Find details of those on board this ship’s last voyage before she became the HMS the Royal Navy’s first balloon ship, on 11 March 1915
The name of the seaman, often given as first initials and surname only and written by the man himself. The age and place of birth of the seamen show how truly global crews on merchant vessels were.
It was then that The National Archives entered into discussions with the National Maritime Museum about a joint project. The Merchant Navy Crew Lists and Agreements were split up and housed in over 50 different archives (see page 62) but by happy coincidence the crew lists for 1915 sat just 12 miles (as the crow flies) away from each other. Not so happily, we soon realised that there were 774 boxes, some with as many as 50 crew lists to a box. We were going to need help if we were This is really important as it allows you to keep tracing your seaman’s career backwards until the crew list states es ‘first ship’. The ‘capacity’ column shows how he was employed on the ship. This is often abbreviated but can be deciphered using nationalarchives.gov. uk/records/research- guides/merchantseamen- RGSS-register-abbreviations.htm. This is not given on all types of crew list but opens up other avenues for research as you can use it for the census, electoral rolls etc. to make the merchant navy part of our centenary commemorations! Work began to photograph the respective collections, upload them onto a website and recruit volunteers to work from home. Luckily, there are people who are very generous with their time and over the course of the next few years we saw over 400 volunteers painstakingly transcribing scrawled signatures from the lists and putting them onto a database. This shows where, when and why he was discharged from the ship. Many of the lists for 1915 show ‘dead’ here, highlighting the danger of their work.
The result of this collaboration and volunteer input is a database, launched on 30 July 2015, of hundreds of thousands of names, which are now all searchable without the need to know the name of a ship. The easiest way to view the records is to go to The National Archives’ ‘Explore First World War 100’ webpage ( nationalarchives.gov.uk/ first-world-war) and click on the ‘Search Merchant Navy 1915 crew lists’ link. The National Maritime Museum also has a designated page for the project at 1915crewlists. rmg.co.uk.
This is a new and significant resource for those tracing merchant navy ancestors in the First World War and it would not have been possible without the help of a volunteer army who worked for several years to identify these previously anonymous heroes. Janet Dempsey is a Records Specialist at The National Archives, concentrating on maritime and transport records
Role on board
End of service