Find My Scottish Ancestors

Helping you to trace your family history

Tracing Your Scottish Emigrant / Immigrant Ancestors: An Emigration Research Guide

Scots have always been a mobile people. From the earliest times there are records of Scots travelling to and settling in other lands. If your ancestors left Scotland at some point and settled in another country, then your research may need to be focussed slightly differently to a search in which the family members always lived in the same country.

If you have traced your family tree back to someone who may have arrived from Scotland, then you will be ready to take the next step: getting back to your Scottish roots.

One big problem when researching your emigrant or immigrant ancestors is that there was no central register of people leaving Scotland before the 1890s and no passports [as we would recognise them today] until the early 1900s.

Ships passenger lists exist from the 1890s to 1960 and are held by The National Archives at Kew, London.


Scottish Ancestors: Emigrants and Emigration

You can also access these records remotely through the online service at and which offer a pay per view service.

The information on these records varies tremendously, and although some records are very detailed – some even containing the exact addresses where each emigrant had resided – others are woefully bereft of details. Thus you may find a wealth of information in these records, or very little.

The National Archives also have extremely useful research guides detailing other records relating to emigration that they hold.

You may also wish to visit the website of the Merseyside Maritime museum, who have a wealth of information in their research guides.

If your ancestor went to Australia in the 1850s, then they may have left as part of an assisted emigration scheme.

These were promoted by the Highland and Island Emigration Society association in response to the famine conditions that were sweeping the Scottish Highlands [as they were in Ireland too] at that time. Records relating to this scheme are held by the National Archives of Scotland and an index of those who left is available online at

If your ancestors left Scotland in the 1880s for Manitoba, Canada, then they may have been part of a state aided emigration scheme which aided crofters and cottars from the islands of Lewis and Harris to emigrate. Records relating to this scheme are also held at the National Archives of Scotland.


Emigrant Scottish ancestors research

If your ancestors were transported to Australasia then there are online resources available.


Emigration from Scotland ancestors research

You can check the online database maintained by the State Library of Queensland. There are also transportation registers from 1787-1870 held at The National Archives in London [copies available on microfilm at the National Archives of Scotland].

There are also some transportation records held by the National Archives of Scotland relating to those who left between 1653 and 1853 in the papers of the High Court of Justiciary, but these are by no means comprehensive.

Records of the trials of those Scots who were sentenced to transportation through the Scottish courts can be found in the High Court papers, but not all of these papers have been indexed or added to the online catalogue and can be extremely difficult to locate remotely.

If your ancestor left Scotland before 1890, then the search can be more difficult, but all is not lost!

You should try to find out if passenger lists or manifests from ships that they may have arrived on have survived at the port of entry that is, where they arrived as immigrants ? this can be a great first step in finding where your ancestors were from and exactly when they arrived.

If you cannot locate your ancestors in this way, then you may wish to consult some of the lists of emigrants that have been compiled by Scottish researchers. David Dobson and Donald Whyte have both published useful books which list emigrants who left Scotland for the Americas and Australasia in the period before passenger lists are available.

Also of value may be these lists by P W Filby and M K Meyer:

Passenger and Immigration Lists Index - A Guide to Published Arrival Records of about 500 000 Passengers in the United States and Canada, (Detroit, 1988: 2nd ed.).

Below are some useful links to other websites that maintain lists of emigrants and emigrant ships, or which have additional useful information about emigration from Scotland.

Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild

Ships Passenger Lists on the Internet

Ellis Island Foundation

The Scottish Emigration Database [1890-1960]

Convicts to Australia

The Highland Clearances


There is also a very useful list of links available at


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