Mid-19th century merchant seamen’s records have just been made available online.
The subscription/pay-per-view website Find My Past UK has released online for the first time merchant seamen’s records from the 19th century in association with The National Archives (TNA) of the United Kingdom.
359,000 records of individuals covering the years 1835-1857 have now been added to the website. Details contained within the records can vary, but may include name, age, place of birth, physical description, ship names and dates of voyages. Often this information can be given in the form of coded entries which can easily be deciphered using downloadable finding aids from TNA.
The records are taken from volumes held at TNA in series BT112, BT113, BT114, BT115, BT116 and BT120 and were created by central government to regulate the merchant shipping industry. As the series spans two decades, some individuals may appear in multiple series, making it possible for maritime historians or those with ancestors in the merchant navy, to trace a seaman’s service over time.
Janet Dempsey, maritime expert at TNA comments: “These records are as significant to the social historian as they are to the family historian. No other group of working-class men and women had the freedom of movement and ability to see the world as these 19th century mariners.
“This was the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen’s earliest attempts at keeping individuals’ records and resulted in four different registers over twenty two years. Although more of a challenge to work with than other family history sources, it can be very satisfying to decipher the codes and have your investigative efforts rewarded with sometimes surprisingly rich detail.”
In 2011, Find My Past UK published merchant navy seamen’s records from 1918-1941, also in association with TNA, with some of the records including photographs.