How to look for records of... Crew lists and agreements and log books of merchant ships after 1861
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
1. Why use this guide?
Use this guide for advice on British merchant shipping records known as crew lists and agreements and, in particular, how to find those that date from 1861 onwards. For advice on finding the same kinds of records prior to 1861 see our guide to crew lists and agreements 1747-1860.
You may wish to start your research by consulting the following starter research guides:
- merchant seamen serving 1858-1917
- merchant seamen serving after 1917
- officers in the merchant navy
- merchant ships
2. Essential information
2.1 What are crew lists and agreements?
Crew lists and agreements were introduced in 1835. These are not two separate documents but one and the same thing; you may see them referred to simply as ‘crew lists’, or sometimes simply as ‘agreements’. The ‘agreement’ was effectively an employment contract between the ship’s master and each member of his crew, signed by both parties before the ship sailed. A list of the crew accompanied these agreements. Sometimes a log book, with details of the ship’s voyages (see section 9), was filed along with the agreements and crew lists.
2.2 What information do crew lists and agreements contain?
Most types of crew lists and agreements give brief details about the ship, its master and voyages at the date of being filed together with the following information for each crew member:
- first and last names
- place of birth
- ‘quality’ (the seaman’s job on the ship)
- ship in which last served
- date and place of joining ship
- time and place of death or leaving ship
- ‘how disposed of’ (the nature of the seaman’s departure from the ship, whether discharged, drowned or otherwise)
2.3 What proportion of crew lists and agreements are held at The National Archives?
After 1861 only a sample of crew lists and agreements and log books are held at The National Archives. Many are preserved at other archives (see section 11) and many do not survive.
3. Which records have survived?
The National Archives holds the following proportions of crew lists and agreements after 1861:
- 1861-1938: 10%
- 1939-1950: 100%
- 1951-1994: 10%
Most of these you can only search by ships’ official number (see section 7).
Crew lists and agreements are also held in a number of other archives. The National Maritime Museum holds 10% of agreements and crew lists for the periods 1861-1938 and 1951-1976.
The rest, approximately 70% of the crew lists and agreements for 1863-1938 and 1951-1976, were transferred to the Maritime History Archive in Canada.
Local archives took some of the records for the period 1863-1913 (see section 11).
4. Crew lists and agreements 1861-1938
The National Archives’ 10% samples for 1861-1938 and 1951-1994 are in BT 99. You can only search the majority of these by ship’s official number. See section 7 for help finding a ships’ official number.
However for the year 1915 you can search them by seamen’s name and by name of ship. Further details are available on our 1915 project page. Please note, your search results will also include records held at the National Maritime Museum – please check the ‘held by’ information on your search results to find out where you can view the document.
You can also search by seamen’s name the 1881 and 1891 sample of crew lists held by The National Archives.
4.1 Records held elsewhere
The National Maritime Museum holds 10% of agreements and crew lists for the periods 1861-1938 and 1951-1976. In general, the records held are for years ending with five (1865, 1875, and so on) however they do hold some other years too. Contact them directly to find out more.
The rest, approximately 70% of the crew lists and agreements for this period were transferred to the Maritime History Archive. You can search these by ship’s official number.
5. Crew lists and agreements 1939-1950
The National Archives holds all the surviving crew lists and agreements for the Second World War and the succeeding years up to 1950.
There is also an index to Second World War log books, agreements and crew lists in BT 385.
Agreements and crew lists of allied foreign ships requisitioned or chartered by the British government in the Second World War are in BT 387. The records contain details of UK merchant seamen who served on the ships. BT 387 is arranged by ranges of ships’ names therefore you will need to browse the series.
6. Crew lists and agreements 1951-1994
For 1951-1994 the 10% sample are in series BT 99. You can only search the majority of these by ship’s official number (see section 7) .
After 1972 only two 10 % samples of crew lists and agreements have been preserved. One sample is held by The National Archives and the other by the National Maritime Museum. The rest, up to 1989, have been destroyed.
6.1 Records held elsewhere
The National Maritime Museum holds 10% of agreements and crew lists for 1951-1976. The records held are for years ending with five (1955, 1965, and so on).
Approximately 70% of the crew lists and agreements for 1951-1976, were transferred to the Maritime History Archive. The agreements and lists from 1951-1976 have not yet been indexed therefore contact the Maritime History Archive directly for further advice.
7. Finding the ship’s official number
You will need the ship’s official number to carry out most online searches. To find the ship’s official number refer to the Crew List Index Project (CLIP) website, which has information about merchant ships from 1861 to 1913, or the the Miramar Ship Index website (subscription required), a database listing some categories of merchant and naval ships.
8. Asiatic agreements
Asiatic agreements are not usually included among the records held by The National Archives. See section 11 for guidance on finding information in local archives.
9. Ships’ logs
Ships’ logs can occasionally be found with their 19th century agreements and crew lists, as described above. In the 20th century it gradually became usual to find the logs attached. Selected logs covering the periods 1857-1889, 1922-1938 and 1913-1972 are in BT 165.
Logs were usually preserved from 1902-1912 where births, marriages or deaths took place on board ship. It is therefore possible, for example, to find records of deaths of soldiers and prisoners of war returning on ships from the Boer War. For the First World War (1914-1918) all surviving logs containing casualties are preserved.
10. Celebrated ships
The agreements and crew lists of a selection of celebrated ships are in BT 100, which you can search by name of ship.
11. Agreements and crew lists held in other archives
Many local archives hold the records relating to their local ports.
To identify records held in local archives, search our catalogue and refine your results using the filters. Try search terms such as “ship register” or “registrar general shipping and seamen”.
Check the opening hours and contact details for local archives using Find an archive.
The National Records of Scotland holds agreements and crew lists under the reference BT 3, covering 1867-1913, for Scottish ships only. The ships are listed alphabetically by name in the paper catalogue. Official logs are found with the agreements and crew lists, where they survive.
The National Archives of Australia has a large number of record series concerning ships’ crews and the merchant navy. They include registers of engagement, articles of agreement, registers of discharge, registers of deserters, and employment history records. All these record series are indexed on the RecordSearch database.