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?

Try to find out:

  • the name of the merchant seaman
  • their date of birth
  • their place of birth

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 findmypast.co.uk (£). 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.

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).

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)

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 Miramar Ship Index (£).

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

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 (£).

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?

Books

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).

Did you know?

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.

The dates given in our catalogue for the records of service do not refer to date of discharge but reflect the dates of service.

For the period 1913 to 1917 you should consult the agreements and crew lists. For more information read Crew lists, agreements and log books of merchant ships after 1861.

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

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

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

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

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