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Merchant Navy - Registers of Seamen/Service (Seamen)

Nature of Source

Registers of seaman employed in the Merchant Navy. The indexed Registers of Seamen were extracted and compiled from newly created Agreements and Crew Lists, established 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 capable of serving with the Royal Navy if required at times of military conflict.

This separate Register of Seamen extracted from Crew Lists was abandoned in 1857, due to the problems of maintaining registers based on Crew Lists. Following three previous registration systems, a new Central Index Register (fourth register) was introduced in 1913 which survived until 1941 followed in 1942 by a new Central Register of Seamen (fifth register) which lasted up to 1972. Unfortunately no records exist from 1973 to 1999 as legislation was not required to keep records of individual seamen. From 1999 onwards the Registry of Shipping and Seamen in Cardiff holds records of service extracted from the ships official logbooks and crew agreements.

Therefore between 1857 and 1913 the names of seamen will only be found in the Crew Lists. However between 1845 and 1854, the authorities established an entirely new system whereby every mariner had to apply for a Register Ticket (See Registered Ticket Records). This system proved unpopular and unworkable and was replaced by a new register which lasted until 1857.

The registration system underwent a number of revisions over the years of operation and is classified into the following series of registers:

Series I (1835-1836, TNA series BT 120)
Series II (1835-1844, TNA series BT 112 indexed in BT 119)
Series III (1853-1857, TNA series BT 116)
Series IV/Central Index Register (1913-1941. Unfortunately entries between 1913 and 1918 were destroyed in 1969. The originals are held at Southampton Archives with copies available at TNA in series BT 364 as a combined index of the CR1, CR2 and CR10 cards)
Series V/Central Register of Seamen (1942-1972, TNA series BT 382)

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'.

To trace the voyages and obtain information on a particular vessel as well as obtain the captain's name, consult the Lloyd's Register of Shipping which is available at the National Maritime Museum as well as other repositories. Many editions covering the 18th and 19th centuries are available to view online at Google Books which also offers the facility to conduct a text search for the names of vessels and captains.

The registration number of the seamen being researched will be needed to look up his details in the registers. This can often be found in the Crew Lists or can be found in the alphabetical name index of seamen in series BT 119.

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. The name index covering series BT 372 is 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 372 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. The series can also be directly searched from the series catalogue entry

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

Where Found

The National Archives (BT 120, Register of Seamen, Series I; BT 112, Register of Seamen, Series II; BT 119, Alphabetical Index of Seamen in BT 112; BT 116, Register of Seamen, Series III; BT 350 [formerly CR 10], 1918-1921. Microfiche copy of the CR 10 Central Index cards to the Register of Seamen with the originals held at the Southampton Archive Services. The cards are filed in alphabetical order and some cards might have a photograph of the seaman attached)
The National Archives (BT 349 [formerly CR 1], Register of Seamen, Central Index, 1921-1941. This Register includes an alphabetical index and the discharge number for each seaman; BT 348 [formerly CR 2], Register of Seamen, Central Index, Numerical Series, 1921-1941; BT 364, Combined Numerical Index from the CR 1, CR 2 and CR 10 Series arranged numerically by continuous discharge A number. The discharge A number can usually be found against the seaman's entry in the Crew Lists or in series BT 349; BT 382, Fifth Register of Merchant Seaman's Service [CRS 10 forms], 1941-1972)

Electronic images of these records can be searched online (See below for details)

Southampton City Archives (Central Index Register of Merchant Seamen, 1913-1941. The register is a collection of over a million and a quarter merchant navy service record cards. It has details of people serving on board British registered ships between 1918 and 1941. The National Archives at Kew has a copy of the register on microfiche)
National Maritime Museum Caird Library (Special collections for researching merchant shipping)
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)
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)
Imperial War Museum
(Collections include photos, art, souvenirs, ephemera, recordings and newspapers, journals and books)

Period Covered

1835 - 1857

Genealogical Value

Name, age, year and place of birth, rank of seaman. Details of ships served on and discharge date. Later series will include a physical description and occasionally a photo.

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 (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) (Merchant Navy Seamen Records, 1835-1941. Transcribed index with images available at findmypast UK)
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) (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)
(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) (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)