Are you doing family history research related to the Merchant Navy? Are you stuck with finding the Official Number of a British-registered vessel? Perhaps you have a list of Official Numbers but do not know the ship names?
Knowing a ship’s Official Number is crucial when you do family history research, because the large repositories holding crew agreements and logbooks, including the National Maritime Museum, the Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland and the National Archives at Kew, use Official Numbers as a reference point, rather than names. From 1855, merchant vessels were given an unique number when they first registered with the Board of Trade, and this number stayed with the vessel throughout her life, even if she was re-registered or re-named.
There is a very useful free online database called the Crew List Index Project (CLIP) which was set up to improve access to the records of British merchant seafarers of the late 19th century and has gathered the largest database providing details of the locations of surviving crew lists. This site currently contains over 450,000 records of vessels’ names and Official Numbers with a complete coverage of British-registered vessels with numbers from 1 to 200,000 and covering the period 1855 to the 1950s.
Searching by names: (This is an index of vessels by name; it shows matching names and their Official Numbers, sorted first by name, then by number.)
Searching by Official Numbers: (This is an index of vessels by Official Number. You must bear in your mind that ships were often re-named so there may be several different names for one vessel.)
Once you know the relevant name and Official Number, the next step is to track down the crew lists for that ship. The National Maritime Museum’s research guide C1: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Crew lists, agreements and official logs may help you how to do so. For more information, please follow the link: http://www.rmg.co.uk/researchers/library/research-guides/the-merchant-navy/tracing-people-crewlists-agreements-logs
Most of our enquiries start off with a sentence well known to us: “my great-grand father was a seaman”. A recent query received by the Library made me think how we can assist those who are researching current activities in the Merchant Navy.
As always crew agreements for British-registered merchant ships should be the best to start with. These are of particular interest to genealogists and people tracing family history, and to anyone researching specific ships or seafaring generally. Of the more recent records, a 10% specimen group of all crew agreements from 1951 onwards is in The National Archives; the remaining 90% for years ending in ’5′, until 1995, have been deposited with the National Maritime Museum. All remaining papers up to 1976 have been transferred to the Maritime History Archive in Canada, but sadly from 1977 to 1994 all crew agreements not deposited in the National Archives or in the National Maritime Museum (i.e. 90% of all years not ending in ’5) have been destroyed. Log Books and Crew Agreements from 2001 to 2006 are held at the Registry of Shipping and Seamen in their entirety. A certificate of sea service for individual seaman who sailed on ships from this period may be obtained from these records. Also important to note is that no official logbooks and crew agreements have been retained covering the years 1996 to 2000. Any enquiries about the deposit of recent crew lists should be addressed to the Registry of Shipping and Seamen.
The majority of records relating to merchant seamen for the years 1941–1972 are also with The National Archives, and for the years 2000–2009 are with the Registry of Shipping and Seamen. Records for individual seamen were not kept between the years 1973–1999 as after 1973 the Registrar General was not required by legislation to keep these records.
The second avenue of research should be Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, an annual list of merchant ships providing an excellent aid to research. The Caird Library has copies up to, and including, the most recent edition. The 2011-2012 issue is in four volumes, consisting of almost 7000 pages. The Library also holds volumes up to the last issue of the Mercantile Navy List (or Official List of Registered Ships as it was called by 1985), the Board of Trade official list of all British-registered vessels.
Some recent shipping company records are held by the National Maritime Museum. The National Register of Archives, maintained by The National Archives, can often be useful in locating records of shipping companies. Published histories exist for many companies and the National Maritime Museum has bibliographies for the most famous shipping lines. Book lists for a number of other companies can be compiled from the online Library catalogue. An example from our recent acquisitions is a book on the tragically wrecked Costa Concordia:
Costa concordia : architettura sospesa nel blue = architecture suspended in the blue by Tiziana Lorenzelli (Milano : Electa ; [Genova] : Costa, 2006) 629.123.3COSTA CONCORDIA – PBH4693
Maritime History Archive
Memorial University of Newfoundland
The National Archives
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444
Registry of Shipping and Seamen
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Cardiff CF24 5JW
Tel: +44 (0)29 20448800
Gregory (Assistant Librarian)
The National Maritime Museum holds a small percentage of the surviving crew agreements and logbooks of British-registered merchant vessels from 1861 onwards.
For May’s item of the month, I have selected a crew agreement from the series covering voyages that terminated in the year 1875. This document relates to a vessel that was in fact destroyed by fire in the South Atlantic during November of the previous year. It is the crew agreement for the last voyage of the emigrant ship Cospatrick (1856).
Graham (Archives Assistant)
Due to staff availability, the last day to order Crew Agreements before Christmas will be Friday 11 December. If you order an agreement or logbook before this Friday the material will be ready to consult on Tuesday 22 December.
The next last order date after Christmas is Monday 11 January.
For other off-site material please check the full list of last order dates on our website.
Renee (Digital Resources Librarian)