I have recently returned from the 8thUnlock the Past Baltic Cruise where I was able to listen to many excellent presentations.
One I was particularly looking forward to was Caroline Gurney speaking on ‘Tracing Merchant Seamen’. Caroline has a lot of experience with tracing seamen. A stellar example of this is the work she has done since 2012 on the Cutty Sark, a clipper with an amazing history.
Caroline took us through the range of records that were collected as part of a seaman’s career and explained some of the dispersal of those documents. Caroline has a research toolbox of links for people researching seamen on her website (as well as many other links for other occupations).
Many of us have merchant seamen among our families and they can be difficult to trace, especially as in the merchant service the seamen sign on one voyage at a time.This means that there can be documentation, but exactly where that documentation is and if it survived, well that is the question.
The UK National Archives have some fact sheets as does the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. The fact that many of the crew lists have been dispersed to Newfoundland contributes to the difficulties. There are many people and organisations working to make it easier including the Crew List Index Project CLIP
Two excellent books are:
My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman by Christopher and Michael Watts (2nd ed) (London: Society of Genealogists Enterprises, 2011)
Tracing Your Merchant Navy Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Wills (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword, 2012)
The dispersal of records has made it difficult but not impossible.
|Light Brigade (Image from QSA)
There are also the records at this end that need to be checked.
Remember the seamen index on the Queensland State Archives website 1882 – 1919:
“This series consists of registers of seamen with details of employment including current number/number, date of entry of particulars/date of occurrence, name of ship and official number, name, age, capacity, whether engaged, discharged etc., home address (or at least country of origin), and wages.”
Many families also have the story of “he jumped ship” and some of these may have a kernel of truth, especially around the times of the gold rushes. There are lists of deserter seamen, more often from Royal naval ships, and these can be found in the Police Gazettes and sometimes in the newspapers.
|NSW Police Gazette 1870
It is important to check the Police Gazettes for each of the colonies and New Zealand. Also check the papers on Trove and the New Zealand site Papers Past.
The pay sites are also digitising various records so should be checked regularly. Remember as part of your membership you have access to the various pay sites at the GSQ Resource centre. Just another benefit of your membership.