Tracing 19 Centaury Merchant Seamen In British Records

Debbie Beavis 21.04.2002

The Merchant Shipping Act of 1835 required masters of all ships to file Agreements and Crew Lists with the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen. The Government saw the need for registering all seamen who could be called upon to man Naval ships in times of war - the RGSS extracted names of all men from the Crew Lists and entered them into a series of Registers.

  • Register of Seamen Series I, 1835-1836, BT 120 details were entered in five volumes by surname.
  • Register of Seamen Series II, 1835-1844, BT 112 , with its associate name index in BT 119.
  • Register of Seamen's Tickets 1845-1854, BT 113 , the surname index is in BT 114.
  • Register of Seamen Series III, 1853-1857 BT 116 these were registered in surname sequence.

These Registers are available on microfilm at the National Archives Kew   »»

Register of Seamen 1835-1844

BT120 - Register of Seamen series l, 1835-1836
This is a small series comprising 5 volumes, listing the men alphabetically by surname.

BT112 - Register of Seamen series ll 1835-1844
There are 83 volumes in the series, divided into two parts. Searches must be made in both sections, which can be in two volumes or two sections of the same volume. It should incorporate the names from BT120 but you must not rely on this being so.

This register requires great care as the layout of the two sections is not straightforward and it is easy to overlook the section required.

Both sections are roughly alphabetical, the first indexed by separate alphabetical indexes: BT119 Alphabetical Index to Seamen. This gives the reference number which can be used to trace the correct entry in BT112. This means that both sections must be searched for each seaman. It is important not to rely on the accuracy of the indexes in BT119 nor the internal indexes in the second section. If your seaman's name does not appear in the indexes you must always be prepared to search the actual registers. You may expect to find the seaman's name, number, age, place of birth, and reference to the ship or voyage.


Merchant Seamen 1845 - 1854

BT114 - Alphabetical Register of Seamen's Tickets 1845 - 1854
From 1844, any seaman leaving the UK was required to have a register ticket, details being entered in this series of registers. This register gives the name, place of birth and Register Ticket number.

BT113 - Register of Seamen's Tickets
The key to this numerical register is the Ticket number obtained from the alphabetical register in BT114. There may be brief biographical details of the seaman and a note of his voyages. It must be remembered that many entries are blank, especially towards the end of the series. The reported voyages are again in a simple code and provide a numerical key to the crew lists and agreements.


Merchant Seamen 1853 - 1857

BT116 - Register of Seamen Series III 1853-1857
The ticketing system was abolished in 1853 and a new series was begun, much easier to search, listing seamen alphabetically with age, existing ticket number, place of birth and voyage details.

The problems with recording seamen throughout the whole period of 1835-1857 were eventually viewed as insurmountable and the whole system was discontinued. From that date up to 1913, the only way of tracing the career of a merchant seamen is by reference to the Agreements and Crew Lists.

Reminder! MASTERS & MATES are the subject of a separate Guide. However until 1845 they will be found in the above records. BT115 (see Guide to Tracing Master Mariners) is extracted from the records of BT114.