I noticed this today in the Daily Telegraph, English newspaper. It has a somewhat restricted time-frame so far, but it would be interesting if any of us found ancestors listed here.

Online window on lost age of the steamer
By Ben Fenton
Last Updated: 1:47am GMT 10/01/2007

A new window on a distant and disappeared world opens for the first time tomorrow with the online publication of passenger lists from the great age of steam ships.

From American cowboys returning home to nervous British families embarking on a lifelong journey to a new world, the manifests of passengers embarking from British ports are a potential godsend to researchers and family historians.

The emigration of ancestors has often erected a brick wall to people seeking to draw up a family tree and the online passenger lists, previously available only by visiting the National Archives in Kew, south-west London, should help break down these barriers.

The first tranche of digitised records cover the period from 1890 to 1900, but this will eventually be extended to 1960.

There are more than 1.5 million pages listing about 30 million passengers who left Britain for America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all parts of the globe.

During that period, when transatlantic liners were entering their glory years, an estimated 125,000 left Britain to begin new lives abroad every year.

All the records contain the name of each passenger, the name of the ship, the date and the port of departure as well as the destination.

But some add further details, such as the address and date of birth of the people boarding, their marital status, occupation and nationality, all parts of the jigsaw of minutiae that help make up a family history.

Some of the records give intriguing glimpses of the past.

In one, the names of a dozen American cowboys returning Stateside on a liner, the Alexander Elder, from London to Philadelphia, are written in a careful copperplate hand.

Between 1875 and 1914, hundreds of cattleships brought livestock on one-way trips from American ranches to British markets and the animals needed handlers, who often went back on board more luxurious vessels than those on which they arrived.

A 1919 record for the passenger ship Corsican shows a little-regarded segment of British history, the fate of the First World War war-bride, with a group of 12 women and 12 children being shipped over to Montreal to join their husbands, all recently serving soldiers in the Canadian forces on the Western Front.

In another record, the transatlantic crossing of a 24-year-old Noel Coward notes that he is intending to return to Britain after a short visit to New York on board the Olympic, the sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic, in 1924.

And another, for 1914 shows the departure of Marcus Garvey, the black civil rights leader and Jamaican independence hero, who is listed as being a journalist as he leaves Southampton on board the Trent.

Finally, a manifest for the vessel Frankenfels leaving Leith, Scotland, in 1919 records the return of four British businessmen, three accountants and an engineer, bound for "Busra" in what would the following year become the "State of Iraq".

All four, asked to record their "Country of Intended Future Permanent Residence", duly listed it as "Mesopotamia".

Access to the online records for 1890 to 1900 will be available through the website www.findmypast.com from tomorrow.