First World War Lives at Sea

The National Maritime Museum and the National Archives are working in partnership to shed new light on the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy during the First World War.  

Since 2009 volunteers at both institutions have been working with staff transcribing and indexing the Merchant Navy crew lists from 1915 and the Royal Navy service records of naval personnel active during the war. Both projects will provide more information than ever before about the individuals involved and the role of both services during the First World War. 

The 1915 Crew List resource was completed and launched in June 2015. The project to transcribe and index Royal Navy service records started in early 2016, the aim being to complete by 2018. There will be regular uploads of data during the next two years. Both resources are available to search now:

Search the Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea website

Search the Merchant Navy Crew Lists 1915 website

Royal Navy First World War Lives At Sea

This unique free resource derived mainly from transcriptions of service records lets you search for information about Royal Navy officers and ratings who served during the First World War. You can also find out more about the crews on different ships and at different battles during the war.

Why is this project important?

This project will create the most significant online data resource for the study of the Royal Navy during the First World War. This unique resource also marks and commemorates the Royal Navy’s contribution to the First World War effort through the lives of those officers and ratings who served. Our hope is that it will allow and promote a wide and diverse variety of research into the composition and operations of the Royal Navy during the War.

This could be specifically in relation to individual officers and ratings through their personal and service histories, to wider studies, for instance, where men were recruited from, from which trades and to enable the creation of crew lists for ships and submarines for given dates. Such lists do not survive for the First World War and so for the first time researchers will be able to place officers and ratings in naval battles of the War and study topics such as mortality rates, invalidity and its causes.

In addition the information derived from the database can be used as a platform for accessing other Royal Navy records including ships’ logs (ADM 53), ships’ photographs (ADM 176) and wider naval First World War operational records in (ADM 1, ADM 116, ADM 137) all at TNA, and First World War logs and journals (JOD), ship plans (SP) and photographs (HP) all at NMM.

Search Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea

About the project

The National Archives (TNA), The National Maritime Museum (NMM) and the Crew List Index Project team (CLIP) building on their successful collaboration with the Merchant 1915 Crew List Index project have joined together again with the help of a team of e-volunteers from all over the world to create a free to search database resource relating to all the Royal Navy officers and ratings that served in the First World War based principally on service records held by TNA.

Would you like to help us with this project?

If you would like to volunteer to help us with this project by transcribing these service records please get in contact at crewlists@nationalarchives.gsi.gov.uk

Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy 1915

Find your Merchant Navy ancestors

You can search the Crew Lists 1915 website to find seafaring relatives and loved ones in our database of approximately 39,000 crew lists, which includes digitised images of the original crew list documents.

Search Crew Lists 1915

A unique family history resource

The crew lists are of immeasurable value to family historians, as one of the few sources of information about the contribution of our seafaring ancestors active in 1915. With over 750,000 individual names indexed, if you had an ancestor in the British merchant navy in 1915 there is a high chance a crew list for one or more voyages survives.

Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy 1915 is a partnership project between the National Maritime Museum and The National Archives. For the first time ever, all the surviving Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy from the year 1915 have been transcribed and the information made available to search online for free.

As there are no records for individual merchant seamen from this period, these crew lists are also of national significance in highlighting the vital contribution made by the Merchant Navy during the First World War.

What are crew lists?

Crew lists (or ‘Agreements’) formed a contract between a seaman and his employer. Administered by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, each British-registered merchant vessel carried an agreement listing all the crew, their rank/rating, address, rate of pay and dates of joining and leaving.

Vessels ranged from 2-person fishing coasters to passenger liners with crews of up to 400. Women often featured as stewardesses, nurses and matrons. British merchant vessels included crew members from all over the world, and on some vessels British nationals were in a minority.

The Caird Library and Archive at the National Maritime Museum holds over a quarter of a million physical Crew List records available for the public to explore. It is free to visit but you need to register first.

Find out more and register to visit the Caird Library and Archive

About the Crew Lists 1915 project

Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy – 1915 is a partnership project of the National Maritime Museum and The National Archives. An international team of over 400 volunteers spent three years transcribing the crew list records. We believe that this project will contribute something valuable to our memory and understanding of the First World War. 

Further resources

Research guide C1: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Crew lists, agreements and official logs

Research guide B1: The Royal Navy: Tracing people