Scotland Emigration and Immigration

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Emigration and immigration records are records of people leaving (emigrating) or coming into (immigrating) Scotland. Records include passenger lists, permissions to emigrate, records of passports issued, list of transported prisoners, or registers of assistance to emigrate. These records may contain the name, age, occupation, destination, place of origin or birthplace, and date and ship of arrival. Names of fellow passengers may help construct family groups or provide hints on place of origin or destination.

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The publication Tracing Immigrant Origins contains more information and strategies for finding immigrant ancestors.

General Background

Beginning in the seventeenth century, Scottish people began emigrating to the United States, India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and elsewhere in the British Isles. Emigration increased in the mid-eighteenth century as a result of political unrest and again after 1815 as a means of poor relief, particularly from the Highlands.

The British government did not bother to document emigrants leaving its shores until the Passenger Act of 1803. Even after that, the records were very incomplete.

The Colonial Land and Emigration Commission (1841 to 1872) and the Board of Trade (1873 on) kept records of departing emigrants, but the records have been destroyed up to the 1890s.

Emigration from Scotland

There was no systematic, official method of emigrating from Scotland. The following types of emigrants account for most persons who left Scotland.

  • Free emigrants. Beginning in 1630, emigrants left Scotland to promote trade or set up military outposts and way stations for merchant ships. Later, free emigrants sought opportunity in a new land or fled poverty or oppression in Scotland.
  • Assisted emigrants. From 1815 to 1900, qualified emigrants received passage money or land grants in the destination country as an alternative to receiving poor relief. Many Scots from the Highlands emigrated to Canada in this manner. After 1840, New Zealand and Australia offered money for land grants to skilled workers to encourage immigrants.
  • Latter-day Saints. Beginning in about 1840, many Scottish Latter-day Saints emigrated to the United States. Most settled in Utah. For more information, see the Utah Research Outline.

Emigration from Scotland to Other Areas in the British Isles

Emigration from southern Scotland to England has always occurred, though in small numbers. Emigration from Scotland into Ireland occurred beginning in the early seventeenth century. No government records, such as lists of emigrants, were kept of these movements within the British Isles.

British Records of Emigration

To search emigration records effectively, you should know the approximate date of emigration, the name of the ship, the type of or reason for emigration, or the emigrant’s previous residence in Scotland. If you know the ship’s name, you might find additional details on the ship, including ports of embarkation and arrival in:

Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. Fiche ed. LaCrosse, Wisconsin: Brookhaven Press, 1981. (Family History Library fiche 6024581-6025295; does not circulate to Family History Centers.)

Passenger Lists. Port records listing the names of departing or arriving passengers are called passenger lists. Pre-1890 passenger departure lists are rare. Post-1890 lists are arranged chronologically by port of departure. These lists—which usually give the emigrant’s name, age, occupation, address, and sometimes destination—are kept at the Public Record Office, Kew (see the "Archives and Libraries’ section of this outline).

Assisted Emigrants Registers. Persons who applied for assistance to emigrate were recorded in assisted emigrants registers, which often contain name, age, occupation, residence, destination, name of sponsor, address of relative, and size of family. Those available at the Family History Library appear in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:





Probate Records. Probate records may mention relatives who emigrated. Probates of persons who died overseas who owned property in Scotland should have been proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (until 1858).

For lists of Scottish-American wills proved in England, see:

Coldham, Peter W. American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1857. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1989. (Family History Library book 942 P27c.)

Testaments of some Scots dying in America were proven in Scotland. Probate would have taken place in the Commissary Court of Edinburgh (until 1830) or the Sheriff Court of Edinburgh (after 1830). For a listing of these probates, see:

Dobson, David. Scottish-American Wills, 1650-1900. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1991. (Family HistoryLibrary book 973 P22d.)

Records of Scottish Emigrants in Their Destination Countries

Usually, it is easier to find information about your immigrant ancestor in the country he or she immigrated to. You may find the emigrant’s name, place of origin, occupation, and age. Knowing an approximate date and port of arrival or ship name will probably help you search immigration records.

Naturalization records in the destination country may be an excellent source for determining your ancestor’s place of origin. See the "Naturalization and Citizenship" section of the research outline of the destination country.

The Family History Library Catalog lists most of its immigration records in the Locality Search under:


United States

Immigrant lists are the main source of information about an immigrant’s arrival in the United States. More than 1,000 published lists are indexed in an ongoing series:

Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1981. (Family History Library book Ref 973 W32p.)

The Family History Library has post-1820 government compiled passenger lists for most U.S. ports. Many are indexed. See the United States Research Outline (30972) for more information.


Scottish people settled in Canada during the early 1800s, but few pre-1865 passenger lists exist. Before 1900, most immigrants arrived at Quebec City and Halifax. The Family History Library has copies of passenger lists from 1865 to 1900. See the Canada Research Outine (34545) for more information.

Many books have been published about Scottish emigrants to North America. Some of these are:

Dobson, David. Directory of Scottish Settlers in North America 1625-1825. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1984. (Family History Library book 970 W2d.) This author has published several other books on Scottish emigrants to America.

Tepper, Michael. New World Immigrants: A Consolidation of Ship Passenger Lists and Associated Data from Periodical Literature. 2 vols. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1979. (Family History Library book 973 W3tn.)

Whyte, Donald. Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to the U.S.A. 2nd ed. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981. (Family History Library book 973 W2w.)

Whyte, Donald. Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada Before Confederation. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1986. (Family History Library book 971 F2wd.)

You can find bibliographies of published passenger lists in:

Whyte, Donald. "Scottish Emigration: A Select Bibliography," Scottish Genealogist 21, no. 3 (1974): 65-86. (Family History Library book 941 B2g vol. 21 no. 3.)

Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography 1538-1900. 2nd ed. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Co, 1988. (Family History Library book 973 W33p.)


Australia was founded as an English penal colony in 1788, but many free people also emigrated to Australia.

Immigration records vary by state in content and coverage. Some list the immigrant’s birthplace, residence in Scotland, and education; his or her mother’s maiden name; and his or her father’s name, occupation, and residence. Some records are indexed. You might find the ship and arrival date in death certificates or published sources.

The Family History Library has many pre-1900 records. To find them, use the Locality Search of the catalog under:



New Zealand

The British began colonizing New Zealand in 1840. Immigration records usually give settlement details and the wife’s and children’s names and ages. Most immigrants received assistance from either the New Zealand Company or from a government or church association formed to encourage immigration.

The Family History Library has many of these records. You can find them by looking in the Locality Search of the catalog under:



Immigration into Scotland

Immigration into Scotland has included people from elsewhere in the British Isles and from Continental Europe. Specific immigrant groups include refugees from wars (such as the French Revolution) or from religious persecution (such as Huguenots and Jews). Throughout the nineteenth century in particular, immigration into Scotland was influenced by industrial development and by the Irish Potato Famine, bringing many Irish into Scotland.

No regular series of arrival records survives prior to 1836. The few surviving pre-1836 immigration records are not indexed.

The following types of records may help you find information about an ancestor who immigrated into Scotland:

British denization and naturalization records. If your ancestor immigrated to Scotland before 1836, check British denization and naturalization. Denization granted limited subject’s rights, and naturalization granted full subject’s rights. However, most foreign settlers did not bother to go through the legal formality and do not appear in these records.

Denizations are indexed for the years 1509 to 1873 and naturalizations for 1509 to 1935. The indexes are included in the "Kew Lists," class HO1 (Family History Library book Ref. 942 A3gp; fiche 6092334-5).

Certificates of aliens. The British government began registering foreign-born aliens living in the British Isles in 1793, but the records to 1836 do not survive. Beginning in 1836, certificates of aliens are arranged by port and list the name, nationality, profession, date arrived, country last visited, and signature of each passenger.

Passenger lists. Starting in 1878, lists of incoming passengers give name, birthplace, last residence, and sometimes address of relative in country of origin. However, passengers from Europe or the Mediterranean did not have to be listed.

You can find the above records at the Public Record Office, Kew. The Family History Library has very few records of immigration into Scotland. To find microfilm numbers for the records that are available, look in the Locality Search of the catalog under:



Since so few British immigration sources exist, you may need to search the emigration records of the country your ancestor moved from to Scotland.