How to look for records of... Merchant seamen serving up to 1857

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Visit us in Kew

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

Pay for research

This is a brief guide to researching records of merchant seamen serving before 1857. Many records of merchant seamen survive for the period from 1835 to 1857, and you can search some of them by name at The National Archives using contemporary indexes.

What do I need to know before I start?

No systematic records of the crew of merchant ships were kept until 1747. After that date masters or owners of merchant ships were required to keep a muster roll giving details of the number of crewmen and the ship’s voyages.

The seaman’s ticket system was introduced in 1845 and enabled a seaman to carry with him a note of his service and character. The system was replaced by the Third Register of Seamen in 1854.

Before searching for a seaman’s records try to find out:

  • dates when the seaman was serving
  • the port where his ship was registered

Online records

Merchant seamen registers (1835-1857)

Search and download registers of merchant seamen who served between 1835 and 1857 (BT 112, BT 113, BT 116 and BT 120) on (£). BT 114, the name index to BT 113, is also included.

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1835 required the registration of merchant seamen. Crew lists had to be filed with the Registrar General of Shipping on return to the home port. This form of registration lasted from 1835 to 1857.

Register of duties paid for apprentices’ indentures (1710-1811)

Search the register of duties paid for apprenctices’ indentures on Ancestry (£). These records of apprenticeships, from IR 1, are for various professions, including seamen both as apprentices and as masters.

Indexes of apprentices registered in the Merchant Navy (1824-1910)

Search by name the indexes of apprentices registered in the Merchant Navy between 1824 and 1910 (BT 150/1-53) on Ancestry (£).

These index the original indentures in BT 151 and BT 152. Please note only a sample of these original indentures survive – for further information see below.

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

Agreements and crew lists (1747-1860)

Search the agreements and crew lists in BT 98 by date range and port of registry.

If you get many search results, choose sort by reference on the search results page.

Date range (yyyy):

Date range (yyyy)

Merchant Navy apprentices (1824-1953)

Browse the indexes of apprentices registered in the merchant navy in BT 150. Please note the indexes for 1824-1910 are available online (see above).

These are indexes to the apprentices’ indentures in BT 151 and BT 152. Browse BT 151 and BT 152 by date and by port. Please note only a sample survive (a two month sample for every five years).

Records in other archives and organisations

Records held elsewhere

The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.

Other resources


Search the Apprentices of Great Britain 1710-1774 database on (£) for indexes to apprenticeships in IR 1.


Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Christopher and Michael Watts, My ancestor was a merchant seaman (Society of Genealogists, 2002)