We launch our Merchant Navy Seamen records
02 September 2011
We have just published 1 million 20th century Merchant Navy Seamen records on findmypast.co.uk
This is the first time ever that these records have been made available online and we are working in association with The National Archives to give you access to your merchant navy ancestors.
What are these records?
The records are index cards which the Registrar General of Shipping and Seaman used between the two world wars to produce a centralised index of merchant seamen serving on British merchant navy vessels. They cover the period 1918-1941.
The merchant navy consists of all seagoing UK vessels with commercial interests and their crews. Research that findmypast.co.uk conducted has shown that a shocking 54% of the UK population have no idea who or what the merchant navy is.
What will the records tell me?
The front of a card gives the basic biographical information about each seaman, for example, their name, their year and place of birth and their rank or rating. Initials were sometimes given rather than first names and sometimes a physical description is provided.
The front of a card may also give other information, such as discharge number, health insurance number, address of kin and so on.
The reverse of the card may be blank, or may contain a list of official vessel numbers and signing-on dates, and/or a photograph and/or signature of the seamen. Sometimes a photograph is not on the reverse of the card but on a separate attached card.
Why are these records so valuable?See a photograph of your ancestor
It is possible to find a photograph of your ancestor within these records. These rarely seen photos of the mariners mean you can see what your seafaring ancestor looked like for the first time a real achievement for any family historian.They cover a wide range of people
A vast range of people can be found in these records. We've found records for 12 year old 'ordinary seaman' Archie Kerr, 78 year old steward George Field, and lots of women, including Doris Abbey who was a manicurist!
The records show that the seamen who made up the merchant navy not only came from the UK, but from every continent, including the maritime provinces of Canada, the West Indies, Sierra Leone, Scandinavia, Somaliland, China and Japan. It is even possible to find seamen from landlocked Switzerland.They contain vivid and unusual details
These records are fantastic for finding out vivid details about your ancestor. Take, for example, Mohamed Abbathira who is recorded as having a pock marked face and a scar on his right thumb.
A more sombre find is chief officer William Hunt Aaron who died on 25 October 1925 a note in his record states 'Supposed suicide'.
Colourful detail can be found in 'ordinary seaman' Henry Duncan Abbot's record, which describes his tattoo as 'Chinese death head with inscription 'Death is Glory' on right forearm'.
The publication of the Merchant Navy Seamen records 1918-1941 is the first phase of a release of merchant navy records from The National Archives. In due course, we will be publishing additional records on findmypast.co.uk, covering an earlier period from 1835 to 1857.Find out more and search these records now. Which ancestors will you find today?