Archiver > MARINERS > 2000-04 > 0954625624

From: Debbie Beavis <>
Subject: [Mar] Master Mariners in British Records
Date: Sat, 01 Apr 2000 22:47:04 +0100


Debbie Beavis

The filmed volumes of Lloyd's Captains' Registers found in large archives
worldwide are frequently cited as the main, if not the only source, for
tracing the career of a Master Mariner. This is unfortunate as they are
just one of the sources available and they do have limitations. The purpose
of this posting is not to explain the reasons for and methods of compiling
information at each source, which for most people is irrelevant. Rather it
is to list the main sources available for anyone wishing to trace Master
Mariners. It is not an exhaustive list. Where there is overlap you should
check all sources. Remember also that most Masters and Mates will have seen
service as ordinary seamen or apprentices before gaining their certificate
and the various Indexes and Registers of Seamen and Seamen's Tickets should
be also be searched together with Registers of Apprentices. Certain sources
replicate information found in others, but as in any research, you are wise
to check all possible sources.

Before 1845 Masters and other Officers were not separately registered. Use
the Indexes and Registers of Seamen and Seamen's Tickets. (See Guide to 19C
Merchant Seamen)

In 1845, a system of voluntary examinations for masters and mates of
foreign trade vessels was introduced by the Board of Trade. The Mercantile
Marine Act 1850 required examinations to be compulsory, and new masters or
mates passing the examination were granted Certificates of Competency.
Masters and Mates who had already been serving in that capacity on foreign
going vessels before 1 January 1851 were granted Certificates of Service.
In 1854 the requirement for certification was applied to masters and mates
of home trade vessels also.


1845 -1854 Masters and Mates of all craft; Alphabetical Register of
Masters, BT115 (extracted from records in BT114, see Guide to 19C Merchant

1845 - 1850 Men passing voluntary examinations for Masters; Certificates of
Competency & Service, Miscellaneous; BT143

1845 - 1921 Series of six RGSS registers, comprising several volumes.
(BT122-128) Each register differs in the masters whose details are
included, depending on the category of certificate and the period covered.
Indexed from 1845-1894; Index to Registers of Certificates of Competency
and Service, Masters and Mates, Home & Foreign Trade; BT127

1880 - 1921 Fishing Officers - two registers each in several volumes
(BT129-130) indexed 1880-1917; BT138

1910 - 1930 Index To Certificates of Competency, Masters, Mates, Engineers
and Fishing Officers, Home and Foreign Trade; BT352

1913 - 1935 Registers of Examinations for Certificates of Masters, Mates
and Engineers, Returns of Passings and Failures; BT318

1917 - 1968 Registers of Masters and Mates Certificates, Passings and
Renewal; BT317


1851 - 1947 Series of Registers each in several volumes predominantly only
listing men employed in the foreign trade. The earliest date available is
1869 which has been printed and published on microfiche. This is readily
available for purchase. Although this contains retrospective details to
1851, it officially contains the details only of those Masters in service
in 1869 though there are isolated entries where the man is known to have
died, and the information had not yet been transmitted.

Note that these registers can contain a wealth of information about
individual voyages and also some biographical information about each
man. Original Lloyd's Captains' Registers are at the Guildhall Library,
Manuscripts Department, Aldermanbury, London EC2P 2EJ.

There is a description of Lloyd's Captains' Registers
at's which explains
fully the information they do or do not contain, and why, sometimes, an
expected entry does not appear.

The Guildhall Library staff will undertake only limited research in
response to written enquiries only and expect you to be able to give them
the name and date of service at least before they will agree to do a
search they do not offer a full research service but are by and large
helpful within the limits of their available time. Note that some of the
registers may not be copied at all due to their fragile condition, and that
in any case, a black and white photocopies are inadequate as the registers
have colour coded entries.

Most of the registers have been filmed, and should be available at large
archives worldwide which have a maritime section. You should be aware
however that some of them have been very badly filmed and can be virtually
illegible- this is not the fault of the originals which are perfectly clear.


Lloyd's Register of Shipping and Mercantile Navy List both contain lists of
those men who passed the voluntary examination, and the latter includes
lists of all those granted certificates for some periods.


Once the various registers and indexes of Masters and Mates have been
searched, the next step is to obtain a copy of the man's Application for a
certificate. Having passed the examination for a certificate of competency,
a man had to make written application for the granting of the certificate.
The information was entered in registers and the resultant information is
of great value to the researcher.

Applications for certificates (awarded before 1900) are held at the
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF. For these, you will
need to provide the certificate number. Not all applications have survived.
They should include all voyages undertaken over at least the four years
prior to the award of the certificate, along with useful biographical
information supplied by the applicant. The NMM makes a charge for
production of these certificates and has a long waiting period. Their web
site is at but note that they do not answer email
enquiries! They can be contacted by post at the The National Maritime
Museum, Romney Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NF

Later applications are held by the RGSS, Cheviot Close, Parc Ty Glas,
Llanishen, Cardiff CF4 5JA.

RGSS records, held in classes with prefix BT are held at the Public Record
Office, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Surrey, England. The
Public Record Office has an ongoing programme of filming documents for
conservation purposes, and once filmed the records may become available
through maritime archives, or LDS Family History Centres. You would be
well advised to check whether the documents have become available locally
before making a long journey or employing someone to undertake the
research. Some records are still in the process of being transferred to the
PRO and again you should contact them to check access before travelling.
The PRO will not conduct a search on your behalf but will send out a list
of researchers prepared to undertake such work. They have recently updated
the on-line help leaflets available also via their web site. Their
catalogue is now on-line and the correct references of the records you need
may be ascertained from that.

Note that PRO references are not LDS references! You will need to identify
the correct LDS film reference for ordering purposes by using their own
catalogue. Their catalogue is now also available online. A short cut to
finding this section of the catalogue is:

Go to the custom search page at
Click on Family History Library Catalog
Click on All Searches
Click on Author Search
In the Author Box, enter exactly as between quotes below
"Great Britain. Board of Trade. Mercantile Marine Department"
The PRO records available are:
BT 98, 112 to 116, 119, 120, 159, 160

Other published records - Lloyds Register of Shipping and Mercantile Navy
List are readily available at many large libraries and maritime institutions.

It is always a good idea to approach the Local Studies section of the
Library or local Maritime Museum in the port from where you think your
mariner was sailing. It is also wise to join the Family History Society for
the area too. These may hold indexes of ships and/or seamen, transcription
of census records and other miscellaneous records. They may well have
staff or members who have a special interest in your subject.

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