Drawing of people embarking at Liverpool dock (Catalogue reference: ZPER 34/17)

This is a brief guide to researching records of merchant seamenseafarers on merchant vessels - ships that transport cargo or passengers 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?

    • Try to find out:

      • dates when the seaman was serving
      • the port where the ship was registered
  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Records held elsewhere

      Search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters.

Did you know?

No systematic records of the crew of merchant ships were kept until 1747. After that date mastersCommanding officers of merchant ships; also known as master mariners (the equivalent to Royal Navy captains) or owners of merchant ships were required to keep a musteror muster roll: a list of people in receipt of pay roll giving details of the number of crewmen and the ship's voyages.

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1835 required the registration of merchant seamenseafarers on merchant vessels - ships that transport cargo or passengers. Crew listslists of crew members filed by ships' masters with the Registrar General of Shipping 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.

The seamen's ticketa ticket held by all British seamen leaving the UK, from 1844, that had an individual number corresponding with details entered into a central register 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.