Tracing 20C Merchant Seamen In British Records

Debbie Beavis 21/04/2002

There are NO organised service records of ordinary merchant seamen who served between 1857 and 1913.
Fourth Register of Seamen 1913-1941 (Central Index Register)

If a man served between 1913 and 1940 his details were recorded in the CIR, also known as the Fourth Register of Seamen. Surviving records have been transferred to the Public Record Office from the Registry of Shipping and Seamen. The records are filed in a card index, now viewed on microfiche.

There are several series of cards within this series (CR1, CR2, CR10), each compiled slightly differently and comprising slightly different information. You should be able to find discharge number, vessels noted (normally by o.n. only), a physical description, sometimes a photograph.
Index cards in CR1 CR2 for 1913-1920 have been destroyed, but there is a separate index covering part of that period (CR10).

BT348 - Register of Seamen Central Index, Numerical Series (CR2)1921-1941. Cards filed in numerical order by discharge number, dates of signing and lists of ships which may be shown by official number only.

BT349 - Register of Seamen Central Index, Alphabetical Series (CR1) 1921-1941.Cards arranged alphabetically by surname. You should find name, place, date of birth, capacity, brief description and sometimes a photograph.

BT350 - Register of Seamen, Special Index, Alphabetical Series (CR10) 1918-1921These are similar to CR1, and have a photograph of the seaman.

Later records comprising the fifth register (from 1941) are yet to be transferred to the Public Record Office.


Once you have identified the name of ships on which a man served, you may be able to locate crew lists and agreements to enable you to compile information about a man's service during the latter part of the years for which service records do not exist. The records of Agreements and Crew Lists are the subject of a separate posting. The Public Record Office has recently updated the leaflets and the most recent versions are now online at their website,  National Archives »» which give additional information about what you may find. The National Archives catalogue is now also online at their website which will allow you to select the records which best suit your research.