University of Aberdeen History, University of Aberdeen

The Scottish Emigration Database

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The research project had a two-year timeframe. The first eighteen months were spent in digitising the source documents and compiling the relational database, with the final six months being devoted to analysis. In view of the huge volume of archival material, it was decided to select records at ten-year intervals, rather than attempt comprehensive coverage. These snapshots were to include the first year that full records become available (1890), the upsurge in external migration just before the First World War (1910), the resurgence of the movement after the war (1920), the nadir of the depression (1930) and the period after World War II when air travel was beginning to take over from ocean passage (1960). It was subsequently decided to add 1923 to the sample, owing to its particular significance for Scottish emigration.

The physical process of digitisation took place at The National Archives in Kew (London). The source documents were passenger lists (sometimes referred to as passenger manifests) completed by the pursers of shipping companies that conveyed passengers to ports outside Europe and the Mediterranean between 1890 and 1960. Using a Finepix S602 camera, each page was photographed twice, generating over 6,000 digital images, which were subsequently stored on DVD.

Owing to the size of the documents, the largest of which are 59cm by 42cm in size (for single pages) or 59cm by 84cm (for double pages), some of the first years sampled (1910 and 1930) were photographed in two separate halves, as shown. 1910 passenger list, top half of page. Click to view full size image

1910 passenger list, bottom half of page. Click to view full size image

Since these images were of relatively poor quality, The National Archives granted permission for the use of a tripod, enabling single-shot images to be taken. Despite the slight distortion of the original images by the camera’s auto focus and the angle resulting from the use of the tripod from the side (and not above the original document), the quality was greatly enhanced, as shown by this image. passenger manifest, Glasgow, April 1890. Click to view full-sized image

The volume and scope of information in the shipping manifests changed considerably during the seventy years covered by the study and the database was designed to take account of these changes. As the British state became increasingly interested in studying patterns of population movement in and out of Britain’s ports (along with Irish ports prior to 1922), so the documentation steadily evolved.

Initially only the name, age, gender, occupation and nationality were sought, but by 1900 (earlier in certain instances) some companies had begun to record the province and/or town of destination of emigrant passengers, particularly to Canada.
Glasgow manifest, April 1900, showing destinations. Click to view full-sized image

Following the 1905 Aliens Act, enforced through the 1906 Merchant Shipping Act, more details were recorded on the foreign-born non-transmigrants (foreign-born emigrants who had lived in Britain but who had not become naturalised British subjects) and transmigrants (those who arrived and re-migrated from Britain within 14 days of arrival). In particular they recorded the names of companies which had transported the transmigrants to Britain, the passengers’ specific nationalities and the British point of entry. After 1908 returns for Glasgow were unique in recording the race as well as the nationality of foreign-born passengers. For example, Russian passengers might be entered as Russia and Jewish, or Russian and Slav. Glasgow manifest, 1910, showing aliens. Click to view full-sized image

From April 1912 the manifests included much more detailed demographic information, including the place of intended settlement (18 months or longer) and from 1919 a full previous address was entered. Passenger list, Nestor (Blue Funnel Line), Glasgow, November 1923. Click to view full-sized image

The advent of mass air transportation after World War II led to the introduction of passenger boarding cards. Although shipping manifests continued to record seaborne passengers, additional passenger boarding cards have survived for the months of November and December 1960. They record the details of parents and children on a single card. 1960 Boarding Card (front). Click to view full-sized image
1960 boarding card (rear). Click to view full-sized image

Digitisation was followed by transcription of data from the images into a relational Microsoft Access database. There are three tables: an index, a Ships’ Table and a Passengers’ Table. The index lists all the manifests that were digitised; the Ships’ Table gives details of all the vessels included in the digitised images; and the Passengers’ Table consists of personal and demographic information on every passenger whose details have been transferred from the digitised images to the database. Information has been transcribed for 21,090 passengers, most of whom embarked at the port of Glasgow in the first four months of 1923. All the tables are linked, preventing the repeated duplication of information and enabling complex queries to be undertaken. Data from the Access database was then transferred to a MySQL database for display on the web.

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