Anyone who has tried to research Merchant Navy ancestors knows how tricky it can be, particularly if the name/s of the ships on which they served are unknown. The UK National Maritime Museum’s online database of individuals serving on Merchant Navy ships is therefore particularly welcome.
As one of the many World War 1 centenary projects, this project transcribed the surviving crew lists for 1915 and the data records personal details for 39,000 voyages covering 750,000 Merchant Navy seamen. The database contains a plethora of information about the officers and crew which was previously only available by visiting the UK National Archives at Kew - and then only if you knew the name of at least one of the ships on which hey served.
Keep in mind that each Crew Agreement is for every member of the Deck Department on board the ship. Having found a person of interest in the database, you will need to scan through each page of the relevant Crew Agreement looking for your family member. But trust me, it is not onerous and the results are, in my opinion, worth finding.
Above : a sample image from a crew list.
The database can be searched by either a crew member’s name or a vessel’s name. Once the correct individual or ship is located, there is a link to the relevant Crew Agreement which comprises multi page images.
The information in the Merchant Navy crew lists includes but is not limited to:
The written legal agreement between the shipping line and the crew member;
Nationality (or birthplace if British);
Capacity serving on the ship (i.e. their specific role);
Address at both the port of engagement and their home address;
Name of previous ship and year discharged;
Date and place of signing the crew agreement;
Qualification Certificate number and/or Royal Naval Reserve Commission number (if any);
Weekly or monthly wages;
Any amounts advanced to the crew member during the voyage;
Date, place and reason for leaving the ship.
The wording on the front page of a ship's crew agreement makes for interesting reading as it includes the standard of behaviour expected throughout the voyage.
Information about the vessel includes:
Commencement and completion dates of the voyage;
The ship’s name;
Port of registry;
Type of ship (coastal or ocean-going);
Maximum number of crew the ship can accommodate.
If the person or people you are researching were killed during WW1, either before or after 1915, then they won't appear in this database. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission should have records for them. A Blog post about War Graves Commission is on my list of future Blog posts.
The National Maritime Museum's crew lists are of immeasurable value to family historians. They are also one the few sources about the contribution of our courageous seafaring ancestors who played an essential role during WW1. If you had an ancestor in the British Merchant Navy in 1915 there is a good chance a crew list for one or more of his voyages survives. Find one voyage record and it will very likely lead to more - either before, during, or after the War.
How did you go?
My own merchant navy ancestors from Plymouth were all deceased by the WW1 period. But I would love to hear about any success you had in searching these records. Let me know in the Comments Section below.
Your Family Genealogist
Pictures : Pixabay; UK National Maritime Museum.