What does BT27 stand for?
BT refers to the Board of Trade (the precursor of the modern-day Department of Trade & Industry) which from 1786 to 1970 set policy and regulated trade with Britain colonies and the rest of the world.
27 simply refers to the series number at The National Archives (TNA) in Kew, London, where the original documents of the passenger lists are held.
Before the Passenger Lists were launched on findmypast.co.uk and the dedicated sub-site ancestorsonboard.com, the documents were only available to view at the public search room in Kew.
They were indexed by UK port of departure and by date of departure, but not by name.
This meant that it was almost impossible to find a particular individual unless you already knew exactly when they travelled and from which port.
There are over 24 million passengers in the BT27 records, covering 164,000 passenger lists.
Putting the Passenger Lists online.
The documents were scanned at The National Archives and transcribed by dedicated teams of experienced data capture operators in Asia. Researchers around the world are now able to access this passenger list data 24/7 from the comfort of their own homes.
Researchers can search for a particular person known to have travelled, or search speculatively for family members, in a fraction of the time, with access to high quality images to view, download and print out.
What do Passenger Lists look like?
There is no single, standard format. Passenger lists vary in size and in length, they changed over time, and different shipping lines had their own pre-printed forms. Some are typed, others are handwritten; some record only a minimum of detail about the passengers, others include a wealth of information down to exact address and ultimate destination overseas.
What type of voyages are included in the Passenger Lists?
BT27 passenger lists include long-haul voyages to destinations outside Britain and Europe. Destinations which feature strongly include
- New Zealand
- South Africa
All continents are covered and you can find passengers on ships sailing to all parts of Asia, the Caribbean, South America and West Africa.
These voyages often called en route at additional ports, including those in Europe, and any passengers disembarking at these stops are included.
Voyages from all British (English, Welsh and Scottish) ports, and from all Irish ports before partition in 1921 and all Northern Irish ports after partition, are covered in the passenger lists.
Who was travelling on the Passenger Lists?
Firstly, a large proportion of the passengers are of course British emigrants.
Prior to WW1, there was mass migration: this was before the modern era of immigration control and the arrival of air travel, so of necessity travel was by boat. An estimated 125,000 British people emigrated to USA, 50,000 to Canada and 25,000 to Australia every year between 1890 and 1914.
After WW1, emigration continued but became increasingly controlled and often had a changed emphasis: for instance, Australia became a more and more popular destination.
However, it is a mistake to think of these records as covering just British emigrants. In addition, many European trans-migrants are included.
These people, many of whom were economic migrants, began their journeys in continental Europe and came to Britain to catch a cheaper sailing to their final destination such as USA.
Over and above the emigrants, there were also numerous business travellers (who may appear many times in BT27, once for each journey, if they made regular trips to and from, say, USA), civil servants and diplomats travelling on official government business, and leisure travellers visiting family overseas or simply embarking on pleasure cruises.Top
The Archive of Names of Passport Applicants contains digitised images of the original indexes of Names of Passport Applicants from the Chief Clerk"s Department and Passport Office of the Foreign Office.
The original indexes are held by The National Archives, London, England under the series title FO 611 and are made available here under licence. These indexes cover the years 1851-1862 and 1874-1903.
Note that there are no indexes for 1857 (all surnames), for 1858 (A-G surnames) or for the period 1863 to 1873 inclusive.
For more information see The National Archives’ Research Guide here.
Passports were not mandatory for British travellers until 1914. Until 1858 UK passports could be granted to people who were not British but who requested the protection of the UK whilst travelling; these passports were simply certificates requesting that foreign officials should allow the bearer to travel without hindrance.
- Until the 17th century the Monarch had the prerogative right to control the movement of his subjects overseas and passport applications were rarely made.
- During the 18th and 19th centuries, passports were issued more frequently
- 1846 that regulations relating to applications for passports were first formulated
During this period passports were issued to British-born subjects for a single journey and could be used for any subsequent journey with the condition that the passport was countersigned afresh by a Minister or Consul in the country of which the holder intended to visit.
The entries provide details of
- the bearer of the passport
- passport number,
- the date the passport was issued
- any observations that may have been noted during the application
It is estimated that around 360,000 applications are recorded between 1851 and 1903. If you have found a gap in your ancestors’ trail, it may be worth checking if they were overseas during that period.
Although the entries found in the passport applications register cannot tell you where or when your ancestor travelled, they may confirm that a passport was issued and, if used in conjunction with our BT27 Passenger List records from 1890 to 1903, could prove a useful tool in attempting to trace hitherto missing lines of your family tree.
How to interpret
The archive of passport applicants contains digitised images of 19 volumes of registers, indexing the names of passport applicants and providing the passport number and date of issue.
How were the original entries recorded?,/p>
From 1851 to 1862 applicants are listed alphabetically and record the surname, forename and often further initials and title; the passport number, date of passport and in some cases observation notes.
1856 Surnames beginning BLA
From 1874 to 1903 the index is not strictly alphabetical, applicants are grouped by the first letter of the surname and listed chronologically recording the Surname and Forename Initial, and there are no passport numbers or observation notes.1889 Surname letter P