Joint ef­fort

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

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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

Sailor’s name

Ba­sic de­tails

Pre­vi­ous ship

Home ad­dress

Role on board

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