28 Feb 2011

WDYTYA Live 2011: Merchant Seamen Records

The first talk was by Janet Dempsy. She focused on what records are available at The National Archives (Kew) and pointed out that the records are for ALL personal serving on Merchant ships (women crew).

The prefix BT stands for Board of Trade. This is the Board responsible for collecting the rather patchy records. The records should be regarded as Employment Records, rather than the Service Records we would associate with the military. 
  • 1835 to 1857 These records were systematically collected. 
  • 1857 to 1918 No records remain. 
  • 1918 to 1972 Records exist but they are no systematically collected in all instances and the records have been split into three groups;

  1. 1918 to 1920 
  2. 1920 to 1941 
  3. 1941 to 1972

The National Archives website has a useful overview of the information available and it can be found here; 


The main records are;

BT98 1747 to 1860. Agreements and Crew Lists, Series I. This provides Crew Lists for the Ships. However their survival is limited and will more often just provide the Master’s name.

BT100 1835 to 1999. Agreements and Crew Lists, Series III. This provides Crew Lists, with log books where they survive, for celebrated ships. 

BT112 and BT119 1835 to 1844. Register of Seamen, Series II. This record set is split into two parts. Part 1 (1835 February 1840) was arranged numerically and an index to this is found in BT119. Part 2 (December 1841 to 1844) was arranged (mostly) alphabetically by surname. Again this is indexed in BT119/28. 

There are NO RECORDS for the period between February 1840 and December 1841. 

BT113 and BT114 1845 to 1854. This is when the “Ticketing” System was in place. BT113 is arranged by Ticket Number.

BT113 may also hold records of Navy seamen as a ticket was required by ANYBODY who was working on a vessel.

BT114 provides an alphabetical index to the Register of Seamen’s Tickets, but it is not complete as some Ticket Numbers have no further information.

BT116 1853 to 1857. Register of Seamen, Series III. This collection starts in October and is indexed by Surname, Forename. If you do not know the Seamen’s Ticket Number it is possible to find it in this collection, and cross reference with BT113.

Using the Ticket Number you can find out what Ship was sailed on at either; www.findmypast.co.uk/specialist.jsp (Crew Lists 1861 - 1913) or at http://www.crewlist.org.uk/

BT120 1835 to 1836. Register of Seamen, Series I. An alphabetised list of Seamen.

BT165 1857 to 1972. Ship’s Official Logs. These often only survive if they have recorded items of note i.e. births, marriages and deaths at sea.

BT336 1893 to 1948. Registers of Changes of Master.

BT348 1921 to 1941. CR2 Cards. These are arranged by Discharge Number. CR2 Cards often show the Ship numbers the Seamen served on. To find the name of the Ship there is a list at www.crewlist.org.uk.

BT349 1921 to 1941. CR1 Cards. Alphabetically organised these records gave the “Discharge Number” that stayed with the Seamen through their careers. They were always being discharged from one ship to join another so they were not discharged from service. The Discharge Number can be used to find the Ship numbers in BT348

BT350 1918 to 1920. The records between 1913 and 1918 were destroyed. This set contains the CR-10 Cards of the Merchant Seamen. These are the record of their Identity Card being issued to them and due to the war all had portrait pictures attached as the Seamen were going on and off different ships.

BT351 1914 to 1925. Index of First World War Mercantile Marine Medals and the British War Medal. Alphabetised by surname. These medals did not need to be applied for. 

BT372 1913 to 2002. CRS 3 or Seamen’s Pouches. Arranged by Discharge Number within each series as follows:

Numbers (no prefix) = Various nationalities (mainly British)
A = India and Pakistan
BAR = Barbados
BG = British Guyana
B/HT = British - born in India
C/O = Bangladesh citizens
C or CAN = Canadian
E = Eire
F = Falkland Islands
G = Ghana
HK or Hong Kong = Hong Kong
I, Ind or India = Indian nationality
J or Jam = Jamaica
K = Tanganyika 
K/O = India or Pakistan
M or Malta = Malta
Mau = Mauritius
Nig = Nigeria
R = British seamen
S = Various (mainly British)
SA = South Africa
SE = Western Isles and Northern Ireland
SEY = Seychelles
SI = Singapore
SL = Sierra Leone
St L = St. Lucia
T & T = Trinidad and Tobago
Z or Zan = Zanzibar

BT382 1941 to 1972. This contains the CRS 10 Forms, or Docket Books. Everybody who went to sea during this timeframe will have had a Docket Book. The series is ordered alphabetically.
Abbreviations were used on these forms; some common abbreviations used were as follows:

MRNP; Merchant Navy Reserve Pool
AB; Able Bodied Seaman
EDH; Efficient Deck Hand
VG; Very Good
DR; Declined to Report
F; Foreign
H; Home

BT390 1939 to 1946. Merchant Seamen’s Service on Royal Navy Ships. This series includes Seamen’s Pouches of those serving on the Royal Navy vessels. It is alphabetised by Surname.

BT391 1944 to 1945. Merchant Seamen’s Pouches. This series detail the record of those Merchant Seamen who were engaged in the liberation of Europe (06 June 1944 to 08 May 1945). Alphabetised by Surname.

BT395 1946 to 2002. Database of World War II Medals issued to Merchant Seamen. This database can be searched via the National Archives website here. The search page also gives more information about the types of Medals, who was entitled to apply for the Medals and advise on how to interpret the results of the search.

T335 1939 to 1947. Second World Ward Merchant Navy Gallantry Awards. These are searchable via the National Archives here by Name of Individual or Name of the Ship. Details about why the award was given are also recorded. This may relate to actions dating from months or years earlier.

Podcast by Janet regarding Merchant Seamen Operational Records can be heard here

So Where Next?

I'm going to go back to Documents Online and see again if I can find any record of Arthur PARRY who was born in 1898 in Mold. According to family sources he served in the Merchant Navy during the war; I'm assuming that they mean the Second World War. There are many sources I didn't realise existed.