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TRACING 19th CENTURY MERCHANT SEAMEN IN BRITISH RECORDS

Debbie Beavis

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

by surname.

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

section required.

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.