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Bob O'Hara - Public Record Searches

Merchant Navy Records

Merchant Seamen (Series I, II and III)
Following the enactment of the Merchant Shipping Act in 1835, Masters were required to file Agreements and Crew Lists with the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, (RGSS), who produced indexes and registers to seamen from these Crew Lists. These indexes and registers are the key to tracing individual seamen for many years after the 1835 Act was introduced. The registers which changed over the years are entitled "Series of Seamen's Registers".

Series 1 (1835-36)
A simple system which covered the years 1835 to 1836 and provided:-
Ticket number
Place of Birth
Quality, (meaning occupation on board)
How Disposed of, (meaning discharge details)

Series II (1845-1854)
A more complex arrangement of seamen's ticket registers which ran from 1835 to 1844 and supposedly incorporated those tickets detailed in Series 1. New regulations were introduced in 1844 and implemented the following year to establish a more comprehensive ticket system which ran from 1845 to 1854 and provided all the biographical details of Series I in addition to much more information about the seaman's ships and voyages.

Series III (1853-1857)
Another ticket system giving age, place of birth, voyages, ships and existing ticket number. This system proved to be unpopular with seamen and difficult to enforce and was abandoned by 1857 - often with ticket number left incomplete or even blank. From this date until well into the 20th century, the only record of a seaman, (as opposed to an officer), was the Agreement and Crew List maintained by the Master of each vessel and to find details of a 19th century seaman after 1857, it is necessary to know the names of his vessels and the years of his service on board.

Merchant Seamen (Series IV) -1919 to 1941
The Fourth Series of seamen's records was set to cover 1913 to 1941, but those from 1913 to 1918 have been destroyed. NA Class Lists BT 348 to BT 350 are for service from 1919 to 1941. The records include details of all categories of persons who went to sea - not just ordinary seamen, but mates, engineers, trimmers, cooks, stewards etc. BT 348 is arranged by discharge number. BT 349 is arranged alphabetically and includes:-
Place and date of birth
Discharge number
Rank or rating
Brief description

BT 350 which ended in 1921 carries the same information as BT 349 but in addition has a passport type photograph of the seaman

Merchant Seamen (Series V) -1942 to 1972
The Fifth Series of seamen's registers was created from the Central Register of the Register General of Ships and Seamen and covers the years 1942 to 1972. These records have been transferred to the PRO Class Lists, BT 372 and BT 382 for personal records and BT 380 for records of the ships. Details of all British registered seamen include:-
Place and date of birth
Discharge number
Rank or rating
A list of ships with dates and places of engagement and discharge. Ask how we can help you with your research.

Merchant Navy Officers
Records of service of Merchant Navy officers, (2nd Mates and above), did not end in 1854 as was the case with ordinary mariners. Some officers' records can be found as early as 1835 and they continue until about 1900 in BT 122 to BT 128, (but see below).
Details which are usually found on an officer's ticket are:-
Place and date of birth
Ticket number
Place of issue of the certificate with the date.

Apart from the variations in the dates available, the same applies to those officers who are equivalent to Masters and Mates:-

Engineering Officers, (1862 to 1917), are held in BT 139 to BT 142

Skippers and Mates of Fishing Vessels, (1880 to 1917), are held in BT 129, BT 130 and BT 138)

As with other 20th century MN service records, officers' records resume in 1918 and continue until 1972.

Also from 1902 until 1919, ships' logs are available in the PRO in BT 165 and if the name of his ship is known, some details may be available as the Master will be mentioned in the log and so may some other officers.
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Deaths at Sea
Registers of Wages and Effects of Deceased Seamen serving on British registered ships may be found in BT 153 for the years 1852-1889. This series holds registers of the RGSS with entries of the receipt of dead sailors' wages and effects, or their proceeds, handed to Shipping Authorities by the Masters of British ships.
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expats Apart from records of ships and seamen there are Passenger Lists. From 1890, the National Archives Class List BT 26 holds passenger lists of people arriving in the United Kingdom by sea kept by the Board of Trade's Commercial and Statistical Department and its successors. The information given in these lists varies with dates but sometimes includes the age, occupation and address in the United Kingdom. BT 27 holds similar information for outgoing passengers.
Passenger Lists are sorted by port of departure/arrival, date, ship, class, (of accommodation), and name of passenger. A search of the Passenger Lists without fairly accurate information about date and port can be prolonged. By 1908, instead of 1100 passengers being the norm, a large liner going from Liverpool to New York might carry over 2000 passengers and there were many more ships plying the Atlantic as the century progressed.
Registers compiled from ships' official logs of births, deaths and marriages of passengers at sea by the RGSS from 1854 to 1890 are held in Class List BT 158.
The image shows expatriates returning home by sea on the Union Castle liner SA Vaal after service in the colonies. BT 26 will hold details of such voyages up to 1960. Ask how we can help you with your research.

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