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Merchant Navy - Apprenticeship Records

Nature of Source

Records from the Merchant Seamen apprenticeship agreements or indentures. Under the Merchant Shipping Act of 1823, all vessels over 80 tons were legally obliged to carry at last one apprentice. These were filed with the local Customs Officer and are now available at The National Archives (TNA). A further Act of 1835 handed the responsibility for registering London based apprentices to the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen and for those outside London, the local Customs Officers continued to register apprentices. Although compulsory registration ended in 1849, the system of registration continued into the 20th century. The authorities created indexes from these records which are held at TNA which also hold the original indentures but only about 20 per cent of these have survived.

Earlier apprenticeship records covering all trades including merchant seamen should also be consulted. See 'Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade' for more details.

Merchant Seaman records sometimes identify a vessel an individual served on only by the Ships' Official Number. The Crew List Index Project (CLIP) offers a searchable index of ships by official number. The database includes every British registered ship from 1855 to the early 1950s with official numbers 1 to 200000. In addition CLIP offers a searchable index of ships by name. It shows matching names and their official number, sorted first by name, then by official number.

Most Merchant Seaman records survive from 1835 following the introduction of the Merchant Shipping Act which introduced for the first time a central register of seamen. Before the Act few records merchant seamen records exist as seamen were employed for the duration of the contract and then made redundant. Those serving as officers may be easier to locate. Those working in the Merchant Navy below the rank of the officer class are mostly referred to as 'seamen' or 'mariners' whilst those serving in the Royal Navy are mostly referred to as 'ratings'.

Merchant Navy mariners were recorded in the 1841 census but unfortunately not those on board ships either stationed on shore or at sea. They were first recorded on board vessels in port from 1851 (1861 for Scotland) and from 1861 measures were taken to record mariners at sea. However the coverage, especially for the earlier censuses, is patchy with many not appearing in the schedules. For more detailed information on the census and Merchant Navy see here and here.

See also
Merchant Navy - Certificates of Competency & Service
Merchant Navy - Crew Lists & Agreements
Merchant Navy - Death At Sea Indexes
Merchant Navy - Musters
Merchant Navy - Registers of Seamen/Service (Seamen)
Merchant Navy - Registered Ticket Records
Merchant Navy - Ship's Logs
Merchant Navy - Trinity House Petitions

Where Found

The National Archives (BT 150, Index of Apprentices arranged in alphabetical order with London ports listed separately to non-London ports or 'outports'. The index relates to the copy indentures in BT 151 and BT 152; BT 151, Apprentices' Indentures; BT 152, Apprentices' Indentures for Fishing)
National Maritime Museum (Marine Society Registers of Apprentices, 1772-1950)
Imperial War Museum (Collections include photos, art, souvenirs, ephemera, recordings and newspapers, journals and books)

Period Covered

1824 - 1953

Genealogical Value

Name and age of apprentice, date and length of apprenticeship, name of master, name of ship served on.

Further References

Bevan, Amanda. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives: The National Archives, 2006


Fenton, Roy & Briody, Nuala & Macdonald, Mike. Maritime Information, A guide to libraries and sources of information in the United Kingdom: MIA, 2004


Hailey, John. Maritime Sources in the Library of the Society of Genealogists: Society of Genealogists, 1997


Spencer, William, Family History in the Wars: The National Archives, 2007


Smyth, W. H. The Sailor's Wordbook: The Classic Source for Over 14,000 Nautical and Naval Terms: Conway Maritime Press, 2005


Tracing Your Family History: Merchant Seamen: Imperial War Museum, 2006

 

Tracing Your Family History, Merchant Navy, Imperial War Museum, 2006

 

Watts, Christopher & Watts, Michael & Smith, Kelvin. Records of Merchant Shipping & Seamen, PRO Publications, 1998

 

Watts, Christopher & Watts, Michael. My Ancestor Was a Merchant Seaman: Society of Genealogists, 2011

 

Watts, Christopher & Watts, Michael, Tracing Births, Deaths and Marriages at Sea: Society of Genealogists, 2004

 

Wills, Simon. Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: Pen & Sword Books, 2012

 

Wills, Simon. Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors: A Guide to Maritime Photographs for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2016

Woodman, Richard. The Merchant Navy: Shire Publications, 2013

 


TNA Research Guides

Websites

www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/merchant-ships (TNA Research Guide: How to look for records of Merchant ships)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/merchant-seaman-serving-1858-1917 (TNA Research Guide: How to look for records of Merchant seamen serving 1858-1917)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/merchant-seaman-serving-after-1917 (TNA Research Guide: Merchant seamen serving after 1917)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/merchant-seaman-serving-up-to-1857 (TNA Research Guide: Merchant seamen serving up to 1857)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/officers-merchant-navy (TNA Research Guide: Officers in the Merchant Navy)
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/registration-merchant-ships (TNA Research Guide: Registration of merchant ships
www.iwm.org.uk/research/tracing-your-family-history/tracing-your-merchant-navy-family-history (Imperial War Museum: Merchant Navy Family History: Guides include: Where to find Merchant Navy Records; Casualty Records; Medal Records; Other sources)
https://museum.wales/curatorial/industry/resources/maritime-history (National Museum Wales: Researching Welsh maritime history)
www.rmg.co.uk/discover/researchers/research-guides (National Maritime Museum Research Guides: Tracing family history from maritime records; The Merchant Navy: World War Two; The Merchant Navy: Tracing merchant seamen; he Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Crew lists, agreements and official logs; The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Master-mariners, mates and engineers; The Merchant Navy: Sources for enquiries; The Merchant Navy: Sources for ship histories; The Merchant Navy: First World War)
http://lrfoundation.org.uk/public_education/research_resources/information-sheets (Lloyd’s Register Foundation: Information sheets: Guides include: Registry of Shipping and Seamen; Useful sources for genealogists; Sources available to historical researchers; Collections of the Lloyd’s Register of Ships and associated publications in UK and Ireland)
http://lrfoundation.org.uk/public_education/reference-library/register-of-ships-online
(Lloyd’s Register Foundation: Lloyd’s Register of Ships online: How to access the historical Lloyd's Register of Ships. Links to volumes of the Lloyd’s Register of Ships which are fully accessible and searchable online. Resources include the 1764 Register Book)
www.mun.ca/mha/research/principalrecords.php (Maritime History Archive. List of the principal records of British shipping and seamen, showing their present locations)
www.mariners-l.co.uk/UKMerchantNavyIndex.html (Researching the mariners and ships of the Merchant Marine)
www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/archive/listGuides.aspx (Merseyside Maritime Museum: Tracing Seafaring Ancestors in the Merchant Navy)
www.merchant-navy.net/forum/forum.php (Forum Thread: Complete Guide to Researching Merchant Navy Records)
http://globalgenealogy.com/globalgazette/gazfd/gazfd50.htm (GlobalGenealogy: Maritime Records & Resources by Fawne Stratford-Devai)
www.crewlist.org.uk (Crew List Index Project: Volunteer project transcribing records held at County Record Offices. Site includes guides to finding and using crew lists. The index is available online at www.findmypast.co.uk)
www.angelfire.com/de/BobSanders (Tracing British Seamen & their ships)
www.angelfire.com/de/BobSanders/CREW.html (Tracing British Crew Lists & Agreements)
www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/archive/pdf/Naval%20History-Tracing%20Seafaring%20Ancestors%20in%20the%20Merchant%20Navy%20no43.pdf (National Museums Liverpool: Tracing Seafaring Ancestors in The Merchant Navy)
www.history.ac.uk/gh/capreg.htm (Guildhall Library. Leaflet Guide, Lloyd's Captains Registers at Guildhall Library and related sources)
www.poheritage.com (P&O Heritage: The site highlights the history and the collections and archives of the P&O shipping line as well as the companies acquired by the group over the years. The site hosts a number of Family History Research Guides and an online database of nearly 2,500 P&O ships)
www.parishchest.com (Online store selling Merchant Navy records from a variety of suppliers)

Online Databases

www.ancestry.co.uk (Apprentices Indentured in Merchant Navy, 1824-1910 This collection contains lists of young men who were indentured to merchant navy ships between the years 1824 and 1910. They include details such as name, age and date at registration or indenture, vessel, port of registry, and birth year and place. The data has been extracted from TNA series BT 150/1-53)
TNA Online Collections (Medals issued to Merchant Seamen, Second World War extracted from BT 395. TNA Online Collections is produced by The National Archives and contains online access to indexes, transcriptions and digital images of some of the TNA's most important holdings. Searches are free but a fee is levied for each downloaded item. However downloads are free if used at TNA or the Society of Genealogists)
www.history.ac.uk/gh/capintro.htm (Indexes to Lloyd's Captains Registers)
www.findmypast.co.uk (Crew List Index Project 1861-1913: Indexes to around 33,500 lists of crew members on board vessels and around 413,500 records of individual crewmen. The lists are indexes to original documents held in various repositories in the UK as well as in Canada)
www.findmypast.co.uk (Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1941: The records comprise two main sections: Firstly, Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1857 which consists of records of individual seamen that the central government created to monitor a potential reserve of sailors for the Royal Navy and secondly, Merchant Navy Seamen 1918-1941 which consist of 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. The datasets consists of registers from Series I, Series II, Series III but not Series IV which will remain unpublished)
www.welshmariners.org.uk (Welsh Mariners: Online index of 23,500 Welsh merchant masters, mates and engineers covering 1800-1945, compiled by Dr. Reg Davies. The sister site at www.irishmariners.ie has records of Irish merchant seamen)
www.angelfire.com/de/BobSanders/CREWIN.html (Cardiff Crew Agreements, transcribed records of master mariners named in the crew agreements)
http://weblog.rmg.co.uk/memorials (National Maritime Museum: Maritime Memorials: The database contains records of over 5000 church, cemetery and public memorials to seafarers and victims of maritime disasters)
www.dgcommunity.net/historicalindexes (The Shipping Registers for Dumfries 1824-1904, Kirkcudbright 1824-1841, Stranraer 1824-1908 and Wigtown 1836-1908)