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Merchant Navy - Crew Lists & Agreements

Nature of Source

Records of Crew Lists and Agreements which were created following the 1835 Merchant Shipping Act. The Act stipulated that the ship's master had to compile Agreements and Crew Lists and then lodge these with the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, (RGSS). The process created a central register of Merchant Seamen employed on British merchant ships who could be called up to serve with the Royal Navy if required at times of military conflict. Crew lists were compiled every six months and include everybody on board including masters (captains) and seamen and others such as engine room staff and stewards including female crew. This attempt at creating a central register of seamen was discontinued in 1857 and only later revived on the eve of WWI in 1914. After 1845 also try searching the Certificates of Competency and Service for a seaman's career details. All crew lists up to 1860 are held at The National Archives in series BT 98.

From 1835 to 1860, the authorities created five schedules containing crew lists. Between 1835 and 1844, the records are normally arranged by port of registry and then by the initial letter of the ships' names, between 1845 and1856 they are arranged as before but firstly by year and between 1857 and 1860 they organised by the ships' Official Number. The ship's registered number can be obtained from the Mercantile Navy List.

Crew agreements which record the contract of employment between the seaman and the employer were also established following the Act and do continue beyond 1857. Prior to 1835 crews are recorded in the muster rolls held at The National Archives.

Unfortunately from 1861, the surviving lists remain scattered amongst various repositories.

The National Archives
TNA holds a ten per cent random sample of agreements and crew lists from 1861 to 1938 and all the lists from 1939 to 1950. From 1951 to 1994, TNA only holds a ten per cent sample.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
The museum holds 90 per cent of lists covering 1861, 1862, and years ending in '5' from 1865 to 1975 (except 1945).
Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland
The Archive holds the remainder of crew lists (about 70 per cent of the total) covering 1863 to 1938 and 1951 to 1976.

All other lists up to 1989 have been destroyed with the Registry of Shipping and Seamen holding all agreements and crew lists from 1990 onwards.

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.

Also look for Seamen's Pouches which contained various official items relating to the career of a merchant seaman. The pouches could include records from series IV and V of the seamen registrations as well as photographs of the seaman. Unfortunately out of the 500,000 or so pouches around 95,000 were destroyed mid 20th Century. The records are held in series BT 372 with a name index available at TNA Discovery. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type ‘BT 372’.

See also
Merchant Navy - Apprenticeship Records
Merchant Navy - Certificates of Competency & Service
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 98, Agreements and Crew Lists, Series I, 1835-1860; BT 99, Agreements and Crew Lists, Series II, 10 per cent sample covering 1861-1938 and 1951-1994; BT 100, Agreements and Crew Lists, Series III covering celebrated ships; BT 144, Agreements and Crew Lists, Series IV, Fishing Agreements; BT 165, Ships' Official Logs; BT 380, War of 1939-1945; Log Books and Crew Agreements; BT 381, War of 1939-1945; Coast Trade Official Log Books and Crew Agreements; BT 385, War of 1939-1945; Index to Logbooks and Crew Agreements)

Name indexes for series BT 99 covering 1881 and 1891 are available at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First select advanced search from the Discovery home page and enter the name being searched. In the ‘Search for or within references’ box type BT 99 and then scroll down to ‘Held by’ and click ‘Search The National Archives’. Finally click the search button. Further filters appear on the search results screen.

National Maritime Museum Caird Library (Special collections for researching merchant shipping including 90 per cent of crew lists covering 1861, 1862, and years ending in '5' from 1865 to 1975, except 1945)
Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland (Crew Lists and Agreements, 1863-1938, 1951-1976. The Archive holds 70 per cent of surviving crew lists but does not hold the years covered by The National Archives and the National Maritime Museum. There is no nominal index to this series, therefore it is necessary for a researcher to provide the name of the vessel and the approximate years of service in order to initiate research. The Archive maintains an index of the crew agreements and accounts for 1863-1938 in its archives. These lists can be searched by the ship's Official Number)
County Record Offices and other collections (A very small sample from 1861-1913)
Registry of Shipping and Seamen (Previously called the General Register and Record Office of Shipping and Seamen. Their records originate from 1927 with most now deposited at The National Archives. They do hold Log Books and Crew Agreements from 1996 onwards and the Registers of Births and Deaths at Sea 1965 to present day. For a guide to the Registry of Shipping and Seamen see the Lloyd's Register Infosheet)
National Records of Scotland (The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
Merseyside Maritime Museum (Maritime Archives and Library: The library holds registers of merchant ships and records of the major shipping companies operating from Liverpool; records of the port of Liverpool, local trade associations, shipping companies, merchant houses, port services, charities and ship builders; plans, photographs and oral tapes. A series of detailed information sheets dealing with the maritime research are available at the web site)
Imperial War Museum (Collections include photos, art, souvenirs, ephemera, recordings and newspapers, journals and books)

Period Covered

1835 - 1976

Genealogical Value

Seaman Details
Name, age or date of birth, place of birth, date of signing on and off, employment details, ship previously served on.
Ship Details
Name, official number, port and date of registry, owner's name and address, master's name and address.
Voyage Details
List of voyages with dates and sometimes the ship's cargo.

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


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


TNA Research Guides

Websites (TNA Research Guide: How to look for records of Merchant ships) (TNA Research Guide: How to look for records of Merchant seamen serving 1858-1917) (TNA Research Guide: Merchant seamen serving after 1917) (TNA Research Guide: Merchant seamen serving up to 1857) (TNA Research Guide: Officers in the Merchant Navy) (TNA Research Guide: Registration of merchant ships (Imperial War Museum: Merchant Navy Family History: Guides include: Where to find Merchant Navy Records; Casualty Records; Medal Records; Other sources) (National Museum Wales: Researching Welsh maritime history) (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) (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) (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) (Maritime History Archive. List of the principal records of British shipping and seamen, showing their present locations) (Researching the mariners and ships of the Merchant Marine) (Merseyside Maritime Museum: Tracing Seafaring Ancestors in the Merchant Navy) (Forum Thread: Complete Guide to Researching Merchant Navy Records) (GlobalGenealogy: Maritime Records & Resources by Fawne Stratford-Devai) (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 (Tracing British Seamen & their ships) (Tracing British Crew Lists & Agreements) (National Museums Liverpool: Tracing Seafaring Ancestors in The Merchant Navy) (Guildhall Library. Leaflet Guide, Lloyd's Captains Registers at Guildhall Library and related sources) (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) (Online store selling Merchant Navy records from a variety of suppliers)

Online Databases (England & Wales Merchant Navy Crew Lists 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. Over 157,000 of the 570,000 records in this set include images of original documents) (The National Archives: Search Merchant Navy 1915 crew lists: Transcribed Crew Lists and Agreements from the Merchant Navy for 1915. The dataset comprises of almost a million names of those at sea during that year and was completed in collaboration with volunteers from the National Maritime Museum. You can search an individual’s name or the name of the ship) (Crew Lists of The British Merchant Navy, 1915. Digitised Crew Lists made available to search for free featuring over 750,000 names from all the surviving Merchant Navy crew lists from 1915. You can search an individual’s name or the name of the ship) (Liverpool, England, Crew Lists 1861-1919. This collection of crew lists held by the Liverpool Record Office includes records for 912 ships whose home port was registered as Liverpool, England. The lists contain information on ship voyages, crew members, and apprentices)
(Dorset Records: Crew Lists, 1863-1914. Provided in association with the Dorset History Centre) (Ship Crew Lists, 1851-1911: Lists and agreements for those involved in merchant shipping and ship crews for those at home ports, sea and abroad extracted from a variety of sources including TNA series BT 98 and specialist county and non-county census records. The full crew list can be displayed for any of the ships) (Maritime History Archive: 1881 Crew List Database: The database contains the names of over 46,200 seamen taken from the first 59 of the 358 boxes of crew agreements from the voyages of British registered vessels that ended in 1881)
(UK, Merchant Seamen Deaths, 1939-1953. This collection details the names of over 50,000 merchant seamen who lost their lives during and just after WWII. The records are extracted from the ‘Lists of Merchant Seamen Deaths’ held at the National Maritime Museum) (Cheshire Archives and Local Studies: Runcorn Crew Lists, 1863-1913. Online access to nearly 30,000 names of owners, masters and crewmen of every ship registered in the Port of Runcorn between 1863 and 1913)
(British Merchant Navy First World War Medal Index Cards, 1914-1925. Records of Merchant Navy seamen entitled to the Mercantile Marine Medal. Each record is a transcript of the original medal card and contains a link to purchase and download an image of the original record card from The National Archives)
TNA Online Collections (Medals issued to Merchant Seamen, Second World War extracted from BT 395. 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) (Indexes to Lloyd's Captains Registers)
(Web: UK, WWII Medals Issued to Merchant Seamen, 1939-1945. Ancestry search linked to The National Archives website) (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 has records of Irish merchant seamen)
National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth Shipping Records. The dataset contains crew accounts and agreements [generally known as crew lists] and logbooks, together with associated papers and correspondence for vessels registered at the port of Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire 1856-1914) (Cardiff Crew Agreements, transcribed records of master mariners named in the crew agreements)
(Ireland Merchant Navy Crew Lists 1863-1921. Indexed lists of men and women who served with the Merchant Navy. The lists holds the names and detailed information of men and women from Galway, Belfast, Dublin, and lands farther away such as Philadelphia, Norway and many more. Crew lists also recorded marriages, engagements, births and deaths at sea) (National Maritime Museum: Maritime Memorials: The database contains records of over 5000 church, cemetery and public memorials to seafarers and victims of maritime disasters) (The Shipping Registers for Dumfries 1824-1904, Kirkcudbright 1824-1841, Stranraer 1824-1908 and Wigtown 1836-1908)

CD Roms

Family History Indexes (Seamen's Crewlists, 1851 extracted from BT 98)
The Maritime History Archive (Ships and Seafarers of Atlantic Canada. Searchable CD containing data on the vessels, captains and crews of Great Britain and Atlantic Canada, 1787-1936)
London Cornish Association (Cornish Masters & Mates Project. Cornish-born Merchant Navy Officers extracted from TNA series BT 127 and transcribed by Lorna Leadbetter)