How to look for records of... Merchant seamen serving after 1917

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

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

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

This is a brief guide to researching records of merchant seamen serving after 1917. Many, but not all, records of merchant seamen survive from 1918 onwards. The records are kept in a variety of archives.

What do I need to know before I start?

The principal source of records of seamen’s service up until 1941 is the central indexed register, or Fourth Register of Seamen, which was started in 1913. The entries for 1913-1917 were destroyed so for these years you will need to consult agreements and crew lists instead.

Access to full details of seamen born less than 100 years ago may be restricted.

What records can I see online?

The Central Indexed Register of Merchant Seamen (1918-1941)

Search and download registry cards of merchant seamen employed between 1918 and 1941 (BT 348, BT 349 and BT 350) on (£). The originals are held by Southampton Archives.

For details of what sort of information the records may provide read the descriptions of BT 348, BT 349 and BT 350 in Discovery, our catalogue.

First World War medals

Search and download cards recording the award of campaign medals to merchant seamen in the First World War (BT 351/1/1, BT 351/1/2 and MT 9/1404) (£). These cards record the award of the British War Medal, Mercantile Marine Medal and Silver War Badge.

Second World War medals

Search and download (£) records of Second World War medals issued to merchant seamen (BT 395) on our website.

First and Second World War Rolls of Honour

Search the Shipping and Seamen First and Second World War Rolls of Honour (BT 339) on Ancestry (£). The Roll of Honour lists merchant seamen who died in service during the war or who were declared ‘missing, presumed dead’. The information in these records usually includes:

  • rank or rating
  • name of ship
  • date of death or presumed death

What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

Seamen’s pouches (1941-1972)

Search Discovery, our catalogue, by name in BT 372 and BT 391 to see if a seamans pouch survives. Not every pouch survives and many were destroyed before transfer.

Seamen’s pouches are also available for the Second World War period arranged in alphabetical ranges in BT 390.

Fourth Register of Seamen combined index (1918-c.1972)

Consult the register in BT 364 (1918 to c.1972). These index cards are on microfiche (the originals are held by Southampton Archives).

The central indexed register, or Fourth Register of Seamen, was started in 1913 and maintained until 1941. The entries for 1913-1918 were destroyed, therefore the register covers the period from 1918 to 1940.

Fifth Register of Seamen’s Service (seamen’s docket books) (1941-1972)

Browse our catalogue for seamens docket books in BT 382.

Index of First World War Mercantile Marine Medals and the British War Medal (1914-1925)

Look through the microfiche index in BT 351 by name for recipients of medals.

Agreements and crew lists (1835-1994)

The National Archives holds the following proportions of agreements and crew lists after 1861:

  • 1861-1938: 10%
  • 1939-1950: 100%
  • 1951-1994: 10%

Use the box below to search for agreements and crew lists by ship’s official number in BT 99, BT 380 and BT 381 or by ship’s name if it was a famous ship in BT 100.

You can obtain the ship’s official number from the Crew list index project website (CLIP) or the Miramar Ship Index (£).

For some dates after 1927, you will have to browse our catalogue as the numbers are given as ranges.

Most crew lists from 1863 to 1976 are held by the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland, and are searchable online by ship’s number.

For more information read Crew lists, agreements and log books of merchant ships after 1861.

Merchant Navy gallantry awards for the Second World War (1939-1947)

Search our catalogue by name of person or ship in T 335 to find what the award was, the person’s rank at the time, and the ship they were serving on.

Narrow your search by using double quotation marks to find a ships’s or person’s full name, such as “Sydney Star” or “John Williams”

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 (£).

Why can’t I find a seaman in the Fourth or Fifth Register?

There are a number of reasons why you may not be able to find a record in BT 364 or BT 382.

It may be because:

  • the seaman was not a British seaman or did not sail on British vessels
  • the seaman was only employed temporarily and was not issued with a discharge ‘A’ number or a British Seaman’s Identity Card
  • the seaman was an apprentice and had not yet been issued with a discharge ‘A’ number or a British Seaman’s Identity Card

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Merchant seamen serving after 1972

Records of merchant seamen serving after 1972 are not held by The National Archives. Search the Maritime and Coastguard Agency website for ‘service records’ to find their information leaflet which offers further advice, or contact them directly.

Agreements and crew lists (1861-1994)

Look at the websites of other archives and organisations which hold agreements and crew lists, including the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland, the National Maritime Museum, the National Records of Scotland, the National Archives of Ireland, and local archives.

What other resources will help me find information?


Some or all of the recommended publications below may be available to buy from The National Archives’ Bookshop. Alternatively, search The National Archives’ Library to see what is available to consult at Kew.

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

Read Tracing your ancestors in the The National Archives by Amanda Bevan (The National Archives, 2006).