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Merchant Navy - Death At Sea Indexes

Nature of Source

Registers and records of merchant seamen who died on board a British vessel. The civil registration Act of 1837 required the ship’s master to record births (with at least one English parent), marriages and deaths at sea. Details of the event were sent to the Registrar General at the General Register Office and entered into the Marine Register now held at The National Archives (TNA) and other repositories (see Civil Registration for details). Births are covered up to 1930 and deaths up to 1965. The registration process only applied to the English thus excluding the Welsh, Scots and Irish.

The Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1874 required ship’s masters and captains of merchant vessels to report births and deaths at sea to the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen (RGSS) who then passed on the information to the relevant Registrar for England Scotland or Ireland.

From 1854 separate registers of birth, marriages and deaths at sea were compiled by the RGSS from information supplied by the ship’s master and entered in to the ship’s log books. These registers were not handed to the Registrar General and are held at TNA in series BT 158 and cover marriages to 1883, births to 1887 and deaths to 1890. In addition the RGSS also kept their own registers and include deaths up to 1888 held at TNA in BT 159 and births up to 1891 in BT 160. The above registers are available online from BMD Registers (see below for more details). Other registers with indexes of births marriage and deaths of seamen (and passengers) covering 1891-1972 are in BT 334.

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.

See also
Civil Registration - Birth, Marriages & Deaths At Sea
Consular Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths Overseas  
Merchant Navy - Apprenticeship Records
Merchant Navy - Certificates of Competency & Service
Merchant Navy - Crew Lists & Agreements
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 153, Registers of Wages and Effects of Deceased Seamen, 1852-1889 [April 1881-May 1888 have not survived]; BT 154, and BT 155 Indexes to Seamen's Names from BT 153; BT 156, Monthly Lists of Deaths of Seamen, 1886-1890; BT 157, Registers of Seamen's Deaths, Classified by Cause, 1882-1888. See below for details of online access to these records)
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 Foundation Infosheet)
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

1837 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Name of deceased and from 1875 the deceased’s age. Date, place and cause of death, the seaman’s last place of residence and his birth place if known. The name of the vessel died 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 (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

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) (Maritime BMDs including information from TNA series BT 156, Deaths of seamen; BT 157, Deaths of seamen by cause; BT 153, Wages and effects of deceased seamen; BT 334, BMDs of passengers and seamen at sea)
BMD Registers (Registers compiled from ships' official logs of births, deaths and marriages of passengers at sea including TNA series BT 158, BT 159 and BT 160) (Indexes to Lloyd's Captains Registers) (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) (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) (Cardiff Crew Agreements, transcribed records of master mariners named in the crew agreements) (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)
S & N Genealogy Supplies (Crew Lists and Agreements 1863-1913)
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 BT 127)