Many of the records are for people emigrating from the UK. In the years between 1890 and the start of WW1, an estimated 125,000 British people emigrated to USA, 50,000 to Canada and 25,000 to Australia every year. After the war, emigration continued but became increasingly controlled and often had a changed emphasis: for example, Australia became a more and more popular destination.
Also included are records of business travel, tourists and diplomats, as well as economic migrants from Europe who came to England to catch a boat to their final destination.
There is no standard form used. Passenger lists vary in size and in length, changed over time, and different shipping lines had their own pre-printed forms. Some are typed, others are handwritten; some record only a minimum of detail about the passengers, others include a wealth of information down to exact address and ultimate destination overseas.
Searching the records, I found my uncle, Ernest Edgar Daglish, travelling on the Lusitania from Liverpool to New York in December 1914. From other records, we know that in September 1915 he enlisted into the US Army. After the war, back in England, he is found again crossing the Atlantic as well as travelling to places such as Buenos Aires.
The big disadvantage is the cost of accessing the records. Searching the records is free, but to view and download you need to either buy units or to take out a subscription.
This week it was announced that Scotland Online, which runs the web site ScotlandsPeople, had acquired FindMyPast. Quite what this means is unclear - but hopefully the combined company will continue to make new records available online. Scotland Online recently won the tender for the 1911 England and Wales census records. It is understood that the 1911 census will be available from 2009, starting with the major conurbations, although personally sensitive data will be withheld until January 2012.
Image and logo copyright FindMyPast.com
Update - February 1: FindMyPast has just extended the records up to 1949, taking in the period of WW2. Records now include 20 million names within 137,000 passenger lists spanning 1890 to 1949.