As a supplement to the timeline, here's a list of records of more general interest to those whose ancestors migrated to or from these islands. Click through the pages to find links that will lead you to the documents you need - relating to many different nationalities.
Census returns from 1851 onwards indicate the country of origin of subjects born outside Britain, and state whether people were naturalised British citizens (although not everyone told the truth!), often with the abbreviation 'BS' for ‘British Subject’. Returns for England, Wales and Scotland are available online, and Irish returns (only 1901 and 1911 survive) are gradually becoming available online, although in the meantime can be consulted at the National Archives of Ireland in Dublin.
Further information and to access census records online:
Change of name
Many settlers in Britain over the years have decided to anglicise their name. Although many records no longer survive, name indexes and some original records can be found at The National Archives.
Inward passenger lists
Passenger lists exist for people who arrived in Britain by ship from destinations outside Europe and the Mediterranean between 1878 and 1890.
Naturalisation and denization papers
Records of naturalisation and denization applications, and duplicate certificates, can be found at The National Archives. Many documents contain information on places of origin.
Outward passenger lists
The National Archives holds the passenger lists of ships travelling outside Europe and the Mediterranean from 1890-1960, and these records are now available online.
You can search for relevant collections via:
There are some historic records at The National Archives, whilst the UK Passport Office undertakes limited searches of its historic records.
Records of colonial administration
The records generated by administrators in each British colony can be used to trace the history of British ex-patriots abroad. You may also need to contact the relevant national archive for the country where your ancestor settled.
Records relating to the transportation of convicts to penal colonies abroad can be found at the National Archives.
For the Convict Transportation Registers Database (Australia):
Black and Asian history
The following websites offer advice about researching black and Asian roots.
The following websites offer advice about researching Jewish ancestors.
Internal migration within Britain
Historic records relating to immigration and emigration were created for Great Britain as an entity, and are mainly stored at The National Archives in England. Research for migration within the British Isles can be conducted at the relevant national archives.
Historic Irish records are divided between the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast, and the National Archives of Ireland, Dublin.
The main central archives for tracing Scottish ancestry are the National Archives of Scotland, while the National Library of Scotland holds related material. Much genealogical information is also available online, and a new Scotland’s People centre is opening in Edinburgh.
Many records relating to Welsh family history can be found at the National Library of Wales.
The National Archives
Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain
The Oriental and India Office Library
National Archives of Ireland
National Archives of Scotland
The Scotlands People Centre
National Library of Wales
The Society of Genealogists
Black Cultural Archives
- 378 Coldharbour Lane, London SW9 8LF
Immigration and Nationality Department
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
UK Passport Office