Crew Research Guides

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Merchant Seamen Research - General


Researching your seafaring ancestors is no easy task.  Records changed over time, and those that still exist have been filed under a range of catalogue numbers, though at least the bulk of them are held in one repository: The National Archives at Kew.

The registration of seamen was introduced under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1835, to allow the Government to identify individual seamen able to serve as reserve sailors for the Royal Navy.  To meet this need, the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen initially compiled indexed registers of seamen from the crew lists (see Crew Agreements, Lists and Official Logs Research Guide) and then issued each individual with a 'seaman's' or 'master's' ticket.

From that initial system of extracting personal information from crew agreements and lists, the seamen’s registration system evolved well into the twentieth century, eventually making it a requirement that each merchant seafarer be issued with a unique number which would be retained during his/her time of service.  This evolving process of registration produced the Five Registers of Merchant Seaman’s Service which can be broken down into specific dates as follows:


Unfortunately, there was no systematic registration of seamen prior to 1835.  There are however some muster rolls dating from 1747 to 1857 in The National Archives’ sequence BT 98.  These are incomplete and are based on the port of registry and the date of sailing. You will also need to know the name of the ship in order to carry out your search.

1835 - 1844: First Register of Merchant Seamen 

The Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen initially compiled indexed registers of seamen using ships’ crew lists.  The seamen were then issued with a seaman's or master's ticket, each with their own unique number.  This index became known as the First Register of Merchant Seamen. 


First Register of Merchant Seamen Service: Series I, 1835-1836 arranged in five volumes alphabetically in BT 120


BT 120 Series © The National Archives
BT 120 Series. © National Archives.



First Register of Merchant Seamen Service: Series II, 1835-1844 in BT 112 with an alphabetical name index in BT 119.  It is advised to consult BT 119 first to find the Seaman’s Register number, and then use that number to locate the appropriate seaman in BT 112, which is listed in numerical order. 

BT 119 Series © The National Archives
BT 119 Series © National Archives
BT 112 Series © The National Archives
BT 112 Series © National Archives



1845 - 1854: Second Register of Merchant Seamen 

The Merchant Shipping Act, 1844, required that every British seaman should have a register ticket if they were leaving the United Kingdom.  The First Register was closed and in its place, each ticket was entered into ledgers BT 113 which in turn are indexed in the Alphabetical Register of Seamen's Tickets BT 114, which gives the surname and forenames, place of birth, and register ticket number.  Using the alphabetical index BT 114, you can locate the seaman’s Register number, and using that number, further details may be found out about the individual from the registers themselves in BT 113:

BT 113 Series © The National Archives
BT 113 Series. © National Archives

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