Find out about your family history at sea using resources available in the National Maritime Museum's Library and Archive.

Tracing people who served or travelled on ships can be a complex task and you may need to consult a range of different resources - our records can help you search:

  • members of the Merchant Navy and Royal Navy
  • vessels and voyages

Visit the Caird Library Search Collections Online 

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

  • Crew records

  • Officers' records

  • Shipowner records

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.

Passenger Lists Research Guide

Crew Lists of the British Merchant Navy 1915

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

Crew Lists Research Guide

Please note: to order a Crew List, Masters' Certificate, Engineer's Certificate, this will require a manual order placed on your behalf by staff. Please email

Merchant Navy - Useful books

  • Tracing your Merchant Navy Ancestors by Wills, Simon

  • My ancestor was a Merchant Seaman by Watts, Christopher and Michael

  • Records of Merchant Shipping and Seamen by Smith, Kelvin, Watts, Christopher and Michael

  • Merchant Sailing Ships (series) by MacGregor, David R. 

Tracing your family history: Royal Navy records

Royal Navy personnel records are kept at the National Archives, most of which must be consulted in person, include:

  • Centralised records of naval rating, post-1853: Few centralised records of naval ratings (i.e. 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

Please search the National Archives catalogue to determine which records are available digitally or if you need to make a visit to Kew, Richmond. 

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.

Search Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea

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.

Please see this helpful article which explains about the Lieutenant's Logs in the Caird Library.

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. (Print copies available in the library.)

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. (Print copies available in the library.)

Navy Lists (editions from 1814 to date): Records officers (retired and active) and ships, where ships were stationed, pay scales and uniform regulations. (Print copies available in the library.)

Royal Navy - Useful books

  • 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 

  • A guide to the Naval Records in the National Archives of the UK by Cock, Randolph

  • My Ancestor was in the Royal Navy by Waller, Ian H. 

Maritime Memorials

Search our memorial database containing records of over 5000 church, cemetery and public memorials to seafarers and victims of maritime disasters.

Search Maritime Memorials

Research guides

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.

Explore our 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.

Find out how use our collections for research

Useful resources elsewhere


The National Archives

Guildhall Library

Guildhall Library Manuscripts

General Register Office of Ireland

Lloyd's Register Foundation Heritage & Education Centre (HEC)

National Museums Liverpool - Archives Centre


Online Resources


Crew List Index Project

Family History Indexes


Lloyd's Captains Registers

The London Gazette

Mariners' mailing list

Maritime History Archive

The Ships' List: Marriages at Sea

Society of Australian Genealogists