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Seamen's Records at the National Archive, Kew.

Merchant Seman's Records at the National Archive, Kew

    Many who read this site, will be aware that I often obtain copies of  MN Service Records from the National Archive, in particular from sections BT372, where all the loose forms and documents  concerning their time at sea, are kept,  and also in section BT382, where there are duplicate entries from their Discharge Books, listing all the ships on which they sailed.

    On the Friday 25th April I was  perturbed to receive a courtesy phone call from the head of the Copying Dept. at Kew, telling me that, as from that day, until a date in early May, all access to files in those two categories has been blocked, and the jobs already with them, either as Estimates, or as Orders have been placed 'on hold'.  This is a result of a threat of identity theft, where a criminal can obtain the identity of another person, using information which is already in the public domain.

    A News Release from the National Archives on 7th Sept '11, will be of interest to all those who, like me, are actively engaged in searching for old Merchant Navy records.  You can access it by clicking on THIS LINK   

    Update of 4th Sept  '08

        I have now established that, whereas The National Archives previously charged 45p for a black and white photocopy of one side of every document found, printed on a sheet of A3 paper, plus their P & P charge for the whole order, they now do a colour scan of as many documents as can be fitted under an A3 scanner, with white spaces showing  where one would have previously found finger prints on a Seaman's ID Card, and National Insurance No. on any document.  These are charged at 10 per file No, no matter how many or how few items there are. If there are more items found than be fitted under one scan, the same price will be applied for further scans. plus their P & P charge.  As it is my custom to always offer them two alternative File No's for BT382 trip records (but only expect them to be found in one of them, while the other is returned as 'can't find'), I am now receiving estimates for 10 for each of the two BT382 files, plus a further 10 for the BT372 Seaman's personal papers envelope.

     Kew tell me that the file in which they 'can't find' a record, the 10 will be returned to me on completing of the order. It isn't 'impossible' to get your records from Kew, but the new rules have made it extremely difficult and far more expensive

     If anyone visits Kew, and puts in a request to see their records, they are obliged to show you what is in your file, but only after they have followed the same scanning procedure.  As the copies are of no further use to them, they will give them to you F.O.C. but there will be a delay in them producing the copies to show you, but don't ask for too many as they might ask you to return at a later date, to view them.  

    If anyone is seeking any help in finding their records and would like to draw on my experience of obtaining several hundred such Records, please don't hesitate to contact me on via this link   Meanwhile carry on scrolling down this page, to see how you get on.   


First, read down this page before returning to this picture of the National Archive; then click on the picture to start your search....

Click on this link to go to the National Archive search engine

....which will take you  to their main Search Engine screen. 


    The easiest way to find a Seaman's file No. is to type a Discharge Book No. in the 'Word or phrase' line. This should be without a space between the letter R and the Serial No.. Then type 'BT372' in the 'Department No. or serial code'  bottom line. If that doesn't come up with anything, try it with a space between the R and the number, as the data-entry on this site is far from perfect, and there are many errors in it.    In the BT372 section, every Seaman for whom they hold a record (which aren't withheld by the 'Thirty Year Rule'), should have a pouch with his name, date and place of birth and Discharge Book No. on it. If you were to enter a d.o.b. in the 'Word or phrase' line, it must be in the format of dd/mm/yyyy.  You can also use a Surname and Initial as a target, leaving a space between the two.  In these pouches you never know what they will find. Mostly, it is duplicate 'mughot' photos, taken during the Seaman's time in the service. Sometimes it's his Seaman's Identity Card or maybe the pink CRS1 card, which was filled out in order to obtain his (or her) first Discharge Book. 

    My own entry on the Kew catalogue looks like this:-

BT 372/1207/3 More informationR510727 HURST R L 21/11/1931 BOGNOR REGIS

     What you won't find in the BT372 section, are duplicate entries of trips from his or her Discharge Book, these are filed under the section BT382 which are held in loose-leaf binders with Surnames the same or near to your own. You can explore these by typing in reference "BT382/xxx"    completed by any number up to about 2,500 in the 'go to reference' box in the top left hand corner of the page.  For example, 'BT382/500' would take you to.

 Piece details: BT 382/500 Downham A G to Downton R T .

 In a leaflet I have from the National Archives, referring to records in their section BT372/, they also have added this note.

 "Not all seamen had a pouch. 95,000 were destroyed in the mid 20th Century. The pouches may contain discharge books and identity cards, application forms and maybe some personal items, including photographs."

None of these records can be viewed online, but can be seen and copies obtained on a personal visit.  They will also find and copy them for you with an online payment. You can read about it at Ordering online from the National Archives Records are not normally released to the general public until 30 year after the last entry in a file; bear this in mind if you can't find yours.

I'm afraid that there have been many inputting errors in their data, with spelling mistakes and the inclusion of a space between the letter 'R' and the first figure of your Discharge Book No.; dates of birth have to be entered in the format of  01/01/1930. for the 1st January, 1930.  If you wade through their catalogue, you will find many 4, 5 and 7 digit Discharge Book Nos. which are obvious data input errors, which I brought  to the attention of the National Archives, (see the example below) to which I received the following reply.

Piece details for BT 372/126
Discharge A numbers R1674 - R1667850

"Dear Mr Hurst,

I have examined a few of the boxes and found that it is currently impossible to undertake any re-cataloguing of these records given the resources we have available at the moment. We do, however, keep a list of possible areas of the catalogue for improvement and I will add the series to this for future consideration.

 Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

 Yours sincerely,

Alex Green
e-Access Department
National Archives (PRO)
TW9 4DU "


Maritime History Archive, St. Johns. Newfoundland, Canada

A large number of Crew Agreement and Ship's Logs are now to be found in this Archive, particularly those after 1950 which have not yet been added to the database of this Archive.  A request can be made for a manual search for which a fee is payable.  For more information, visit their  Ordering Copies of Crew Agreements page.

You  might also  find this link helpful in your searches Crew List Index Project


Royal Navy Service Records are now online at Kew

The National Archive have now placed online, the Service Records of over 500,000 seamen who were enlisted between 1853 and 1923.  You can search their records for free, but you will have to pay them 3.50 to get a download of the records for any names for which you are able to get a result.  Further details can be found on  this page at Kew.  or go direct the their Search Page For those records, still retained by the Ministry of Defence,  please contact them direct. Details can be found on this Veteran's Agency page for RN Service Records.



    The latest set or records at the National Archives to be digitised and placed online are those of the Ship Movement Cards  of WW2

Click on the link for further details


There is a page of notes on the Website of the National Maritime Museum  for ships that were lost, and

Here are a few pages from the National Archive site to help you

If you would like to see a comprehensive index of the various areas in which various MN records are kept at the National Archive, click on this link to ask me for a download of a scan of their leaflet, which is in PDF format, for which you will need the Adobe Acrobat software to view.  The National Archive is within about 8 minutes walking distance from Kew Gardens train station on the District Line to Richmond. 

Look here,  For  information on WW2 Medals, issued to Merchant Seaman, and  here to carry out a search, using the name or number the name of a particular seaman.  It will cost you 3.50 for permission to download a particular Seaman's Medal Record Card.

Some links to file categories at Kew which are concerned with MN Records are shown below and others can be found by clicking on This Link  to a dedicated page.


Merchant NavyRecords, Research Guide, look under the letter 'M'

Merchant Seamen: Abbreviations Found in the RGSS Registers

Merchant Seamen: Interpreting the Voyages in the Registers of Seamen's Tickets and the Alphabetical Registers of Masters

Merchant Seamen: Interpreting Voyage Details in the Registers of Officer's Services

Merchant Seamen: Interpreting Voyage Details in the Registers of Seamen, Series II

Merchant Seamen: Medals and Honours

Merchant Seamen: Officers Service Records 1845-1965

Merchant Seamen: Records of the RGSS, A Guide to Research guides

Merchant Seamen: Registers of Service, 1835-1857

Merchant Seamen: Sea Service Records 1913-1972

Merchant Shipping: Crew Lists and Agreements After 1861

Merchant Shipping: Crew Lists and Agreements, 1747-1860

Merchant Shipping: Registration of Ships, 1786-1994

If any reader requires any help with find their Catalogue No., please contact me at

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