Organised service records of a seaman's career do not commence until1835.
If you are searching for a Master Mariner or Mate whose service fell after
1845, you should read also the Guide to researching Master Mariners as the
records are different.
The Merchant Shipping Act of 1835 required masters of all ships to file
Agreements and Crew Lists with the Registrar General of Shipping and
Seamen. The Government saw the need for registering all seamen who could be
called upon to man Naval ships in times of war - the RGSS extracted names
of all men from the Crew Lists and entered them into a series of Registers.
These registers are filed at the Public Record Office as follows:
BT120 Register of Seamen series l, 1835-1836
This is a small series comprising 5 volumes, listing the men alphabetically
BT112 Register of Seamen series ll 1835-1844
There are 83 volumes in the series, divided into two parts. Searches must
be made in both sections, which can be in two volumes or two sections of
the same volume. It should incorporate the names from BT120 but you must
not rely on this being so. This register requires great care as the layout
of the two sections is not straightforward and it is easy to overlook the
Both sections are roughly alphabetical, the first indexed by separate
alphabetical indexes: BT119 Alphabetical Index to Seamen. This gives the
reference number which can be used to trace the correct entry in BT112.
The second section is internally indexed. It is NOT indexed from BT119.
This means that both sections must be searched for each seaman. It is
important not to rely on the accuracy of the indexes in BT119 nor the
internal indexes in the second section. If your seaman's name does not
appear in the indexes you must always be prepared to search the actual
registers. You may expect to find the seaman's name, number, age, place of
birth, and reference to the ship or voyage.
BT114 Alphabetical Register of Seamen's Tickets 1845-1854
From 1844, any seaman leaving the UK was required to have a register
ticket, details being entered in this series of registers. This register
gives the name, place of birth and Register Ticket number.
BT113 Register of Seamen's Tickets
The key to this numerical register is the Ticket number obtained from the
alphabetical register in BT114. There may be a brief biographical details
of the seaman and a note of his voyages. It must be remembered that many
entries are blank, especially towards the end of the series. The reported
voyages are again in a simple code and provide a numerical key to the crew
lists and agreements.
BT116 Register of Seamen Series lll 1853-1857
The ticketing system was abolished in 1853 and a new series was begun, much
easier to search, listing seamen alphabetically with age, existing ticket
number, place of birth and voyage details.
The problems with recording seamen throughout the whole period of 1835-1857
were eventually viewed as insurmountable and the whole system was
discontinued. From that date up to 1913, the only way of tracing the career
of a merchant seamen is by reference to the Agreements and Crew Lists.
These records have all been filmed and can be obtained through LDS
libraries or at the Public Record Office in Kew, England. This is only a
brief overview of what you may do to research the career of a 19th Century
merchant seaman. The PRO's guides have been updated, and the most recent
versions, containing further information are now on-line on their website
at http://www.pro.gov.uk . Their catalogue is now also on-line, from which
you may ascertain the precise document references you will need if you wish
to order films through LDS Family History Centres. Note that the PRO
references are not LDS references! You will need to use the Family History
Centre's own catalogue (in the section noted as British Isles, Merchant
Shipping records) in order to obtain the correct LDS film reference.
Reminder! MASTERS & MATES are the subject of a separate Guide. However
until 1845 they will be found in the above records. BT115 (see Guide to
Tracing Master Mariners) is extracted from the records of BT114.