-1993)

D Dobson, 'The Original Scots Colonists of Early America, 1612-1783' (Genealogical Publishing Company, 1989)

J W Weaver and D Lester, 'Immigrants from Great Britain and Ireland - A Guide to Archival and Manuscript Sources in North America' (Greenwood Press, 1986)

D Whyte, 'A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to the USA', 2 vols. (Magna Carta Book Company, Baltimore, 1972 and 1986)

D Whyte, 'A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada Before Confederation', 4 vols. (Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986 and 1995)

D Whyte, 'The Scots Overseas: a Selected Bibliography' (Scottish Association of Family History Societies, 1995)