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Researching Ships' Passenger Lists

Ships' passenger lists are much more than a parade of names. The need for a nation's immigration authorities to know as much as possible about the people they were allowing in has hidden benefits for family historians tracking their ancestors in later centuries.

Passenger lists, compiled by shipping companies at the port of embarkation, enable us to find out what role ancestors may have played in the great migrations out of Europe that became possible after the late 15th century. The pioneering voyages of discovery enabled emigrants to take ship and, for the first time, head for really distant destinations.

The Portuguese, for example, were able to settle in places along the coasts of Africa after their seamen pioneered the sea route to India round the so-called "Dark Continent" in 1497-1498.

Spaniards colonised the New World in the wake of Columbus's voyages to America after 1492.

North America was the destination of the major exodus from Europe, sparked by religious persecution, which began when the first permanent settlements were founded after 1607.

Australia and New Zealand were settled after 1788, when the "antipodes" became a prison and then home for transported convicts. By the 1830s, free settlers were making the long, perilous journey half-way across the world to start new lives "down under" and a fresh supply of passenger lists becomes available.

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