If you have no details of the ships that a seafarer sailed on, you will
need to rely on indexes.
There is no single index anywhere for this period, and probably never will be. However, there is
some hope - many indexes do exist as you can see below.
Where data is available online, we provide a link. A (£) symbol means you will have to pay for the data.
This page details:
MHA online indexes and CD-ROM
Indexes at local record offices
Seamen's tickets after 1913
Indexes at The National Archives
General Register Office indexes
Several record offices (ROs) have indexes of seamen from the crew lists and agreements they hold. The format varies - card indexes, printed, or as
part of the catalogue. Some ROs have indexes of masters and owners only. Unfortunately, many online indexes at ROs work through archives catalogue systems
that are best described as nomadic and user-hostile.
It's worth searching all of them because seafarers often sailed on ships registered in other parts of Britain, not just their own home port. The table
below shows the record offices which have at least partial indexes.
Part of CLIP data on findmypast (£), also available at the archives.
Berwick-upon-Tweed Record Office
RO catalogue includes partial index of crew names, transferred to electronic format by CLIP (at RO).
Bristol Record Office
Part of CLIP data on findmypast (£), also on fiche available from Bristol and Avon FHS
Ceredigion Archives Service
A small number of Aberystwyth ships. Part of catalogue of crew lists, with no search facility but only a few ships so it can be searched quickly
Devon Record Office
Part of CLIP data on findmypast (£) and also available at the RO
Dorset History Centre
Crew lists for Dorset ports transcribed by Ancestry (£)
and 20% sample as part of the CLIP data on findmypast (£)
Flintshire Record Office
Part of CLIP data on findmypast (£), also bound typescript volumes at the RO
Glamorgan Record Office
CLIP supported project ongoing and index of Masters at Bob Sanders' site
Guernsey Museums and Galleries
Transcripts of crew lists and logs of ships owned by William Le Lacheur.
Hull City Archives, Hull
Online catalogue is searchable by names of individuals on fishing boats.
Liverpool City Record Office
Crew lists transcribed by Ancestry (£)
National Library of Wales
Recently completed transcription of Aberystwyth crew lists is available as a zip file download containing thousands of spreadsheets (!).
North East Lincolnshire Archives, Grimsby
Online catalogue is searchable by names of individuals, but the site doesn't work.
Portsmouth City Record Office
On-going CLIP project with some data on this site.
Somerset Record Office
Part of CLIP data on findmypast and Aubrey Brown's pioneering index is also available
on the archives site (but you'll have to dig a bit to find it)
Southampton City Record Office
Completed CLIP project on Union-Castle crews with data on this site.
Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich
Card index at RO
Suffolk Record Office, Lowestoft
Card index at RO
West Sussex Record Office
Card index in progress
The following web sites have databases of seafarer's names:
1915 crew lists
All the crew lists for the year 1915, transcribed by a joint project by NMM and TNA volunteers,
using a CLIP transcription site and technical support
108,000 entries from Swansea crew lists (at the last visit) on Bryan Richards' site
2,200 entries from Cardiff crew lists (at the last visit)
23,000 Welsh Master Mariners, Mates and Engineers on Reg Davies' site
Irish Merchant Seamen
24,000 Irish merchant seamen, taken from the C10 record cards for 1918 to 1923 at Southampton City RO
Guernsey crew lists
Stephen Foote's index of Guernsey Crew Lists with 3,000 entries
Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters
Index from the New South Wales Inwards Passenger lists (includes crew members)
Lloyd's Captains Registers
An index to most of the Lloyd's Captains Registers held by the London Metropolitan Library
If the seafarer was (or might have been) a Master, Mate or Engineer,
search at The National Archives (TNA) in the registers of certificates (BT 122 - BT 130 and
BT 138), Lloyds Captains’ Register and Engineers’ certificates registers
(BT 139 - BT 142). However, many officers did not have certificates.
As mentioned above, the original copies of Lloyd's Captain's Register are held at
London Metropolitan Archives. The volumes have been indexed and some are available
They have an information leaflet about the registers
The 'seamen's pouches' for the period from 1913 to 1972 are in BT 372 and may contain records of
seafarers whose service began before that time. You can search this part of The National
Archives catalogue on line by seafarer's name.
You may wish to use our toolkit for BT 372. Enter the seafarer's name and (optionally) initials, date of birth and birthplace, then click the
search button for BT372. This will open TNA's catalogue and submit your search. The result will be shown in a new tab or window.
Records of merchant seamen who served in Royal Navy ships
during World War 2 are in BT 390. You can search using the link above, or the toolkit also provides a search for BT 390.
Records of merchant seamen engaged in the liberation of Europe
(6 June 1944 to 8 May 1945) are in BT 391 and can be searched in the same way.
From 1823, masters of merchant ships over 80 tons were required to carry indentured apprentices. They were recorded by the local customs officers and a
list compiled at the Board of Trade, the index to which is in BT 150 and has been digitised by Ancestry (£).
If the seafarer died at sea, the death may be recorded in the registers
and indexes listed below:
- Registers and wages and effects of deceased seamen, 1852-1881, 1888-1889 (BT 153, indexed in BT 154);
- Monthly lists of deaths of seamen, 1886-1889 (BT 156);
- Register of seamen's deaths classified by cause, 1882-1888 (BT 157);
- Registers of births, marriages and deaths of passengers at sea, 1854-1890 (BT 158, partially indexed in BT 158/7
and BT 158/8);
- Registers of deaths of British Nationals at sea, 1875-1888 (BT 159);
- Registers and indexes of births, marriages and deaths of passengers and seamen at sea, from 1890 (BT 334);
- General Register Office: Miscellaneous Foreign Returns (RG 32);
- Miscellaneous Returns of Births, Marriages and Deaths: Indexes (RG 43)
findmypast have digitised most of these records (£)
If the death is recorded, it may be possible to obtain a certificate of death from the General Register Office (GRO) - see below.
British censuses were taken every tenth year from 1801, but the names of individuals were
only recorded from 1841. Crews of vessels were included from 1851 using special enumeration forms. However,
only ships which were in a British port on the night of the census were included: ships which
were at sea, or in a foreign port on that night were not enumerated.
Indexes of British census returns from 1851 to 1911 are available online from various genealogical
findmypast (£) and
If you have an image of a census return for the ship, be sure to look for the ship's official number, which will help in
finding other records, particularly crew lists. The ship's port of registry is also useful information (ie her "Port or place to which he belongs",
not the port at which the enumeration was made).
For details of the census returns for ships from a historian's perspective, see Dr Valerie Burton's paper
General Register Office (GRO) has recorded births, marriages and deaths from 1837 including events at sea, which were reported
to the Registrar General with varying efficiency.
They were entered into registers similar (but not identical) to those now held at The National Archives which has a leaflet setting out the details.
The indexes show the age at death and the ship's name (but not her official number) from 1875 onwards.
You can find out more about these records at findmypast and look up various indexes. There is a charge for viewing the index images.
Death certificates, which are copies of the register entries (and could therefore include details such as the ship's official number),
can be obtained by fax, phone, post or online from the
General Register Office.
If all else fails ...
If all indexes fail, you can only search through all the records for a
particular port or ship which may have links to the seafarer. This is not recommended.
You may be inspired to start making your own index - if you do, let us know!