photo: Titanic

Passenger lists

Over the past couple of hundred years there has been a requirement for written registration of passengers for the transportation of persons over long distances. The passenger lists had different purposes, and they vary widely both in form and content.

Some lists give information about name, age, place of birth and destination, while others simply describe foreign passengers as “a foreigner”, without name, age, occupation, or place of birth.

While the crew lists have been a public matter in connection with de-enlistment and re-enlistment, the passenger lists have been perceived as “private”, kept by an agent, captain, or shipping company, and they therefore rarely appear in Norwegian public archives. An exception is in the court archives' maritime reports, where it was naturally important to document who had been on board.

Emigrant Protocols

The need for control and supervision in the country that sent emigrants resulted in keeping of emigration protocols with the police or port authorities. In Norway, the order to keep such protocols was given in 1867. Most preserved Norwegian emigration protocols up to around 1930 can be found in the Digital Archive. Emigration protocols have been kept at the police chambers until around 1970. It is important to note that the emigration protocols were supposed to record those who were to be approved to leave, while foreigners, perhaps with tickets from the USA, did not need to register with the Norwegian police, and are therefore missing from the emigration protocols. The State Archives in Oslo also have emigration records kept by the White Star Line.

In the Digital Archive, there are also databases of a number of passenger lists with information about Norwegian ships and Norwegian passengers, where the sources are American or Canadian archives. It is on the Internet that one can expect to find information from many passenger lists of Norwegians, not in the Norwegian archives.

Lists in the country of arrival

In many places, the port authorities demanded a fee from all passengers going ashore, and as documentation of the number of passengers, they required the submission of lists from the captain. Although it was the ship's captain who had the duty to keep, and present such lists, it was probably often the emigration agent who made the lists, and from time to time we find an indignant endorsement from the captain, after he discovered a discrepancy between the list and the actual number that went ashore. Then the captain could expect to be fined. The requirement for accuracy also explains that births on board are normally registered in the passenger lists, and correspondingly, deaths en route are also noted, since they trigger lower fees. Children were normally taken ashore at a lower fee than adults, and that is probably the reason why many of the passengers are registered in the lists with a lower age than they had.

Since these incomes were to be accounted for, the lists have been filed as appendices to the accounts. To the extent that they are preserved, they are therefore normally archived in the country of immigration. And since accounting documentation have generally been regarded as of little archival value, much of the material has long since been destroyed.

Passenger transport across the North Atlantic received strong criticism around 1860 after serious illness had broken out on board several of the ships. This led to demands for a health check before departure, the introduction of quarantine stations, and stronger demands for the conditions on board, i.a. in that a maximum number of passengers was set in relation to the available area. Due to this, the requirement to keep and present passenger lists was tightened.

Passenger lists from the USA and Canada

In the USA, there are archived passenger lists from 1820 onwards, while in Canada there are none older than 1865. From the mid-1850s until around 1870, the majority of Norwegian emigrants to North America had traveled via Canadian ports.

Since the passenger lists are a great source for genealogists, they are in many places registered in databases and the information published on the Internet:

Copies of older passenger lists (up to 1873) that relate to Norwegian emigration in particular can be found at Norway-Heritage

The Immigrant Ships Transcribers' Guild has transcribed more than 61,000 passenger lists, and their work is still ongoing. The material can be used at Immigrantships.

The UK has published searchable databases built on 164,000 original passenger lists of 24 million passengers from 35 UK ports, which also included Ireland up to 1921, from 1890 to 1960 on Findmypast. The database is searchable by name, port, ship, and date.

New York Passenger Lists 1820-1891 cover over 13 million immigrants. These are being published by the National Archives in the US on Archives. When Ellis Island was the arrival location, you can find arrivales on their website.


A number of Norwegian emigrants traveled via Bremen. As early as 1832, the authorities in Bremen came up with regulation of emigrant traffic on both German and foreign ships. One of the requirements was the keeping of passenger lists. From 1851, a separate office was established in Bremen to receive copies of these lists. These measures significantly improved conditions for the emigrants. All the passenger lists from the years 1875 - 1908 were destroyed due to lack of space in the archives in Bremen. During the Second World War, the entire material was destroyed, with the exception of 3,017 passenger lists from the years 1920 – 1939, which were taken by the Russians, and returned to Germany only in the latter part of the 1980s. The preserved lists have been digitized in a collaboration between the Chamber of Commerce in Bremen and an organization of genealogists in Bremen, called DIE MAUS. The result of the collaboration can be found on the website Passengerlist.

URLs to other archives that have passenger lists:

Modern passenger lists

In recent times, passenger lists have again become very interesting for the authorities in many countries. After a period with European passport union and a no passport control on the borders between most European countries, the threat of terrorism and the need to control migration and international crime have led to demands for complete passenger lists not only on planes, but also on passenger ships that operate routes of a certain length (more than 37 kilometers). The EU introduced the new requirements on 1 January 2000.

In April 2016, the European Parliament adopted a directive for the EU Passenger Name Record (PNR), and this was approved by the Council of Europe shortly after. The directive aims to help detect, investigate, and prosecute terrorists and criminals. It provides for the authorities to have extensive access to control all passenger traffic. The requirements and directives have met with resistance because they are seen as serious encroachments on personal freedom.