Find out about your family history at sea using resources available in the National Maritime Museum's Library and Archive.
- members of the Merchant Navy and Royal Navy
- vessels and voyages
Tracing your family history: Merchant Navy records
The Caird Library and Archive holds many useful resources for tracing people who were involved in the Merchant Navy. The materials we hold include:
Births, deaths and marriages at sea
Please note that systematic records about ships and people who served in the Merchant Navy before 1860 are rare. Lists of passengers pre-1890 are also limited and ceased to be kept centrally in 1960. Many lists are also held overseas. To succeed in your search, you will need to consult a lot of different records.
Tracing your family history: Royal Navy records
Royal Navy personnel records are kept at the National Archives, some of which are available online. Resources available to start your research include:
Centralised records of naval rating, post-1853: Few centralised records of naval ratings (ie. those who were not commissioned officers or warrant officers) were kept before 1853
Muster roll and crew lists pre-1853: Notes where each seaman was before and after his service on a Royal Navy ship. You can track most people backwards and forwards from this point. You will need to know the name of a seaman's ship in order to look him up
Records of Greenwich Seamen's Hospital and other hospitals: Includes pensions and grants received, plus medals awarded up to the end of the 19th century
Records of commissioned officers, warrant officers, tradesmen: Records begin in the 18th century, however no systematic service records for individual officers were attempted before 1840
Resources available in the Caird Library and Archive
The Caird Library and Archive at the National Maritime Museum can advise on the location of Royal Navy records and help you find out more about the vessels on which seamen served.
We also hold many printed resources to assist your research, such as the Navy List and Naval Biographies. Our Maritime records can add considerable detail about the seafaring activities of an individual, adding depth to your understanding of their life experience.
Lieutenant's logs: Kept by the lieutenants of a ship in commission, includes records of weather, navigation and routine of the ship, plus incidents that occurred during the commission.
Steel's Navy List (editions from 1787-1816): Lists officers, ships and establishments including officers of Sea Fencibles before 1810. Miscellaneous intelligence reports, vessels captured and prize money awards.
Lean's Navy List (editions from 1878-1916): Information on officers alphabetically and by seniority. Provides date of birth information for officers and short biographies of their service and decorations. Gives lists of ships and establishments with serving officers.
Navy Lists (editions from 1814 to date): Records officers (retired and active) and ships, where ships were stationed, pay scales and uniform regulations.
Biographia Navalis, by Charnock, J.
Royal Naval Biography, by Marshall, J.
A Naval Biographical Dictionary, by O'Byrne, W. R.
Naval Records for Genealogists, by Rodger, N. A. M.
The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy 1660-1815, by Syrett, David
These guides can help you get started on your research at the Caird Library and Archive at the National Maritime Museum. They will assist you in using maritime records to discover more about your ancestors, family history or famous people.
Tracing a passenger
Other useful research guides
Using our collections for research
The Caird Library and Archive is the most extensive resource in the world for researching maritime history.
Located at the National Maritime Museum in London, it holds manuscripts, books, periodicals, letters, diaries and journals. There are around 6,000 books and printed resources available to study on open access shelves. Find out more about how you can use our collections for research.