Emily Wilbur and Dr. Cynthia Doxey, Religious Education
Unfortunately, finding our ancestors is not an easy task. It takes expertise and training, as well as informative sources. One of the biggest barriers to family historians is migration. Getting individuals and families across the oceans and to their place of origin often seems impossible. There are currently only a few resources which economically facilitate emigration research.
Popular sources such as censuses and passenger lists, while providing the country, almost always do not include the specific parish an individual is from. While there are a limited number of published records, these include only a very small percentage of the millions of people who emigrated from England between 1551 and the twentieth century. There is an obvious need for an expansion of emigration sources. Brigham Young University has become to fill this void.
It is the design of the Center for Family History and Genealogy at Brigham Young University to create the largest and most complete searchable online database of British emigration. This database will compliment the German, Spanish, French, and Italian databases already in progress. Researchers will have access to over 20 million names, otherwise not readily available. Among the information provided, the name of the parish the immigrant is from will be included when possible. In order to achieve this goal, a preliminary evaluation of the unpublished original sources in England had to be accessed so that the Center can plan a major research trip to extract the data available in these records in the future.
Searching for emigration records in the British Isles proved to be more of an adventure that I had anticipated. As the object of our project is to uncover hidden sources containing emigration information, our research team spent much time searching in very obscure records. At the first notice of our research trip, I eagerly chose to focus my attention of the records of the poor.
I began in the Public Record Office, now called The National Archives, in Kew. I searched the Ministry of Health Poor Law Union Papers 1834-1890 (MH 12). The items I viewed gave information regarding mostly the policy and correspondence regarding emigration. I occasionally found names of individuals who intended to travel, but never a specific declaration of emigration.
We also visited the India Office in the British National Library. Although I wasn’t able to focus on poor records because of their lack of availability, I was able to find some emigration material. One such record was the Bengal Calendar, 1790 which gave date of residence in India, name, occupation (no birth info), list of British subjects, employment, ship, and arrival time.
Leaving London, I traveled north to the Shropshire County Record Office, in Shrewsbury. I searched the Poor Law records for Shrewsbury (it being my case study parish), containing removals of foreign paupers from Shrewsbury. I also searched some Quarter Session records, containing removal orders and other poor law settlement matters. As I had feared, I found no mention of an individual being sent away from England; rather, people were being sent to and from parishes within the country. However, as my research time was limited, I could only search for a limited period of time, leaving a huge amount of records left to be searched. It is very possible that with more searching, instances where individuals leave the country will be found. The archivists were more than helpful, and provided me with many lists of possible sources I may search in the Record Office, as well as contact individuals who are also researching emigration.
The National Archives of Scotland was a much different experience than the PRO, as the indexes are much more difficult to use. I wanted to search the Poor records, but the archivists insisted that I use what is available at the PRO. So instead, I looked mainly at the Emigration records categorized as Voluntary Emigrants. The first records were for the Highland and Island Emigration Society (HD 4/5). They contain passenger lists for the years 1852-1857 and are organized by ship and by family and record the name, age, and residence of each emigrant.
Obviously, these will be very helpful. I also looked at the files for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (AF 51), which include names of some of the emigrants involved in state-aided schemes set up in the 1880s to assist emigrants to go to Canada. There are over two hundred files in this collection. The half dozen or so that I viewed contained mainly correspondence between individuals regarding emigration policy and procedures. There were a few letters of correspondence between individuals who had emigrated, but these were uncommon. I did come across a list of organizations that assisted with children emigration, and further research into these organizations might provide some names.
Our first research trip to the British Isles was definitely a success. We have a much clearer concept of the records that will yield emigration information, and bring the emigration project to fruition. The information that we found, along with those of future research teams, will prove useful to volunteers willing to extract and upload the data onto the website. For additional information about this project, or to learn how to volunteer, please visit: http://immigrants.byu.edu/english/default.asp.