I believe that one of my ancestors may have moved to Britain around the turn of the 19th century (1700s turning into 1800s) from a British colony, possibly the West Indies or the US, and landed in Liverpool.

From some surface level research, it would seem that immigration records were kept for Aliens, I.E. people born outside of the Empire, but citizens of the Empire were considered British and thus not aliens, even if they were not born in Britain.

Were any records kept of "non aliens" that moved here, and if so where are they available?

  • I don't know of any records of the type requested - ie about "Empire" citizens - but would suggest shipping / passenger lists might give a snapshot of arrival, if that helps. Though incoming passenger lists are only available for certain periods. (Not sure what "turn of the 19th century" means to the poster - 1800s turning into 1900s? Or 1700s turning into 1800s?)
    – AdrianB38
    Feb 28, 2020 at 10:04
  • To clarify, 1700s turning into 1800s
    – Charlie
    Feb 28, 2020 at 10:59
  • 2
    That time period is too early for the keeping of passenger lists by the government. That doesn't mean that there aren't surviving passenger lists from then - I think that some documentation survives for East India Company ships - but they were confined to the UK / India / East Indies routes. TNA Research Guide nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/… might help for aliens but that's probably not what we're talking about. Re USA - remember that wasn't in the "Empire" by this point though people born there before 1776 might be considered British?
    – AdrianB38
    Feb 28, 2020 at 11:47
  • @AdrianB38 this is what I'm not sure about. I believe that some American Loyalists were offered the opportunity to resettle in Britain after the Revolutionary War, and thus may still have counted as British rather than Alien as they were technically born in the Empire.
    – Charlie
    Feb 28, 2020 at 12:02
  • My ancestor was born circa 1778 though so may have counted as an alien by this point. If he came from the West Indies though, this was still in the Empire until the last century.
    – Charlie
    Feb 28, 2020 at 12:03

2 Answers 2


Someone born in a British colony in the 19th century was regarded as British and so did not require any permission to enter the UK. That remained the law until colonies gained their independence in the 20th century.


To answer this question, think about the purposes for which records were created.

Official record sets kept by goverments such as the BT 26 lists of passengers arriving in the UK between 1878 and 1960, like many of the records we re-purpose for genealogy, were kept because they were mandated by law. Learning more about the laws in effect at the time can help us determine what record sets our research subjects might have records of our ancestors.

Another driving factor for keeping records is keeping track of money, such as merchant's account books, company records, and the like. We can look for clues in libraries' special collections, in company archives, in museums, historical societies, and other repositories.

Records of people moving from one country to another might also be found in manuscript colletions, in the form of diaries, or as published travelogues.

It can be challenging to find records like this because the records themselves can migrate along with people, and there's no telling where they might end up eventually. You could try looking for published works in WorldCat or via JSTOR and Google Scholar; examine the bibliographies carefully to see what sources the book and article authors found and where those sources were found.

Look for research guides and finding aids from archives like those found at TNA and published works on how to trace migration.

You can search for manuscript collections and other archival material by searching at TNA's Discovery website, which includes records held by other archives, at ArchiveGrid, the companion site to WorldCat, and the Library of Congress' NUCMC (National Union Catalogs to Manuscript Collections.

For an example of what type of records can be found before official government recordkeeping is mandated, look at the article Ships Passenger Lists & Naturalization Records at Olive Tree Genealogy, the website created by the late Lorine McGinnis Schulze. In the section Immigration Projects you can find record sets transcribed by volunteers. This list is largely about the US and Canada because of Olive Tree Genealogy's focus -- the point is to look at what kind of things Sculze and her volunteers were able to discover.

To find how-to articles, published transcriptions, and other articles from publications dedicated to genealogy, use PERSI, the PERiodical Source Index from the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Library. PERSI used to be part of Heritage Quest, was hosted in part by Ancestry (the old printed volumes), was available for a while at findmypast, and has now come home to a new website at the Allen County Public Library.

PERSI links:

This is the kind of inquiry that takes some digging. Whenever you find a record set that doesn't cover the time period or geographical area that you need, look at the type of record it is, and ask Does something like this exist for my area of interest? and How can I find those records? Research the topic and see what you can find. One research starter which might help is to ask "How many?" questions such as How many British subjects returned from the West Indies in the year 1800? Answering those questions may lead you to interesting sources. Even if there are no detailed, official lists of British Subjects returning home for the period, you may be able to find discussions about the topic in newspapers, in agency correspondence, or published government reports.

Don't neglect the projects done by people who are studying aliens/non-subjects, because their work can give valuable insight into ship movements and related material. Consider that whenever a ship arrived in the US or West Indes, it had to carry something or someone on the way back. You may not find lists for the inbound passengers, but you may be able to establish time periods for their return to Britain which will help you set parameters for research in other record sets.

You may not find a particular person in these scattered records, but you might get a "lucky dip". You can't know unless you look.

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