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Researching Mariners

This section deals with researching mariners in the 19th Century and the first part of the 20th Century, where many records still exist (1835 onwards), and are easily accessible (1840 to 1860). For researching mariners from earlier times, visit the section on John Scarrow of Whitehaven.

The research I have undertaken on the Scarrow mariners, embraces the period between 1835 and 1870, and then a later period between 1905 and 1940. As with my more general research on the Scarrow's, the method I would use now to find maritime records is different to that which I employed myself over ten years ago. This is for the simple reason that there is now much more information available on the internet. At a later stage it will still be necessary to visit the National Archives in Kew, or other repositories of maritime records, but a lot of the initial work can be done sitting in front of your own PC.

Registration of Mariners serving between 1835-1857, 1858-1912, 1913-1941

If your mariner served during either the first or third period, then it is likely his name will appear in one of the many seaman's registers. If he served during the second period but achieved a rank of master, mate or engineer, then he will appear in one of the officer's registers.

1835-1857

From 1835, central government began to monitor a potential reserve of sailors for the Royal Navy which resulted in number of large registers which were in effect a directory of mariners. These registers of service were created from data contained in ships' agreements and crew lists, and exist today at the National Archives as series BT112, BT113, BT114, BT115, BT116, BT119 and BT120. They have been recently transcribed into a searchable database on findmypast, so this is a very good place to start - see example below where we search for Joseph Scarrow, who served throughout this period:

Merchant Seaman Search window from Findmypast.com

Merchant Seaman Search window from Findmypast.com

 

With an unusual name like Scarrow, there is no need to specify a date range, as the result below shows only three entries. If your surname is Smith, it would be advantageous narrow the search in some way!

Merchant Seaman Search Result from Findmypast.com

Merchant Seaman Search Result for Joseph Scarrow from Findmypast.com

 

Of the three entries above, the first comes from BT112/61, Register of Seamen, Series II part 1. For details of how to interpret this information see Joseph Scarrow's voyage record.

Merchant Seaman Seaman image from Findmypast.com

Merchant Seaman Search result for Joseph Scarrow from Findmypast.com

 

The second hit is also from Register of Seamen, Series II, but in this case BT112/62 which is part 2. Notice that Joseph Scarrow has been allocated a new number but with a reference to his original number 3726, and also that his brother William has also appeared. There is quite a significant amount of information missing here, which is why it is worth looking at crew lists in conjunction with these registers. Again, look at Joseph Scarrow's voyage record to see what should have been added to the register for later years.

Result of search from findmypast.com for Joseph Scarrow

Merchant Seaman Search result for Joseph Scarrow from Findmypast.com

 

The final hit for Joseph Scarrow comes from the Alphabetical Register of Masters, BT115. The entries here are not so easy to interpret, but again looking at Joseph Scarrow's voyage record will show how to do this and also what is missing.

Result of search from findmypast.com for Joseph Scarrow

Merchant Seaman Search result for Joseph Scarrow from Findmypast.com

 

1858-1912

To search for mariners in the registers between 1857 and 1912, we are restricted to masters, mates and engineers. Currently, registers for this period are only available to view on microfilm at the National Archives.

The various registers for Masters and Mates are indexed by BT127 which contains an alphabetical listing of them in both the home and foreign trades. The index covers the years between 1845 and 1894, and references the registers for Certificates of Competency, Foreign (BT122); Certificates of Competency (Steamships), Foreign (BT123); Certificates of Service, Foreign (BT124); Certificates of Competency, Home (BT125); and Certificates of Service, Home (BT126).

The registers for Engineers are indexed by BT141, covering the years between 1861 and 1921. It references the registers of Certificates of Competency, Engineers (BT139) and the registers of Certificates of Service, Engineers (BT142).

Joseph Scarrow does appear in one of these registers, namely the Register of Certificates of Service, Masters and Mates, Foreign (BT124/12), which is in the process of being transcribed into a database by the Crew List Index Project (CLIP).

1913-1941

In 1913, a new register for seamen appeared, and came in three guises: CR1, CR2 and CR10. Fortunately there is a central index for these three registers covering the years 1913 to 1941 and this can be found at the National Archives in BT364. Even better, is that CR1 and CR10 have both been transcribed into a searchable database on findmypast. If we search for Robert Barnes Scarrow, whom we know sailed between 1905 and 1940, we come up with two results:

Result of search from findmypast.com for Robert Scarrow

Search result for Robert Barnes Scarrow on findmypast.com

 

These two results are references to CR1 and CR10 respectively.

Crew Lists 1835-1945

So we now have a good summary of our mariner's maritime record, but there are several gaps to fill, and some detail to add if we wish. The source of this missing data will be the crew lists themselves which, for the period up to 1860 are mostly found at the National Archives. Beyond 1860 crew lists can be found in several repositories, not all of which are in the UK. Some crew lists from this period are still located at the National Archives, others are to be found at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, but the majority are at the Maritime History Archive (MHA) in St. John's Canada. The MHA have an online index to their holdings, and will carry out research for a reasonable fee. If the search of the MHA index comes up blank for a particular year (post 1862), then it implies the crew lists are actually still in the UK somewhere - probably held by a local record office. Some of the UK record offices with a maritime link obtained crew-lists that would otherwise have gone to Canada, and an example of this is the Whitehaven Record Office which holds crew lists for Whitehaven and Workington registered ships. All somewhat more complicated than one would have expected, so this information is summarised in the table below for the period 1835-1945.

Period Main Depository Secondary depositary tertiary Depositary
1835-1854 National Archives BT98, arranged by Registered Port and Ship Name    
1855-1860 National Archives BT98, arranged by Ship's Official Number (ON)    
1861-1862 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.  
1863-1864 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.
1865 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.  
1866-1874 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.
1875 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.  
1876-1884 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.
1885 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.  
1886-1894 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.
1895 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.  
1896-1904 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON. Also log books 1902-1919 in BT165.
1905 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON. Also log books 1902-1919 in BT165.  
1906-1914 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON. Also log books 1902-1919 in BT165.
1915 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON. Also log books 1902-1919 in BT165.  
1916-1924 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON. Also log books 1902-1919 in BT165.
1925 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.  
1926-1934 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.
1935 National Maritime Museum (90%) 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.  
1935-1938 Maritime History Archive in St. John's Canada UK local Record Offices. 10% at the National Archives BT99, arranged by ON.
1939-1945 National Archives BT380 and BT381, arranged by Ship's Official Number (ON). Indexed by BT385.    

 

Certificates

The National Maritime Museum's Caird Library holds copies of mariners certificates and applications for Masters and Mates and Engineers. The certificates of Masters and Mates can now be viewed on Ancestry, although it is the applications which actually contain the most interesting information so the Caird library is definitely worth a visit. If one searches for Joseph Scarrow on Ancestry, in the immigration and travel section, the result below is shown:

Search result for Joseph Scarrow on Ancestry for certificates of masters and mates

Search result for Joseph Scarrow on Ancestry for certificates of masters and mates

 

The stored image can be seen on Joseph Scarrow's certificates page. By contrast, a similar search for William Scarrow reveals two hits, one for his mate's certificate, and the other for his master's. Robert Scarrow's certificates are not available on Ancestry at the moment (2014), but can be seen at the National Maritime Museum.

Books

There are two books that deal with researching merchant mariners. The one I have found the most useful is "My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman" by Christopher and Michael Watts. My edition is from 2004, and has few references to the internet, but it describes all the records held by the National Archives and other institutions very well. The current edition, published in 2011, probably deals with this lack of internet links.

The other book I have is "Tracing your Merchant Navy Ancestors", which has some good information about life as a Merchant mariner, but has a less clear analysis of the various sources for research.