An online database listing more than 30
million ship passengers who left British ports from 1890 to
1960 can help genealogists find descendants, including those who
moved to Canada.
www.ancestorsonboard.com, allows people to view digitized
high-resolution color images of passenger manifests, customs
claims and other documents listing travelers' names and
destinations that until now were only available in dusty boxes
deep inside Britain's National Archives.
"Before, it was virtually impossible to find
anyone," said Stephen Rigden, head
of research at findmypast.com, the private company that
partnered with the National Archives for the project.
The database — it took two years to scan the
estimated 1.2 million documents — includes entries from ships
sailing all around the world, including decorative manifests
from trips to West Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.
"Some of the passenger lists are handwritten,
some are typed, whereas the first-class ones are quite
ornamental," Rigden said.
Sorts thousands of
He said the project will allow people around
the world to access records and learn more about their family
history, instead of having to travel to London to dig through
thousands of unindexed files.
The lists, gathered over the past century
from Britain's board of trade, include war brides joining their
new husbands, farmers drawn by land grants in western
Canada, and those seeking a taste of fortune in the Yukon gold
So far, the website has only posted records
from 1890 to 1899, but files up until the 1920s should be
available by the end of the year, Rigden
During the 1890s, Canada received 307,000
arrivals through British ports, including numerous immigrants
from Scandinavia who "two-legged," traveling to Liverpool or
Dublin before heading to North America.
The number who came to Canada is second only
to the 1.9 million people who headed to the United States.
Australia received 130,000, and 31,000 travelers headed to New
Zealand in the same period, the records show.
"Canada was by far and away the second-most
important in the decade," Rigden
said, but he added that many continued on to the U.S. as tickets
on ships to Halifax and Montreal were often cheaper than on
those sailing directly to New York.
Database shows home children's records
Also among the names are home children or "Barnardo
children" — thousands of young Britons who were sent to
countries such as Canada and Australia between 1869 and the
More than 100,000 children, most of them
between the ages of seven and 14, were sent to Canada by
orphanages such as Barnardo's to
serve as farm hands and domestic servants, according to the
Canadian Genealogy Center of Library and Archives Canada.
Not all of the children were orphans. Some
families put their children into the care of the organizations
because the children required health care the families could not
afford. Most were sent abroad without their parents or relatives
It is estimated that one in 10 Canadians is
descended from home children.
"It's quite a startling percentage,"
The database gives family historians a window
into their ancestors' experiences at some of the most epic
moments of their lives, he said.
"What's interesting about these records is
that each one carries a story," he said.
"It really brings to life a person's
existence in a way birth and death records can't. It's quite an