Search Crew lists1861-1913
Crew lists 1861-1913
The crew lists 1861-1913 contain indexes to around 33,500 lists of crew members on board vessels and around 413,500 records of individual crewmen. The lists are indexes to original documents, which hold the employment details of individuals.
The latest version of the database includes the following additional crew lists:
- 1881 crew lists — 70,475 individuals & 1,981 vessels
- 1891 crew lists — 70,747 individuals & 1,524 vessels
These lists may be particularly useful in identifying the whereabouts of men missing on the decennial censuses for these years.
These documents are not online, but if you find an ancestor listed, you can order the relevant document from the repositories that store them around the country and in Canada. You should bear in mind that the online indexes represent only a fraction of the records available. Many have not yet been transcribed.
About crew lists
- A crew list holds the details of every crew member onboard a British merchant ship
- The records detail the employment of each member of the crew. Individuals would ‘sign on’ when they began their employment, either at the start of the voyage, or when they joined the ship at one of its ports of call. They ‘signed off’ at the end of the voyage or, if they chose not to finish, at a port of call.
- A ship that sailed in British coastal waters completed a crew list every six months
- If a vessel sailed outside of British waters then a document called a crew agreement was completed for each voyage instead
- Crew members include a wide variety of professions, such as deckhands, engine staff, stewards, nurses and maids.
View a member of the crew
It costs 5 credits to view a single crew member from a list, unless you have a subscription that covers the crew lists.
View a full crew list
If you have found an ancestor on a crew list and would like to see details of the other crew members, then simply click ‘view full list’ on the transcription page. It costs 15 credits to view a full list, unless you have a subscription that covers the crew lists.
Original crew-list documents
The findmypast.co.uk crew lists are indexes only. You will not see original crew list documents online, but you can use these indexes to locate the original hard copies. Original crew-list documents can provide extra information not contained in these indexes, and can also provide details for voyages and vessels not catalogued on findmypast.co.uk. Original crew-list documents are held by various repositories across the UK and in Canada:
- 70 per cent are at the Maritime History Archive (MHA), in Newfoundland
- 10 per cent are at The National Archives, Kew
- 10 per cent are at the National Maritime Museum (NMM), Greenwich
- 10 per cent are at local record offices or archives.
The records for one ship could be at any or all of these places. Not all the original records have survived.
Finding a vessel’s official number
To locate original crew-list documents you will first need to find the vessel’s official number. A unique ‘official number’ was given to each newly registered vessel from 1855 and remained with her throughout her existence. Most of the large repositories use a ship’s official number, rather than her name, as a reference.
Official numbers in the crew list indexes
When you view an ancestor’s entry details the field marked ‘Vessel official number’ gives the official number for that ship. Once you have this you can search for the official documents. (See ‘Finding original documents’, below).
Official numbers for previous ships
Apart from their current vessel, an ancestor’s entry details will sometimes reveal their previous ship as well. If you’re lucky, you may find the relevant crew list for their previous ship in the findmypast.co.uk indexes, but if you don’t, then to locate the official number you will need to run a ‘vessel search’.
First, make a note of the ‘Previous ship’, ‘Previous ship port’ and ‘Previous ship year’, then click ‘search for vessel’, from your ancestor’s entry details page. A list of registered numbers for vessels of that name will then appear. Look through this list for the entry with the relevant ‘Previous ship port’ and ‘Previous ship year’, and make a note of the official number alongside it. You can then search for the relevant original crew list documents. (You can also click the official number to search the crewlist.org.uk catalogue, which may contain the information you need).
Finding original documents
Once you have a ship’s official number you can search for her crew-list documents. Here are the places you can search online using an official number:
The MHA, which holds 70 per cent of the surviving crew-list documents, allows you to search online and order copies of crew lists.
The National Archives
The crew list documents held by The National Archives are recorded under series BT 99, BT 100, BT 144, and BT 165.
Crew-list documents held at UK record offices
Crew lists held at UK record offices can be searched for here.
The Crew List Index Project (CLIP)
The findmypast.co.uk crew list indexes form part of the Crew List Index Project (CLIP), which aims to improve access to the records of British merchant seamen for the late nineteenth century by indexing records from local record offices throughout the UK. The task is ongoing, and volunteer transcribers and checkers are encouraged to get involved.
Search 24 million passengers
The crew lists are only for British merchant ships. They do not cover the Royal Navy, or provide details of passengers.
If your ancestors were passengers on long-haul voyages between 1890 and 1960, then you may find them on the findmypast.co.uk Passenger Lists, which are complete for this period, hold some 24 million records, and provide high-quality scans of the original lists.Search for your ancestors on the Passenger Lists now
Less is more
Your ancestors’ details may not have been recorded in quite the way you’d expect, or some of the details you’d expect to find might not be recorded on the crew lists. If the search criteria you enter doesn’t directly match what is contained on a list, then that list will not be shown in the results. For this reason, and to avoid omitting relevant lists, we would suggest that you follow a ‘less is more’ approach for your searches. Initially enter only a small amount of detail, such as just the first and last names of an ancestor; then if needed you can refine your search with more information.
The wildcard feature allows you to increase the breadth of a search by using the ‘*’ symbol to replace individual letters, or sequences of letters, within a search field. It is useful if you are unsure of the spelling or cannot find a name with the usual spelling.
You can use the wildcard symbol ‘*’ anywhere in the first name, middle name, or last name fields, but either the first name or last name must have at least three initial characters.
For example, if you were looking for Lucy Harris you could search for Luc* *ris or Lu* Har*. Searching for Lu* Harr* will return results that include names such as Lucy Harris, Lucie Harris, Lucretia Harris, and Luisa Harrison.
Last name variants
Illiteracy, regional accents and phonetic spelling can mean that the name recorded on the original documents may not be as you’d expect. The transcription, too, may be at fault. Many crew lists were completed in unclear handwriting, and some have faded, which makes an accurate transcription highly unlikely.
To help you find these elusive names, we’ve grouped certain last names into ’clusters’ of related last names. For example, both ’Jonson’ and ’Johnson’ are grouped in the same cluster.
To include last names from the same cluster in your search results, simply tick the ‘include variants’ tick-box.
First name variants
Certain first names have commonly used diminutives or abbreviations.
For example, an ancestor called ‘John’ may have been known as ‘Jack’ or his name might have been written as ‘Jno’.
To include common diminutives and abbreviations of a first name, simply tick the ‘include variants’ tick-box.
Middle name variants
The rules for first name variants also apply to middle name variants.
Year of birth/age
Certain lists will record the year of birth for a crewmember, while others record their age. Where the year of birth is recorded, we have offered an approximate age for the person, and where their age is given on the crew list, we have calculated an approximate year of birth.
Depending on the day and month of the crewmember’s birth, the calculated field (marked as ‘calculated’ on the transcription page) may not be entirely accurate.
For example, somebody recorded on a list from 31 July 1881 as being born in 1849 will have a calculated age of 32. But if their birthday was between August and December, then their true age at the time the list was compiled would have been 31.
Similarly, somebody recorded as aged 32 on a list from 31 July 1881 will have a calculated year of birth of 1849. However, if this person was born between August and December, then their true year of birth would be 1880.
Please also bear in mind that even the year of birth or age recorded on the lists might not be accurate. A crewmember may have lied about their age, or a clerk may have misheard it or written it down incorrectly.
We would suggest you allow for at least a five year discrepancy using the dropdown list next to the ‘year of birth’ field.
Why does some information appear twice?
The crew lists cover a wide range of years, so you will often find crewmembers whose service runs through several lists and/or several vessels. In these cases you will see the crew member appear more than once in your search results.
Why can’t I find records for individuals whom I know should be listed?
The findmypast.co.uk crew lists are part of a volunteer-based transcription project. They do not include every crew list, but rather a selection of around 30,000 crew lists. If you know your ancestor served as a ship’s crewmember between 1863 and 1913 but cannot find them in the records, then it is likely the crew lists they appear on have not been transcribed.