Immigration & Emigration Records

Jim Brough, RAF bomber pilot.

Some of Ancestry’s richest records can be found in its Immigration and Emigration category. This is some of what you’ll find there.

These are records of people’s movements in and out of Australia and other countries via ships and planes. They date back to the 1800s and, depending on when the record was created, will usually include names, ages, nationalities, occupations, departure and arrival points and dates and the names of other family members on the voyage. Given there’s so much information, it helps to create a vivid picture when writing a Forgotten Australia episode — or your family history. Rather than just saying, “Jane Smith left England in 1909 to live in Australia”, you can specify the port, the date, the season, the vessel on which she travelled, the time it took and where and when she arrived. Then, by widening research using contemporary newspapers, it’s possible to give context and colour to the voyage by referencing what was happening in the arrival/departure city/country. I’ve used these records countless times in the creation of episodes. Here is one of my favourite examples.

Jim Brough — “Diplomat”

The two-part episode “The First To Fight” tells the story of Jim Brough, a young Australian who flew bomber missions for the RAF in England in the early months of WWII. In 1941 this skilled pilot was seconded to Ferry Command, under which he and other aviators flew much-needed bombers from Canada to England. But to get to Canada in the first place, Jim had to sail across the Atlantic Ocean, a perilous voyage thanks to Nazi U-boats. From a later Hobart Mercury newspaper article, I knew that Jim had made two crossings and on one his convoy had been bombed. That was good information, if a little imprecise. But thanks to Ancestry records, I was able to pinpoint these voyages. Here’s the passenger manifest for Jim’s first trans-Atlantic sea voyage:

Along with other passengers on this page, Jim was listed as a “government official”. Why? My suspicion was that this was to protect him should the Bodegraven be sunk and Jim should be captured by the Germans. The record also told me where he sailed from and what date: Newport, England, 14 March 1941. How long did this dicey trip take? We know that it was 17 days because here’s Jim arriving in New York on 1 April:

And on this record he is listed as a “Diplomat” to give him some measure of protection.

After arriving in the USA, Jim went to Canada and flew a big bomber to England — setting a new time record for an Atlantic crossing. Then he sailed back to New York again, as shown here:

So, by using Ancestry records I was able to paint a much more detailed picture of Jim’s movements in mid-1941. Not that I delved into the Bodegraven‘s fate in the episode because it would’ve broken the flow of the story, but what became of the vessel did illustrate the dangers of sea voyages during WWII.

Here’s how the site Uboat describes the vessel’s fate:

“At 01.30 hours on 2 July 1944 the unescorted Bodegraven (Master B.A. Molenaar) was hit on the port side in the engine room by a torpedo from U-547 about 200 miles south of Monrovia. The ship stopped and settled by the stern, sinking after 12 minutes. One lifeboat had been destroyed by the explosion, so the 63 crew members and 48 passengers had to abandon ship in the three remaining lifeboats. The Germans then questioned the survivors and took the master as prisoner on board.”

Had Jim Brough been on board on that voyage, his “Diplomatic” credentials might’ve been needed.