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
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
and1635. 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. It is searchable online on the NEHGS website.
The second and present series, Immigrants to New England 1634-5, includes
emigrants whose surnames begin with A to H. Each of these series includes a
must-read section on passenger lists in the introduction.
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
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 to seventy-first 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, 1615-1775Vol. II, Middlesex,
1617-1775Volume III: London, 1656-1775Volume IV: Home counties,
1655-1775Volumes 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
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). Although the Register is searchable
by name on the NEHGS website it is not yet searchable by subject (although a
print subject index is available).
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 ListStill the best place on the Internet to start any sort of genealogical
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 mayflowerhistory.com,
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
“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
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.