Wales Emigration and Immigration
Emigration and immigration records are records of people leaving (emigrating) or coming into (immigrating) Wales. Records include passenger lists, permissions to emigrate, records of passports issued, lists of transported prisoners, or registers of assistance to emigrate. These records may contain the name, age, occupation, destination, place of origin or birthplace, the ship, and date of arrival. Names of fellow passengers may help construct family groups or provide hints on place of origin or destination.
Welshmen began emigrating to other countries including the United States, India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and South America as early as the 1600s. One of the earliest groups of Welsh emigrants was the John Miles congregation of Baptists who settled in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. The most significant early Welsh emigrants to America settled in the "Welsh Tract" of Pennsylvania. They came at the invitation of William Penn, and the first group arrived in the early 1680s. For several decades after this, many Welsh nonconformists emigrated to Pennsylvania.
Emigration to America declined sharply during the eighteenth century but picked up again during the nineteenth century. It increased after 1815, when it became a means of poor relief. Emigration also increased during the gold rushes in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Welsh established communities in Pennsylvania, Vermont, Ohio, and up-state New York. These early settlements became the nucleus for later migration into Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. Beginning in the 1840s, many skilled iron workers and coal miners emigrated from Wales. Over 250,000 Welshmen have emigrated to America over the last 300 years.
Movements within the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man, and Channel Islands) and to its colonies required no documents. Records were not required for free emigrants to the United States until 1776; Canada before 1865; or Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa until the twentieth century.
Finding the Emigrant’s Place of Origin
Once you have traced your family back to a Welsh emigrant, you must determine the parish he or she was from. There are several sources in the destination country that may reveal where your ancestor came from. You may learn your ancestor’s place of origin by talking to older family members. Other relatives or a library may have documents naming the place, parish, city, or county, such as:
- Birth, marriage, and death certificates.
- Family Bibles.
- Church certificates/records.
- Naturalization applications and petitions.
- Passenger lists.
- Newspaper announcements or articles.
- Family heirlooms.
If the individual emigrated after 1 July 1837, you may find the place of origin by using the nationwide indexes to births, marriages, and deaths (see the "Civil Registration" section of this outline). There is no complete nationwide index to birth, marriage, or death records before 1837. The International Genealogical Index and local marriage indexes are partial indexes that you may try before searching emigration records.
For further information about finding the origins of immigrant ancestors, see the Tracing Immigrant Origins Research Outline.
Emigration From Wales
There was no systematic, official method of emigrating from Wales. The following types of emigrants account for most persons who left Wales:
Free emigrants. Beginning in the 1630s, emigrants left Wales 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 Wales.
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. After 1840 New Zealand and Australia offered money or land grants to skilled workers to encourage immigration.
Transported prisoners. More than 200,000 criminals were conditionally pardoned, exiled, and transported to penal colonies before 1870. Before 1775 over 50,000 prisoners were sent to America, primarily to Virginia and Maryland. From 1788 to 1869 over 160,000 prisoners were sent to Australia.
Military personnel. Upon discharge, soldiers serving overseas were offered land or other inducements to settle in the colony where they were serving. This was a common practice in Australia from 1791, in Canada from 1815, and in New Zealand from 1844.
Latter-day Saints. About 1840, thousands of Welsh members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emigrated to the United States. Most settled in Utah. For more information, see the Utah Research Outline. The website Welsh Mormon History has great details, pictures and journals on thousands of Welsh emigrants.
Records of Welsh Immigrants in Their Destination Countries
Usually, you will find the best information about your immigrant ancestor in the country he or she immigrated to. You may find the immigrant’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. Most immigration records at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
[COUNTRY or STATE] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
[COUNTRY or STATE], [COUNTY], [CITY] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
United States. Most Welsh immigrants to the United States arrived at New York. Immigrant lists are the main source of information on those arriving in the United States. More than 1,000 lists are indexed in an ongoing series by:
Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Index. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1981–. (FHL book 973 W32p.)
A bibliography of over 2,500 published lists is:
Filby, P. William. Passenger and Immigration Lists Bibliography, 1538–1900. 2d ed. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1988. (FHL book 973 W33p 1988.)
The Family History Library has post-1820 passenger lists for most U.S. ports. Most are indexed. For further information, see the United States Research Outline.
A few books about Welsh arrivals are also available, such as:
Browning, Charles H. Welsh Settlement of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wm. J. Campbell, 1912. (FHL 974.8 F2bc.)
To locate other books on immigration to the United States, look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
UNITED STATES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
[STATE] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
[STATE], [COUNTY] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
India. Many British subjects went to East India for trade or to settle. Until 1834, no British subject could go to India without permission from the East India Company. The Family History Library has some records from the India Office Library. Original records are deposited at the British Library, Oriental and India Office Collection (see the "Military Records" section of this outline).
Canada. From 1815 to 1850 Canada was the one of the primary destinations of Welsh emigrants. Before 1900, most immigrants arrived in Quebec City or Halifax. Passenger lists into Canada are rare before 1865. Microfilm copies of lists from 1865 to 1900 are at the Family History Library. See the Canada Research Outline for further information.
Australia. Australia was founded as a British penal colony in 1788. A few Welshmen were transported as prisoners, while some settled voluntarily in Australia. Most went in the late nineteenth century. They settled mainly in the mining districts, but some settled in agricultural areas.
Immigration records vary by state in content and coverage. Some list the immigrant’s birthplace, residence in Wales, and education; his or her mother’s maiden name and parents’ names; 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. Copies of most pre-1900 records are at the Family History Library. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
AUSTRALIA - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
AUSTRALIA, [STATE] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
South Africa. The British took South Africa from the Dutch in 1795. Few Welsh settled in South Africa until a group of 3,675 British subjects settled in eastern Cape Province in 1820. These settlers are well-documented. A memorial museum that has genealogies of their descendants is located at:
A list of arriving passengers was usually published in the government gazette for the province of arrival. Before 1836 only Cape Province had white settlements. Microfilm copies of many immigration records are available at the Family History Library. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
SOUTH AFRICA - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
SOUTH AFRICA, [PROVINCE] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
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. Microfilm copies of many of these records are at the Family History Library. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
NEW ZEALAND - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
NEW ZEALAND, [PROVINCE] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Argentina. A group of Welsh people settled at Patagonia, Argentina, in the nineteenth century. This settlement, known as "Y Wladfa," has been studied in considerable detail. Several books have been written about it. These books can be found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ARGENTINA, PATAGONIA - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
ARGENTINA, PATAGONIA - COLONIZATION
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 Wales. If you know the ship’s name, you may find additional details about the ship, including ports of embarkation and arrival, in:
Lloyd’s Register of British and Foreign Shipping. fiche ed. LaCrosse, Wisconsin: Brookhaven Press, 1981. (FHL fiche 6024581–6025295.)
Passenger Lists. Port records listing the names of departing or arriving passengers are called passenger lists. Passenger departure lists are rare before 1890. After 1890 they 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 (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline for the address).
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. Records of emigrants who received assistance to emigrate from their parish or landlord can be found in parish records and estate records. See the "Church Records" and "Land and Property" sections of this outline. Those available at the Family History Library appear in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
[DESTINATION COUNTRY] - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
ENGLAND - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
GREAT BRITAIN - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
WALES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
Probate Records. Probate records may mention emigrant relatives. Probates of persons dying overseas who owned property in Wales should have been proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (until 1858) or at the Principal Probate Registry (after 1857). The following work lists some American wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury:
Coldham, Peter W. American Wills and Administrations in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 1610-1857. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., 1989. (FHL book 942 P27c.)
For more information, see the "Probate Records" section of this outline.
Other Records. The Public Record Office has many other records that refer to emigrants. Of particular importance are the poor law union papers, which among many other things includes some records of poor relief emigration from 1834 to 1900. For information on these and other emigration records at the Public Record Office, use the Kew Lists (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline).
There are other lists of emigrants by authors such as Peter W. Coldham, Michael Tepper, and P. William Filby. See the Author/Title Search of the Family History Library Catalog for works by these authors.
Immigration into the British Isles
Immigration to the British Isles was primarily from continental Europe. Specific immigrant groups include refugees from wars (such as the French Revolution) or from religious persecution (such as Huguenots and Jews).
Beginning in 1836, there are certificates of aliens, arranged by port, giving name, nationality, profession, date arrived, country last visited, and signature.
Starting in 1878, there are lists of incoming passengers giving the passenger’s name, birthplace, last residence, and sometimes an address of a relative in the country of origin. However, passengers from Europe or the Mediterranean did not have to be listed. All of these immigration records are at the Public Record Office.
Immigration records at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
ENGLAND - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
WALES - EMIGRATION AND IMMIGRATION
As there are few English immigration sources, you may need to search the emigration records for your ancestor’s country of origin.