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Indexes of seafarers
Finding seafarers from indexes
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. This page details:
Census indexes
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 publishers including findmypast (£) and Ancestry (£).
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 here.
Maritime History Archive databases and CD-ROM
The Maritime History Archive, Newfoundland (MHA) hold a substantial percentage of all British crew lists. They are gradually digitising their holdings of crew lists for 1881. There are currently over 320,000 entries on their database and they will be addding to the index each month. You can search the index on-line and view the images.
The MHA NL Crews Database contains over 40,000 entries taken from the crew lists of Newfoundland and Labrador registered vessels for 1915 to 1942. As with the NL Crews Database, you can search the index on-line and view the images.
MHA also has a database which is available on CD-ROM, giving details of 80,000 seafarers on British registered ships and 120,000 on Canadian registered ships. The cost is about £25 - you can order on-line. Some British record offices and reference libraries may have a copy of the CD-ROM, but we’ve not found one yet! You can check a list of the surnames on the CD on the MHA's web site.
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Indexes at local record offices
Several record offices 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. 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. There must be over 500,000 entries on these indexes in all. The table below shows the record offices which have at least partial indexes.
Record Office Index
Berwick-upon-Tweed Record Office RO catalogue includes partial index of crew names, recently transferred to electronic format by CLIP (at RO).
Bristol Record Office* On fiche and available from Bristol FHS
Ceredigion Archives Service Part of catalogue of crew lists, small enough to be searched quickly
Devon Record Office Masters and Owners, printout
Dorset History Centre Crew lists for ships registered in Dorset ports transcribed by Ancestry (£)
Flintshire Record Office* Bound typescript volumes at the RO
Glamorgan Record Office Masters (on-line at Bob Sanders' site)
Liverpool City Record Office Crew lists transcribed by Ancestry (£)
North East Lincolnshire Archives, Grimsby Card index including fishing lists after 1884
Somerset Record Office* Aubrey Brown's pioneering index is also available on-line
Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Card index
Suffolk Record Office, Lowestoft Card index
West Sussex Record Office Card index in progress
* These indexes are included in the CLIP online crew names index (see below)
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Indexes on-line
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
Swansea Mariners - 108,000 entries from Swansea crew lists (at the last visit)
Cardiff Mariners - 2,200 entries from Cardiff crew lists (at the last visit)
Welsh Mariners - 23,000 Welsh Master Mariners, Mates and Engineers
Irish Merchant Seamen - 24,000 Irish merchent 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
Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters - Index from the New South Wales Inwards Passenger lists (includes crew members)
Lloyd's Captains Register - an index to most of the Lloyd's Captains Registers held by the London Metropolitan Library.
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The CLIP crew names index
The original CLIP database reached over 260,000 entries from crew lists. The data is drawn from records held at local Record Offices and covers only a small percentage of their holdings, but it's the largest database of records from local record offices. It includes the indexes made at Bristol, Flintshire and Somerset record offices (with permission).
We have also worked with TNA to index their 10% holdings for the years 1881 and 1891. The data has been transferred to TNA's catalogue and added to the original CLIP crew names index. All this data can now be searched online at findmypast.
We have completed additional data from crew lists held at Devon County RO and Anglesey RO, which has also been transferred to findmypast. With the TNA data, the total on findmypast is now 570,000 entries. We are also continuing work with Southampton City RO, Portsmouth City RO and Glamorgan Archives. Data from recent CLIP projects is available here, with over 400,000 entries available at present.
NB! We are glad to help with general advice about finding records (that's what CLIP and this web site is about) but please do not contact us for searches for individual crew lists or seafarers - all the data we have is either on this site or for sale as above. Sorry, we do not carry out privately commissioned research.
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Seamen's tickets after 1913
A system of registration for seafarers was re-introduced in 1913, including 'tickets' for seafarers, recording their service at sea. Tickets may possibly show service before 1913. The tickets are held in the Central Index Register of Merchant Seamen at Southampton City Record Office.
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Indexes at The National Archives
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.
The original copies of Lloyd's Captain's Register are held at London Metropolitan Archives. The volumes have been indexed and some are available online and there is an information leaflet about the registers here.
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. Enter the name and initials in the 'Word or Phrase' field and the series code, BT 372, in the 'Department or Series Code' field and click 'Search'. This will give you the reference for the record.
It may be worth searching the indexes of apprentices in BT150.
If the seafarer died at sea, the death may be recorded in the registers and indexes listed below: If the death is recorded, it may be possible to obtain a certificate of death from the General Register Office (GRO) - see below.
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General Register Office indexes
The 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!
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This page was last modified 14 February 2016
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