”What can the out­bound pas­sen­ger lists tell me about my an­ces­tor?’’

Beck­yBay­ley­looks at the records our trav­el­ling an­ces­tors left be­hind

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We may find, dur­ing our re­search, that some of our an­ces­tors left Bri­tain by sea to em­i­grate abroad, while oth­ers took pas­sage on a ship to travel on busi­ness or for plea­sure. The re­sult­ing pas­sen­ger lists can re­veal many de­tails of an an­ces­tor that can help us in our re­search. For ex­am­ple, we can find their age, oc­cu­pa­tion, mar­i­tal sta­tus and last ad­dress prior to travel – in­for­ma­tion that can be very use­ful when there is no cen­sus to con­sult for the time pe­riod in ques­tion.

The en­try for the 21-year- old Noel Coward, trav­el­ling on the Southamp­ton to New York voy­age of Cu­nard’s Aqui­tania – which left on 4 June 1921 – records his pro­fes­sion as an ac­tor, and his ad­dress as 111 Ebury Street, Lon­don (a mis­spelling of Ebury Street).

This prop­erty was where his par­ents ran their lodg­ing house, and it was where he kept a room while he trav­elled abroad. It was also where he wrote The Vor­tex, his first no­table play. Whilst, in the pas­sen­ger list of June 1921, he is listed as an ac­tor, in later transat­lantic cross­ings he can be found recorded as a drama­tist, au­thor, or play­wright.


Search­ing for an­other lit­er­ary great in the 1920s records of the BT27 pas­sen­ger lists cat­e­gory on TheGe­neal­o­gist, we can find Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle’s sea voy­ages. The cre­ator of Sher­lock Holmes gives his ad­dress as 15 Buck­ing­ham Palace Man­sions – which was ac­tu­ally the flat that Co­nan Doyle and his sec­ond wife kept op­po­site the en­trance to Vic­to­ria Sta­tion. Their main home was in Sus­sex, and so, on other trips, it is that ad­dress that is recorded on pas­sen­ger lists. In some cases, our an­ces­tors may give the ad­dress of a ho­tel or a res­i­den­tial club in this coun­try, and this can point to them not be­ing full-time Bri­tish res­i­dents. Pas­sen­ger lists can also pro­vide you with the coun­try of in­tended fu­ture per­ma­nent res­i­dence, re­veal­ing if your an­ces­tor was em­i­grat­ing, or just mak­ing a visit abroad.

Pas­sen­ger lists are cer­tainly fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­ments that can re­veal our an­ces­tors’ over­seas voy­ages and so help add de­tail to the sto­ries of their lives, and clar­ify where peo­ple have gone when we can’t find them in the records at home. All lev­els of so­ci­ety can be found within TheGe­neal­o­gist’s pas­sen­ger lists, which span from 1896 to the 1920s.

Noel Coward’s home ad­dress was recorded as 111 El­bury Street, Lon­don

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