Frequently asked questions

CLIP receives many requests for information and assistance. We try to provide individual replies, but there are some frequent questions like the ones below that we can perhaps answer here.

Click on the question to see our response


G1  I'm new to this subject. Where do I start? 

Yes, it can look daunting! We've put together a page setting out the absolute basics, here: Start here

We suggest you read carefully through some of our information pages, here: Records of seafarers and ships

There are also some case studies, here: Case studies

Take your time to understand it. Get in touch with us if you're really stuck but please remember that all we know and all our available data is on this site.

G2  I'm finding it difficult to read the handwriting on a document. What can I do? 

There is a useful page on the CLIP site, here: Reading the writing

This gives examples of Victorian handwriting and explains some of the pitfalls.

If you're really stuck, email us an image using the link on the menu bar above and we'll have a look.

G3  I have many images of crew agreements. Would you be interested in adding them to the CLIP database and images online? 

Many thanks for your kind offer. Unfortunately, CLIP is not set up in such a way that it is easy for us to include individual contributions of images or data, so we have to say no, but thank you for your interest.

G4  I would be keen to help as a volunteer with CLIP. How do I start? 

Many thanks for your interest. We have now (July 2023) brought transcription work on CLIP to a final halt, so regretfully we have to decline your kind offer. If you wish, we could put you in touch with any other projects that we are aware of, so please do get in touch.


P1  There is an online index of all the crew lists for 1915, when I think my ancestor was at sea. Why can I not find him on the index? 

CLIP provided the resources and expertise behind this NMM/TNA project, which is here: 1915 crew lists

All the surviving crew documents for years ending in 5 are held at either the National Maritime Museum (NMM) or The National Archives (TNA) and the project covered all of those for 1915 so, in theory, all merchant seafarers should appear.

If you cannot find someone, one reason might be that the documents for that ship are not in the collection, because:

  • All the documents for years ending in 5 should be at either NMM or TNA. However, a significant number are in fact at the Maritime History Archive (MHA). For 1915, this is over 1000 documents, which were not transcribed, representing 4% of the total.
  • The ship may have requisitioned by the Admiralty or the War Department.
  • The ship may have sunk taking the ship's articles with her, even if the crew survived.
  • It appears that the records which reached the Board of Trade in London are only for ships registered at ports in the British Isles (this applies to all years, not just 1915). Some records for ships registered at colonial ports have survived elsewhere, but there are hardly any in the TNA/NMM collection for 1915.
Another reason might be to do with the crew list itself, particularly:
  • The seafarer's name may not have been written clearly or correctly. Initials were frequently used instead of forenames in crew lists around that time.
  • The entry has been mis-transcribed. Though every entry was checked by another transcriber or TNA/NMM staff and also cross-checked against CLIP indexes, errors will still have got through.

It may be useful to search (using the advanced search option) for just a surname and birthplace, or a surname and the capacity in which the seafarer might have been employed (eg Hughes, Engineer) and then scan through the results. Remember to use all possible variants of a name.

P2  My grandfather died at sea. Where can I find records? 

CLIP does not have any data sets specifically about deaths at sea, but Ancestry(£), FindMyPast(£) and The Genealogist(£) do.

There is information on our site, here: Deaths at sea

If you know the name of the ship that he died on and the date, it is worth obtaining a copy of the crew agreement, because details will usually be recorded and in some cases there will be a list of the deceased's effects. These were usually auctioned amongst the crew and the proceeds returned to his family. Remember that crew lists were handed in (and filed) at the end of a voyage which may have been some time after the death.

In general, finding the records of deaths at sea is not always straightforward, because the records are in different places and until the 1860s were often not properly reported.

This is TNA's guide to Births, Marriages and Deaths at sea: BMD at sea

P3  My ancestor was in the Royal Navy. Can CLIP help me find him? 

No, sorry. The CLIP site provides information and data about the records of British merchant seafarers, not the Royal Navy.

The National Archives (TNA) holds many records of the Royal Navy. For example, see Royal Navy Ratings records

P4  I was a merchant seaman in the 1970s. Why can't I find my ships on CLIP? 

CLIP covers the period up to the 1950s for seafarers and ships, so you will not find any information or data relating to later years.

Records of seafarers were not kept by the Registry of Shipping and Seamen from 1973 to 1999. There is more detail about records of seafarers, including after WWII, here: P & O Heritage information sheet

P5  I have traced a seafarer's career back from 1893 to 1880. I know he was still at sea after 1893. How can I find which ships he worked on? 

Tracing back through 'previous vessels' can work well, but of course it does not work to trace onwards in time.

The only way is to use the indexes of seafarers which we describe here: Finding on indexes

We do not advise buying copies of the later documents for the last ship you know about, on spec; seafarers changed ship frequently. It might just work for someone who worked on large liners, which tended to have long-serving crews, but even if you find a record, you are only one step further on, with the same problem.

P6  My grandfather was at sea in the 1920s. How can I find more about him?  

It is easier to find records of a seafarer after 1913 as central records of seamen were kept and these have been digitised.

There is more information here: Records of seafarers and crew lists after 1913


S1  I am interested in researching the history of a particular ship from when it was built to its ultimate fate. What records should I look at? 

There is information on the CLIP site, here: Records of British Ships

We also provide links to many sites which have details of ships, here: Web sites relating to maritime records

You could also try using a search engine to look for the name of the ship, just in case someone has been there before you.

S2  I am interested in shipwrecks. How can I find out more? 

Look at web sites relating to maritime records, here: Web sites relating to maritime records

For example, this is a very comprehensive site about shipwrecks worldwide: Wreck site

There is more information about the records of a ship's ultimate fate on the CLIP site, here: Records of a ship's ultimate fate

S3  I know the name of a ship. How do I find out more about it? 

There is background information about the records of ships on the CLIP site here: Records of British ships

There may be many ships of the same name and this page will show you the possibilities: Search for ships by name

Using a search engine and entering the ship's name will often produce data and images. Do remember that you need to check everything you find online and that many different ships shared the same name.

S4  I know which ships my ancestor worked on. How can I find out more about their voyages and cargoes? 

There is a case study on the CLIP site with an example of how this can be done here: Finding the details and background of a voyage

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