Personnel records available to the public are now held by The National Archives (TNA), formerly known as the Public Record Office, the website has helpful research guides. The following books may also prove useful:

  • Records of Merchant Shipping and Seamen by Kelvin Smith, Christopher T and Michael J Watts (Richmond, Surrey; PRO, 1998)
  • 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)
  • A Guide to the Naval Records in The National Archives of the UK by Randolph Cock and NAM Rodger (London: Institute of Historical Research, 2006)

In general, seamen’s records for the period 1913-1972 can be found at TNA (unfortunately, most records for the First World War period do not appear to have survived).  TNA has detailed research guides on the Fourth and Fifth Registers of Seamen and other records. Some of these records are also available on the subscription website

Although the Merchant Navy was a civilian service, during the periods of ‘hostilities’ some mariners served in uniform with the Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Reserve Trawler Section, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Royal Fleet Auxiliaries.  All First World War records for these formations have been transferred to TNA.  Records of Royal Naval Reserve ratings in service between 1914 - 1955 are available online at

First World War Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve records can also be accessed online.

In general Second World War Royal Naval Reserve officers’ records and post 1950 records are held by CN Pers (Commodore Naval Personnel). Genealogical enquiries should be made in writing and search fees are £30.

Another important archive open to the public is the Lloyd’s Marine Collection at the Guildhall Library which holds the Captains’ Registers for the period up to 1948, voyage record cards 1927 to 1975 and runs of the Lloyd’s Registers, Lloyd’s Lists and Mercantile Navy Lists. Some copies of the latter have been digitized and put online by the Maritime History Archive in Canada. The Guildhall Library does not hold crew lists. Some are at TNA, while a few are held by the National Maritime Museum.  However the majority are held by the Maritime History Archive. A microfiche index to their holdings is kept by TNA.