Emigration, immigration and migration

This is a brief guide to the many immigration and emigration records, research and online resources that may help you track your ancestors’ travels either to or from the UK and even outwith the UK.

What do I need to know before I start?

Try to find out:

  • name of person
  • approximate dates of travel
  • destination country or port of arrival
  • country or port from where your ancestor departed
  • means of travel


What records can I find in the Mitchell: Glasgow City Archives and Special Collections?

Glasgow City Archives and Special Collections do not hold a comprehensive series of records that relate definitively to immigration and emigration. However there are a range of sources across our holdings that can be used to find out information about your migrant ancestors.

Individuals and families often migrated between Ireland and Scotland before proceeding from Scotland overseas to North America or elsewhere. There are no passenger lists for any ships sailing between Ireland and Scotland.

The City Archives hold a small number of passenger lists for ships leaving Glasgow for:

  • New Zealand, 1871–1880 (ref: TD35/2)
  • ​Tasmania, 1855–1857 (ref: TD292/1-5)

These contain details about passengers’ age, address, occupation and religion, and can be a great source of information about families travelling together.

Before the World War I there was no requirement for a person travelling abroad to apply for a passport. The vast majority of those travelling overseas had no formal documentation and passports were mainly held by people with certain occupations, such as merchants. During this time Glasgow had the power to issue its own passports. Glasgow City Archives holds registers of passports issued by the city between 1857 and 1914 (ref: B8/23/1). A database of people who applied for passports is available in the archives searchroom. In many cases this includes occupations, other members of the family travelling, home address and destination.

Evidence of migrant movement between Ireland and Scotland and beyond can often be found in the Poor Law records, and from the Highlands of Scotland and Ireland to Glasgow in the police personnel records. A small number of alien registers survive recording foreign citizens arriving in Glasgow and the West of Scotland. A series of records also survives which records Belgian refugees arriving in the City of Glasgow during World War I.

Although passenger lists are not available it is possible to establish when ships arrived and departed from Glasgow by consulting the Clyde Navigation Trust Report books. A series of report books (ref: T-CN21) survives covering 1819-1967 which, although do not list individual passengers, do include:

  • date of entry
  • nationality of ship
  • name of steamer
  • departed from which port
  • cargo (if passenger)
  • outward date of sailing
  • destination

Special Collections hold a number of publications that include lists of individuals that have emigrated from all over Scotland and a sample of these are detailed below.

Included in Lucille Campey’s book “The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada” are appendices listing Scottish emigrants from Glengarry, Scotland to Canada.

Campey, Lucille H. “The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada, 1784-1855: Glengarry and Beyond” (2005)

David Dobson has published prolifically and his books provide lists of individuals that have emigrated overseas from Scotland. Listed below are just a sample of some of his works.

Dobson, David “Irish emigrants in North America" (2008)
Dobson, David “Scots in New England, 1623-1873” (2002)
Dobson, David “The Scots Overseas: Emigrants and Adventurers” (2000)
Dobson, David “Ships from Scotland to North America 1830-1860” (2002)


What records can I see online?

Ancestry, free to library members on library computers, brings together many significant databases of immigration and emigration records.

Some of the key highlights are:

  • UK outward passenger lists, 1890-1960
  • UK incoming passenger lists, 1878-1960
  • Canadian passenger lists, 1865-1935
  • New York passenger lists, 1820-1957
  • US naturalization records, 1794-1995 (mainly indexes)
  • Australian convict transportation registers, 1791-1868
  • Irish newspapers, 1763-1890, including ship arrivals and departures


What records can I see elsewhere?

The National Archives have several guides on emigration, immigration and migrants on their "looking for a person" page, which gives details of what records survive and where they can be found. Many of these can be accessed via Ancestry which is free to library members on library computers.

The National Records of Scotland holds the records of the Highland and Island Emigration Society, 1851-1859, along with a number of other sources that may help you with your research.​


What other resources will help me find information?


Glasgow City Archives


0141 287 2910

Special Collections


0141 287 2988

In this guide