Merchant Seamen

Crew lists and agreements, log books and shipping records can help you find information on your merchant seaman ancestor.

What do I need to know before I start?

Try to find out:

  • name
  • date and place of birth
  • name of the ship on which the seaman served
  • the port where it was registered
  • the ship’s official number (obtainable from the Crew List Index Project)


What records can I find in The Mitchell: Glasgow City Archives, Registrars and Special Collections?

Glasgow City Archives (GCA) hold a small selection of crew lists and agreements, log books, shipping registers and records of shipping companies that can help you find information on merchant seamen.

British registered merchant ships were required to submit regular crew lists and agreements, which include:

  • name
  • year and place of birth
  • date of signing on and off the vessel
  • previous vessel served on

GCA holds some crew agreements for eleven vessels that landed at Glasgow’s ports covering 1863-1901 (ref: TD1856), which are also available through the Ancestry website. GCA also holds crew lists and agreements for ships owned by Hugh Hogarth & Co., 1861-1890 (ref: TD816/37) and Lyle Shipping Co. (ref: TD565).


Various types of record can survive as part of an individual shipping company’s archive, including ship log books, voyages and sailings books. Log books were updated with details of accidents, illness, death and disciplinary action on board the vessel and often also include a list of the ship’s crew. GCA holds a small number of log books and records of various Glasgow-based shipping companies including Roxburgh, Richardson & Co., Aitken, Lilburn & Co. and Burns & Laird.


Local Customs and Excise officials created shipping registers, which record details of title and property rights in a ship from its construction until its registration is closed. The registers list the captain of a ship and are also useful as individual seamen often owned shares in ships. GCA holds shipping registers including those for Glasgow (ref: CE59/11) and Campbeltown (ref: CE82/11).


After 1855, the death of a seaman on a British-registered merchant ship was recorded in the Marine Register, provided that they were usually resident in Scotland. Entries in this register can include both merchant seamen and others on board ship (e.g. passengers). The register has been digitally imaged. Copies of these images, together with a full index, are one of the many resources available as part of the ScotlandsPeople network which you can access in the Registrars Genealogy Service on payment of a daily fee.


The Register of Deceased Seamen, 1886-1952, is held by Special Collections. This is similar to the Marine Register but only lists seamen whose deaths occurred at sea and provides information such as:

  • name of ship
  • cause of death
  • rank
  • where the seaman came from


What records can I see online?

Crew lists, agreements and logbooks for voyages terminating in the years 1863-1938 are indexed and can be searched on the Maritime History Archive website.


Merchant seamen registers (1835-1857), the central indexed register of merchant seamen (1918-1941) and indexes to crew lists (1861-1913) can be searched and downloaded from the findmypast website.


Images of the marine register up to 1960 can be purchased on the ScotlandsPeople website. Discounted vouchers for this website can be purchased in person from Special Collections.


Crew lists, agreements, certificates of discharge and some related documents are available for 11 ships that landed at Glasgow’s ports, 1863-1901, as well as master and mate certificates issued to merchant seamen by the British Board of Trade, 1850-1927 on the Ancestry website. Ancestry Library Edition can be used free of charge from Glasgow Library computers.


What records can I see elsewhere?

Around 70% of the surviving agreements and crew lists from 1861 are held at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada. Other archives and organisations also hold agreements and crew lists, as well as various other sources relating to merchant seamen, including the National Archives, the National Maritime Museum, the National Records of Scotland and Ireland and local archives. Glasgow University Archive Services hold records of various Glasgow-based shipping companies including the Anchor Line.


What other resources will help me find information?


Christopher and Michael Watts, My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman (2002)

Bruno Pappalardo, Tracing your naval ancestors (2003)

The National Archives have several guides on Merchant Seamen on their looking for a person page, which give details on what records survive and where they can be found.

The Crew List Index Project website has information about merchant seamen on British registered ships from 1861 to 1913.



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