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Anyone wishing to trace a seaman in any one of the census years may find the following information helpful. A census was taken every ten years in Great Britain, and the records for 1841 - 1891 are available on public access at the Family Record Centre (

1841 Seamen on shore on census night were enumerated in the same way as the general public, in the place where they spent that night. There was no provision made for recording seamen at sea on census night.

1851 Seamen on board ships in port or docked on rivers were recorded for

the first time. They were enumerated by the Master and collected by the

local Officer of Customs whose duty it was to submit the records. The RGSS

had similar responsibility for the enumeration of ships at sea within

territorial waters. Survival rate for these records is poor. The records may

be located following the normal census records for the port at which the

ship was docked or the port to which it returned at the end of its voyage.

1861 Seamen on board all ships in port or docked in rivers were recorded

and returns submitted to the Officer of Customs.

The RGSS assumed responsibility for those at sea in territorial waters

and for the first time, those 'on the high seas.

These records are filed in a separate schedule

and found at the end of the regular census.

The records have been indexed and alphabetical

indexes are available on microfilm to both ships and seamen.

These are available in many archives world wide and also through LDS libraries.

1871 - 1891 Returns filed as above, following the ordinary census records

for the port at which the ship was docked on census night, or to which it

returned following its voyage.

The census of 1881 requires special mention. The returns were filed as

above, but in addition there is a separate index of all names in the 1881

census which includes all named mariners, along with an index of vessel

names available on microfiche.

The Royal Navy was separately enumerated and are similarly indexed but on separate fiche.


The following information may be of interest to those who wish to trace the

death of a British merchant seaman at sea.

The General Register Office's Marine Registers record deaths at

sea on ships registered in Great Britain or Ireland from 1 July 1837. These

are available through LDS libraries everywhere. The IGI covers events 'at

sea.' Less well known however are the records held at the Public Record

Office in Kew, England. If the name you are seeking does not appear in the

Marine Registers of the GRO, then you should consider a search in the

records held at Kew. The PRO records may record additional information of

use to the researcher.

They are held in the following series of records. Note that many of these

registers have been filmed and may therefore be available through your

nearest LDS library.

1. BT153 Registers of Wages and Effects of Deceased Seamen 1852-1889

Registers for 1852-1866 show the following:


ticket number

date of engagement on this vessel

place, date and cause of death

name and port of registry of ship


date and place of payment of outstanding wages

amount of same and date of receipt by Board of Trade

Registers for 1867-1889 also include:



official number of vessel

voyage details

This class of documents is separately indexed in two ways - alphabetically

by seaman's name in BT154, or by ship name in BT155.

2. BT156 Monthly Lists of Deaths of Seamen 1886-1889

These records show:



rating on board


previous address

cause of death

place of death

ship's name, o.n and port of registry

3. BT157 Registers of Seamen's Deaths Classified by Cause 1882-1888

This is indexed according to cause noting specific illnesses or accidents

and gives the informaiton shown in BT156 with the addition of information

about the last voyage and may contain additional information in the column

marked 'remarks.'

4. BT159 Registers of Deaths of British Nationals at Sea 1875-1888

These registers also include deaths of passengers.

5. BT334 Registers and Indexes of Births, Deaths and Marriages of Passengers and Seamen at Sea 1891-1972

In an ideal situation, all these entries should appear in the GRO Marine

Registers but in practice there are many omissions as records were not

always forwarded. The GRO Marine Registers themselves began much earlier

than the BT records mentioned above but again there are many omissions in

the early years. It will be seen therefore that in order to search for a

record of an event at sea, it may be necessary to search all of the above sources.

Finally there is also a class of miscellaneous returns at the PRO:

6. RG32 General Register Office: Miscellaneous Returns of Briths, Marriages & Deaths.

These record births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials of British

subjects, nationals of the Colonies, Commonwealth and countries under

British jurisdiction, on British and foreign ships.

These records are available on film, are indexed in RG43 also filmed, and

may therefore be available through the LDS library system.

This is just an overview of the most likely sources for locating information

of events at sea. You may wish to view the information and on-line leaflets

at the PRO's website