Once one has traced the details of an ancestor who was a mariner it is natural that one would want to get some idea of what the ships he sailed on might have looked like and where they sailed from/to.

With a certain amount of research one may be able to obtain quite a detailed knowledge of the ships concerned. I hope the following brief notes will give some pointers as to where to search and what may be found regarding ships.

More detailed guidance can be obtained from various books eg My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman by Chris & Michael Watts (Society of Genealogists 1987), Lloyd's Marine Collection at Guildhall by T.M.Dinan (Genealogists Magazine 1980), A Guide to the Lloyd's Marine Collection at the Guildhall Library by Christopher A Hall (Guildhall Library 1985), Modern British Shipbuilding - A guide to Historical Records (National Maritime Museum 1980), Tercentenary Handlist of English & Welsh Newspapers 1620 - 1920 (Times 1920) Shipping: A Survey of Historical Records (David & Charles 1971)



The annual register has been published since 1764. It lists all those ships, British or foreign, which were of interest to Lloyd's. and records brief details of each ship, including :-

Names of Owners & Masters

Port of Registry

Destination of voyage

Copies of Lloyd's Register are held at many large libraries, including the Guildhall Library, National Maritime Museum, British Library, etc.

I hope to be able to provide a more detailed account of Lloyd's Register at a future date.


A weekly newspaper published by Lloyd's since April 1734 giving information on the arrival of ships at various (but not all) English & Irish ports. Some foreign ports are also included. Shipping losses and damage are also covered. The earliest surviving issue is 2 January 1740/1. It is available at the National Maritime Museum, the Guildhall Library and the British Library Newspaper Library at Collindale. The Guildhall Library holds indexes to Lloyds List from 1838, which are by ship's name, giving the name of the Master, the issue date and the column number. For the period 1838 to 1926 the index is on microfilm and thereafter on index cards.


The local newspapers for major ports often had/have sections showing ship movements in the area and, sometimes, details of the movement of ships registered at the port concerned eg the Shields Gazette (North & South Shields, Co.Durham), the Whitby Gazette (Whitby, North Yorkshire), the Port of Tyne Pilot (Newcastle etc), the Western Mail (South Wales), the South Wales Echo (Cardiff). Copies of such local newspapers are at the British Library Newspaper Library and usually also locally. I am aware that the Western Mail is indexed (Cardiff Central Library), as is the Whitby Gazette (Whitby Library) ('though the indexes are general rather than specific to shipping) and no doubt other local papers are similarly indexed.

Shipping losses & damage relating to ships from local ports are, of course, also likely to be reported in local papers as are losses and damage occurring in the local area to other ships.

Major shipping accidents & losses etc will have been recorded in National Newspapers. The Times Index would always be worthwhile consulting regarding such major events.


These list vessels which have been posted as missing, where full details of the loss are not known. They cover the period 1873 to 1954 and are indexed by ships' names. They are held at the Guildhall Library.


These list vessels which have been lost or damaged, where details are known, They cover the period 1837 to 1972. From 1837 to 1851 each book is indexed. From 1852 to 1972 there is a separate index.

The books themselves are classified as Ms.14932; the 1852 to 1972 indexe as Ms.14933. They are at the Guildhall Library.


These list ships lost as a result of war for the period 1914 to 1922. Ms.14934 .Indexed in Ms. 14935. Held at the Guildhall Library.


A list of ships lost during World War I (1914 to 1918). Ms. 14934A. Held at the Guildhall Library.


Records of ships lost 1939 to 1970. Held at the Guildhall Library.


The official register of shipping wrecked in the period 1855 to 1898. Held at the National Maritime Museum.


General registration of ships was commenced by government in 1786, although there had been earlier local registration. All ships with a deck and a burden of more than 15 tons had to be registered by their owners from that year. Registration was with the Customs at their home port.

The details required to be reported included:-


Home Port

Date & Place of Registration

Name & Address of owner(s)

Name of Master

Date & Place the ship was built

Technical details about the ship

The details were copied into a local book by the customs officer and a transcript of the record was sent to London (Edinburgh for Scottish ships, but a copy was then sent from Edinburgh to London).

From 1825 ownership of vessels had to be in 64th shares and changes in share ownership and master had to be recorded on the transcripts of the registration documents.

The earlier London records, up to 1814, were destroyed in a fire in that year, but records from that year onward are held at the Public Record Office (Transcripts and Transactions, Series I - BT107). The records include those for English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, East Indian & Australian registered ships, and those registered in the other parts of the (then) British Empire (Plantation). The period covered by these records in this format is 1814 to 1854.

From 1855 the Transcripts and Transactions are filed separately. Transcripts are endorsed on the back with the Transaction number and year. The information contained is, however, similar to that for earlier years.

BT 108 is the PRO reference for Transcripts 1855 to 1889

These are grouped into London; England & Wales; Ireland; Channel Islands & Isle of Man; Scotland; Plantations; East Indies & Colonial.

BT 109 is the PRO reference for Transactions 1855 to 1892

From 1890 the system changed again. From then on all records of each ship were kept together until it was deregistered, and then filed together under the date of deregistration. This makes research more difficult since one needs to know the approximate year of deregistration to know where to search for the records.

These records are in BT 110 at the PRO - Transcripts and Transactions, Series IV, Closed Registries. They are filed by decade of deregistration and then alphabetically by ship's name.

For the period 1814 to 1907 (plus London registered ships from 1786 to 1814) BT 111 is an alphabetical index to ships' registries.

Apart from the PRO copies of the registers there are very often the original local Custom House Transcripts and Transactions. These are usually held either at the County Record Office or at the Local Custom House. For example the Glamorgan Record Office has the Custom House copies fior Cardiff.


Lloyds' carried out regular inspections and surveys of the ships that they insured and the detailed major surveys are held at the National Maritime Museum for the period from about 1830 to 1964. They are kept by Port of Survey but there are manuscript indexes by ship name at the Museum. The indexes include the name of the Master, the tonnage, place and date of building. The actual surveys provide a much more detailed account of the ship including, from 1870, ship plans. From this information a very good idea can be obtained of what a ship might have looked like.

Gilbert Provost in Canada has put a large amount of information on ships from Lloyds Registers on his website which is well worthwhile visiting. Go to Gilbertís website

An excellent example of what can be done in researching the history of a shipwreck can be seen in the attached information supplied by Steve Brew of Sydney, Australia in relation to his own ancestor on the S.S.Castleton of Cardiff