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A merchant marine is a person who worked aboard commercial ships. You may want to search merchant shipping records if you find one of the following terms in census, church, or civil records: captain, mariner, seaman, mate, bowson (bos’n, bosun, boatswain, bo’s’n), or super cargo. Merchant marines were under control of the British government, so most of the records, including those for Scottish merchant marines, are listed under Great Britain in the Family History Library Catalog.
Types of Records
Ship’s Muster Rolls and Agreements and Crew Lists. The ship master had to carry a written agreement with every crew member stating his wages, the capacity in which he was serving, and the nature of the voyage. These records were kept from 1747 to 1860. Pre-1854 records are arranged by port and ship number. Post-1854 records are arranged by ship number. Lloyd’s Marine Collection can provide the ship number.
Lloyd’s Marine Collection. This collection contains several types of records, including captains’ registers, 1869 to 1947. These show the captain’s birth date and place, certificate number, examination date and place, the vessels on which he served, and death date. More information about this collection is in:
Hall, Christopher A. A Guide to the Lloyd’s Marine Collection at the Guildhall Library. London, England: Guildhall Library, 1985. (FHL book 942.1/L1 A3hc.)
Register of Seamen. This register contains copies of the certificates issued to individuals authorizing them to serve on a ship. The registers exist for the years 1835 to 1856. They give the man’s age, birthplace, date of first going to sea, rank, service record, and the ship name. Those from 1844 to 1856 give a physical description of the man. The registers for some years are indexed.
Births, Deaths, and Marriages Occurring on Board British Merchant Vessels. Shipboard events were recorded in a ship’s log. They cover the years 1854 to 1890. Some of these records are indexed.
Surname Index to the 1861 Census Returns of Ships. This is an alphabetical list (FHL fiche 6025598, 8 fiche) of all people who were on board naval, merchant, and smaller vessels when the 1861 census was taken. These ships are not emigrant ships. The few passengers listed are usually family members of the crew. The information includes name, age, occupation, birthplace, name of the ship, and reference numbers for finding the records either in the Family History Library or the Family Records Centre. The address for the Family Records Centre is:
Family Records Centre
London EC1R 1UW
Internet: Scroll for 1861 Census Ships at Sea Index at FreeReg.org.uk
Census returns for other years include lists of persons on board ships. Some years are filed with the returns of the port city where the ship was docked. Other years are filed together in a group themselves.
Trinity House Petitions. These appeals for relief from poverty-stricken merchant seamen or their widows exist for 1780 to 1880 and often include birth, marriage, and death information. Some of the records are indexed.
Certificates of Competency and Service: Masters, Mates, and Engineers. If a man wanted to become a master or mate, he had to take an examination. A certificate showing name, birthplace, birth date, and the date and place the certificate was issued and given to the man after the exam. Registers were kept of these certificates. They start in 1845, but few were kept until compulsory registration in 1850.
Foreign Consular Records. Foreign consular records, found in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under GREAT BRITAIN - CIVIL REGISTRATION, record seamen who died at sea. The place where the seaman came from is often included.
How To Find Records in the Family History Library
The Family History Library Catalog lists merchant marine records in the Locality Search under:
GREAT BRITAIN - MERCHANT MARINE
SCOTLAND - MERCHANT MARINE
For Further Reading
For more information about merchant marines, see:
Dobson, David. Scottish Seafarers of the Seventeenth Century. [Edinburgh, Scotland]: Scottish Association of Family History Societies, 1992. (FHL book 941 U2dd.) Seafarers between 1600 and 1700 are listed alphabetically by surname.
Records of the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen. London, England: Public Record Office, 1993. (FHL book 942.1/L1 A3pa 1993 no. 5.) This pamphlet discusses records available at the Public Record Office, Kew.
Watts, Christopher T., and Michael J. Watts. My Ancestor Was a Merchant Seaman: How Can I Find Out More About Him? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1986. (FHL book 942 U37w.) This guide explains contents of a variety of records as they relate to the merchant seaman.
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