How to look for records of... Immigrants

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

This is a brief guide to help you find records of an immigrant to the UK. Records about foreigners coming during the past 600 years to live in the UK were created by various government departments at different times. They are held in a range of record series, but there is no composite index of names.

What do I need to know before I start?

Many records of immigration have been destroyed.

Try to find out:

  • the date and place of arrival in the UK
  • the country of origin
  • the means of travel to the UK

If immigrants came to Britain from Ireland or the British colonies they were called Britons. If they came from elsewhere (including Scotland before 1707) they were called aliens.

In 1793 the Aliens Act introduced the first official immigrant registration system. It was introduced to manage the influx of people coming to Britain to escape the French Revolution.

People other than those from British colonies or Ireland had to register with a Justice of the Peace, giving their name, rank, address and occupation. The records of Justices of the Peace may survive in local record offices.

In 1905 a new Aliens Act meant that aliens could only enter the UK at the discretion of the authorities. After 1919 they had to register with the local police.

There are no passenger lists for people arriving in the UK by air.

What records can I see online?

Certificates of alien arrivals and returns and papers (1810-1869)

Search and download certificates of alien arrivals (HO 2) and returns and papers (HO 3) on (£). The records can be searched by name of alien, date and port of arrival and country/place of origin.

Aliens’ entry books (1794-1921)

Browse aliens’ entry books, 1794-1921, including indexes to certificates of alien arrivals (HO 5/25-28) on (£).

Aliens registration cards (1876-1991)

Search a sample of aliens registration cards in MEPO 35 on our website (£).

Incoming passenger lists (1878-1960)

Search incoming passenger lists from BT 26 on (£) for people arriving by sea from countries outside Europe and the Mediterranean area.

Non-parochial registers (1567-1858)

Search non-parochial registers in RG 4 on (£) for records of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials of refugees kept by the French, Dutch, German and Swiss churches for various periods between 1567 and 1858.

Alien subsidy returns and letters of denization (1330-1550)

Search for records of immigrants living in England between 1330 and 1550 on the online England’s immigrants database, drawn from alien subsidy returns in E 179 and letters of denization in C 67.

Records of enemy aliens and internees, First and Second World Wars

Search by first and last name for enemy aliens and internees in the First and Second World Wars on (£).

Alternatively you can browse the digitised collections of enemy aliens and internees by year and by record series.

The records include:

  • First World War internment lists in HO 144/11720 (1915 and 1918)
  • Central Register of Aliens in United Kingdom; policy of internment and repatriation of alien enemies in HO 45/11522 Parts 1 and 2 (1914-1924)
  • reception and internment of aliens: list of internees in PCOM 9/661-662 (1938-1946)
  • nominal rolls for various internment camps at Isle of Man: HO 215/469 (Hutchinson), HO 215/471 (Metropole), HO 215/473 (Mooragh), HO 215/475 (Onchan), HO 215/478 (Port Erin) and HO 215/502 (married camp)
  • people interned or considered for internment by the British in the Second World War in HO 396 (1939-1947)

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Naturalisation case papers (1789-1934)

Search Discovery, our catalogue, in HO 1, HO 45 and HO 144 by last name (surname) and nat* for naturalisation case papers.

Naturalisation case papers (1934-c1968)

See our guide on Naturalised Britons.

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Records held elsewhere

Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?


Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Roger Kershaw, Migration Records (The National Archives, 2009)


Look at the ‘Tracing your roots’ section of the Moving Here website.