American Ancestors New England Historic Genealogical Society - Founded 1845 N.E. Historic Genealogical Society Seal View Your Shopping Cart Join NEHGS
  • Passenger Ship Lists for the Seventeenth Century

    Martin E. Hollick

    Published Date : September 10, 2004

    Finding the ship on which your emigrant ancestor made the passage to these shores is a much sought after piece of information for genealogists. It is a plum fact to add to any family history. There is also a practical reason for finding this information, because it can greatly aid in finding the European origins of your ancestor. It is well known that people from the same village or surrounding villages traveled together and very often settled in the same communities in the New World. Knowing which ship one’s ancestor arrived on and seeing the origins of other passengers can readily narrow down the area that should be searched for your ancestor’s origins. Just narrowing down to a county can be a great time saver, and immensely important when dealing with a common surname.

    Passenger ship lists conjure images of Ellis Island and the manifests of ships with the names and ages of each passenger and their last known address in Europe. However, that is a nineteenth century image and such lists do not exist for seventeenth century travelers. In fact, there literally are no passenger ship lists per se. All but three such lists were reconstructed by careful analysis of other sources, such as letters, diaries, court records, port books, licenses to travel overseas, admiralty records, and other state papers. However, as a rule, finding the specific ship for any emigrant to New England in the seventeenth century is the exception and not the rule. In many cases we know that twenty to fifty people were on a given ship, but only two or three are identified by name.

    There is no better place to start one’s research on passenger lists than the Great Migration Study Project. The work done by the project is the most recent and best scholarship on those emigrants who came to New England between 1620 and 1635. The Great Migration Begins, Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, is a three-volume work that encompasses all the early Plymouth emigrants and the entire Winthrop migration of 1630. The second series, Immigrants to New England 1634-5,  includes all emigrants whose surnames begin with A to Y. Both of these series includes a must-read section on passenger lists in the introduction and are searchable online on the NEHGS website.

    In addition to these works is the Great Migration Newsletter, which discusses the methodology used in researching the biographical sketches, which appear in the above-referenced volumes. Specific issues that should be consulted are: Ship Arrivals in 1633 (January/March 1992) Vol. 3, No.1; Reconstructing a Passenger List (April/June 1992) Vol. 3, No. 2; Passenger Ships of 1634 – Part I (April/June 1997), Vol. 6, No. 2; Passenger Ships of 1634 – Part II (July/Sept 1997), Vol. 6, No. 3; Passenger Ships of 1635 – Part I (Jan/Mar 1998), Vol. 7, No. 1; Passenger Ships of 1635 – Part II (April/June 1998), Vol. 7, No. 2; Passenger Ships of 1635 – Part III (July/Sept 1998), Vol. 7, No. 3; Passenger Ships of 1635 – Part IV (Oct/Dec 1998), Vol. 7, No. 4; and Passenger Ships of 1635 – Part V (Jan/Mar 1999), Vol. 8, No. 1.

    Much of the research in the Great Migration Study Project, insofar as passenger lists are concerned, relies upon three sources. The first is John Camden Hotten’s The Original Lists of Persons of Quality . . . (New York 1880, reprint, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1962, 1968). Don’t let the pretentious nineteenth century title fool you, this is the first work to assemble lists of passengers from 1600 to1700 and time has not diminished its worth. Divided into sections with titles such as “Licenses to go Beyond the Seas from the Port of London 1634-5” and “Lists of Passengers 1631-4; mostly from West of England parts,” it includes a full index of names. The second is Charles Edward Banks’ The Planters of the Commonwealth (Boston, 1930, reprinted Genealogical Publishing Co., 1991). This work covers 1620 to1640 and is arranged chronologically with indexes to surnames and ships’ names at the back. The third work is Peter Wilson Coldham’s The Complete Book of Emigrants 1607-1660 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987). Again, listed chronologically and indexed by name, this work mainly covers arrivals at Virginia and Barbados and includes some New England emigrants. For instance the Mayflower is not listed since there is no corresponding English record of it. Many entries only show the number of passengers on the ship. The advice given in the Great Migration Begins should be heeded: “The best results will be obtained by a careful correlation of Hotten and Coldham, with a cautious dash of Banks.”

    The smaller subset of Planters is The Winthrop Fleet of 1630: An Account of the vessels, the voyage, the passengers and their English Homes from Original Authorities by Charles Edward Banks (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989). This has an interesting history of the Winthrop Fleet which makes for good reading, but it is now completely in the shadow of the Great Migration Begins.

    The next stop for the researcher should be Harold Lancour’s Bibliography of Ship Passenger Lists 1538-1825. Use the third edition, expanded and revised by Richard J. Wolfe (New York, 1963). A companion to this work is Ship Passenger Lists National and New England 1600-1825, edited by Carl Boyer 3rd (the publisher, Newhall, CA 1977). This work provides the actual lists for Lancour’s first seventy-one entries. It is indexed by name.

    A very large work is Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, edited by P. William Filby and Mary K. Meyer (Gale Research, Detroit, 1981), which list emigrants alphabetically by name. The three-volume set includes 480,000 names culled from 300 sources. This includes the name of the immigrant, age, place of arrival, year of arrival and the code number to the source whence the information came. This merely indexes secondary sources, which vary widely in their accuracy and scholarship. The 1982-5 cumulated supplements add 650,000 more records (published 1985) in 4 volumes, and a 1986 supplement adds another 125,000 records (published 1986) in a single volume.

    Another source, one which some researchers may find colorful for their ancestors and others not, is Bonded Passengers to America by Peter Wilson Coldham (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983), 9 volumes in 3. The following topics are covered:

    Vol. I, History of Transportation, 1615-1775
    Vol. II, Middlesex, 1617-1775
    Volume III: London, 1656-1775
    Volume IV: Home counties, 1655-1775
    Volumes V – IX, Western, Oxford, Norfolk, Northern and Midland Circuits, 1663-1775.

    Names are listed alphabetically under each jurisdiction, but unfortunately there is no overall name index. This set is augmented by The Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage 1614-1775 by Peter Wilson Coldham (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1988). The first work, Bonded Passengers, uses assize and palatinate courts records whereas the second work uses the courts of quarter session. However, this volume is completely alphabetical by name. It is supplemented twice: Supplement to the Complete Book of Emigrants in Bondage (1992) and More Emigrants in Bondage (2002).

    Other useful works include:

    New World Immigrants: A consolidation of ship passenger lists and associated data from Periodical Literature, edited by Michael Tepper (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1980), Vol. 1.

    Passengers to America: A consolidation of ship passenger lists from the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, ed. Michael Tepper (Genealogical Publishing Co. 1978). 

    American Passenger Arrival Records by Michael Tepper (Genealogical Publishing Co, 1988).

    They Came in Ships: A Guide to Finding Your Immigrant Ancestor’s Arrival Record, rev. ed. by John P. Colletta (Ancestry, 1993).

    The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, rev. ed., by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Ancestry, 1997). Chapter 13: Immigration: Finding Immigrant Origins, p. 441-520.

    Scots in New England 1623-1873 by David Dobson (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2002). The most significant emigration of Scots to New England was 1650-1 when Oliver Cromwell dispatched hundreds of Scots prisoners of war. Records are gleaned from primary and secondary sources, most interestingly from the Scots Charitable Society in Boston, which was founded in 1657. Arranged alphabetically by name.

    A List of Emigrants from England to America 1682-1692 by Michael Ghirelli (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1989, reprint). Transcribed from the original records (the “Lord Mayor’s Waiting Books”) at the City of London Record Office. Mostly outside of New England, but a few are listed as coming to Boston and New England.

    Internet resources include:

    Cyndi's List
    Still the best place on the Internet to start any sort of genealogical research.

    Passenger Lists on the Internet
    Names are not in any specific order so use the find command or just scroll down the list.

    The Mayflower Passenger List is best seen at, which includes the 1623 land division, the document upon which the lists for the Fortune and the Anne are based.

    To understand passenger ship lists better and how they are reconstructed read:

    “The Mary & John: Developing Objective Criteria for a Synthetic Passenger List” by Robert Charles Anderson, Register 147:148-61. For more information on the Mary & John see this website.

    The passenger lists that survive intact from the seventeenth century are from the William & James, the James and the Lyon, all which sailed from London in 1632. (See Hotten pp. 149-50, and the biographical sketches of the passengers in the Great Migration Begins, Series I.)

    When searching library catalogs use the following subject headings for your search:

    For specific ships use the ship’s name followed by the word ship in parentheses such as:

    Subject Mayflower (ship) or Titanic (ship)

    For passenger lists use the search:

    Subject ships—passenger lists

    Both ships and lists should be pluralized.

New England Historic Genealogical Society
99 - 101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA

© 2010 - 2014 New England Historic Genealogical Society