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Lesson 5: Emigration Lists

Departing passenger lists are not the only record that an emigrant may have left behind in the old country to document his or her departure. While passenger lists are relatively easy to understand (even if they don't exist for all ports), and theoretically would have included virtually all emigrants, there are a variety of other emigration documents you can pursue in your research. These lists vary significantly from country to country (and even from state to state within some countries) and are often not as comprehensive as passenger lists were intended to be. They also often pertain to a smaller area, such as a region, district, or province; seldom to an entire country.

What they have in common is that they do list known emigrants. Many are lists of permission granted by the local government for a resident or family to leave. Others are lists of those known to have left, but the lists were gathered sometime after the emigrants departed. There are also a few lists of clandestine (illegal, non-permitted) emigrants, although such lists are obviously incomplete.

The Process

  • When a family or an individual decided to emigrate, there were several steps they usually followed, some to comply with the law, some to prepare for their journey, and some from local custom or tradition. Some of these steps generated records.

  • Often a country required that the emigrant receive permission to leave. If the emigrant obeyed this law (it is estimated that 30 to 50% left without permission), an application to leave and/or a passport may exist for your ancestor.

  • If the family owned property, they may have sold it. If they abandoned their property, it may show up on tax lists after the taxes became delinquent.

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