Search more than 2.6 million Merchant Navy Seamen records for details of your ancestors and relatives. Discover valuable information about their voyages, their rank, personal details including their address, next of kin, physical descriptions and, in some cases, even photographs of those featured in our records.
The amount of information listed varies, but the Merchant Navy records usually include the following information about your ancestor:
As well as providing information about your ancestor's career, it should be noted that the Merchant Navy Seamen records can also reveal what he or she looked like. Many of the records include a photograph or a physical description, bringing you face to face with your ancestor.
There are more than 2.6 million Merchant Navy Seamen records, which we are publishing in partnership with The National Archives. The Merchant Navy Seamen records comprise two main sections:
Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1857: records of individual seamen that the central government created to monitor a potential reserve of sailors for the Royal Navy. Over 1.6 million records are available to view between these dates.
Merchant Navy Seamen 1918-1941: records of index cards that the Registrar General of Shipping and Seaman used between the two world wars to produce a centralised index to merchant seamen serving on British merchant navy vessels. There are 998,838 records available to search between these dates.
The records are split into two very distinct sections / timeframes because in 1857 the Board of Trade abandoned the Seamen's register, deeming the agreements and crew lists enough to meet the department's needs. This means that no register of ordinary seamen's service was kept between 1858-1913.
Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1857
From 1835, central government began to monitor a potential reserve of sailors for the Royal Navy, which resulted in the creation of thousands of records that identify individual seamen. The main series of records feature the ships' agreements and crew lists, from which registers of service were created.
These are volumes from The National Archives' record series BT112, BT113, BT114, BT115, BT116, BT119 and BT120.
Merchant Navy Seamen 1918-1941
These records are from index cards used by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seaman between the two world wars to produce a centralised index to merchant seamen serving on British merchant navy vessels.
The Board of Trade issued these cards and they fall into three types: CR1, CR2 and CR10. There are two or more cards for some individuals, so the total number of merchant seamen is actually lower than 998,838.
The front of a card gives the basic biographical information about each individual their name, their year and place of birth, their rank or rating, and so on. Initials were sometimes given rather than first names. Sometimes there is a physical description. You may also be able to see other information about your ancestor, such as discharge number, health insurance number, address of kin and so on.
The reverse of the card may be blank, or may contain a list of official vessel numbers and signing-on dates, and/or a photograph and/or signature of the seamen. Sometimes a photograph is not on the reverse of the card but on a separate attached card. Where this is the case, you will see 'Viewing Page 1 of 2' when you open the image, with an option to click on 'Next Page' (which will show you the photograph). Where available, the photographs of the mariners are enormously evocative of the inter-war working class men who made the British merchant navy what it was.
These records are particularly valuable due to the wide range of people they include. It is possible to find records for British nationals, foreign British-registered men and women, experienced crewmen and young cabin crew. Whatever your ancestor's role on the merchant ships, it is well worth searching for them in these records.
These records are digitised from materials held at The National Archives and are the series BT348, BT349 and BT350. Please note that a fourth series BT364 is not being published at this time, due to data protection concerns. The collection is not complete for a further reason: most cards from 1913 to 1921 were destroyed by the Board of Trade in 1969.
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