MN Personnel Records
Unfortunately, the Merchant Navy Association does not hold records of seafarers. The name Merchant Navy is simply a generic title covering a large number of employers (shipping companies) and a huge number of personnel. Unlike the armed services, records are widely dispersed and some have, sadly, disappeared.
All UK merchant seafarers will, almost certainly, have had a Discharge Book or a Continuous Certificate of Discharge. Both are records of all the ships they served on and are blue linen bound books, a larger than a UK Passport.
|Continuous Certificate of Discharge prior to 1940||Discharge Book post 1940|
As they were important to all of us, most seafarers kept these, even after leaving the sea and one, or more, of those maybe among their personal effects. That book will have the seafarer’s details, including their date and place of birth, rank or rating and the names ships they served on - but not where they sailed at any particular time. That said, there is a lot of interesting information contained in those books and these days details of most of the ships can be found on the Web.
Whichever government department (Department of Transport, Ministry of Transport or Board of Trade) was responsible for the Merchant Navy records, at the time, and took responsibility for issuing these documents and for those issued between 1913 and 1972, copies were archived. Many, but not all, are now held by the Public Records Office in Kew, West London. Those between 1940 to 1972 are largely complete and held in “Seamen’s Pouches”, which is especially useful for the period of World War II. Unfortunately, duplicate records were discontinued after 1972, making it almost impossible to find any service information.
Public Record Office (PRO)
In order to find records in the PRO, it is essential to know the seafarers (ideally full) name and date, or approximate date, of birth – particularly for more common surnames. It is also helpful if their Discharge Book or Certificate of Continuous Service in also known. More information can be found on: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documents/records/ifa-merchant-navy-seamen-and-officers-1913-1972.pdf
Visitors to the PRO require a Reader’s Ticket and details of obtaining this can be found on; https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/about/visit-us/researching-here/do-i-need-a-readers-ticket/
Family History Websites
For those who are subscribing to the Ancestry UK or Find My Past, these also hold a lot of seafarers’ records.
Details of Specific Voyages
If you are looking for records from World War II, once you know the names of the ships (from the Discharge Book) that the seafarer served aboard, a research organisation Convoy Web; http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/ has extensive records of the various voyages and maybe able to help at a small charge. This can be helpful when looking for eligibility for any campaign medals – see below.
Merchant seafarers who served in the Merchant Navy during warlike conflicts are entitled to these.Examples are the Atlantic Star, Pacific Star, Artic Convoy Star, Africa Star and Falklands Islands medals.Unfortunately, this is not straightforward as it is necessary to provide evidence that the seafarer was on a vessel at a time when it was in an ocean or campaign recognised by a medal. More information can be found on; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/merchant-navy-medal-application-form
We, The Merchant Navy Association, hold, a Compendium of 20th Century Merchant Navy & Fishing Fleet Wartime Casualties and again we can provide copies of these and where available, survivors reports, for a small fee.
Royal Fleet Auxiliary
RFA personnel are merchant seafarers employed by MOD (Navy) entirely to support the UK ArmedForces. All those with RFA service are considered as HM Armed Forces Veterans in accordance with existing arrangements and as such continue to apply to the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency for the HM Armed Forces Veterans Badge. (For further information on Veterans, see the Veterans Medals (https://www.mna.org.uk/index.php/en/medals/veterans) page on our website.