52 Ancestors: Week 16 – Merchant Marine Records on Family Search


This week\’s 52 Ancestor\’s prompt is \”Out of Place\”. If you have maritime ancestors, then you know they can turn up in any location. A good record set covering Canadian ports is the collection Canada, Merchant Marine Agreements and Accounts of Crews, 1890-1920 on Family Search.

This collection is a browse only collection. This means that it is not indexed, so if you use the regular search engine, you will not get hits from here. According to the Wiki of the collection, it covers mainly ports in British Columbia, and mostly Victoria. However, you can find records from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and a few ports outside Canada.

Agreements and Crew Lists can give you valuable clues of your ancestor. Among the information you can find in the agreements are:

  • Year and place of birth
  • Date of sailing and route
  • Their position on the crew
  • Previous ship they sailed on
  • Death information
  • Pay
It helps to know the ship they sailed on when looking at the collection. However, if you don\’t it just means more time spent browsing. Each microfilm holds the index and images for 5-7 boxes of records. It is set up that first there will be an index to each ship\’s records in a particular box. The images proceeding that are the crew lists and agreements relating to that index. They seem to go into chronological order. Then there will be the index for the next box, and then the images relating to that index. Here is the index for box 1 on microfilm 1:
Because there are multiple boxes on each microfilm, you will have to to do some jumping around between images to find what you need. If a particular index doesn\’t have what you want, I found a fairly quick way to find the next index. At the bottom of each image, it states what box and file number an image belongs to:
By jumping ahead by 50 images or so at a time, I was able to find where the next box\’s images were, and then go back page by page to find the index. I found that each box runs just over 400 images or so. 
Once you find a crew list you want to look at, the first page will be the over all particulars of the ship. 
The next few pages are crew registers:
What is really neat is that the crew had to sign, so you can also obtain a copy of your ancestor\’s handwriting. Look at this one where you can actually get street addresses:
After the crew particulars, I also found some telegrams and correspondence linked with some of the ships. My maritime ancestor Dugald McArthur was a ship\’s cook and steward on Scottish vessels. His period of time sailing was before this collection starts, so I knew that there wouldn\’t be a chance of finding him in here at all. But it\’s quite an interesting read none the less. If your ancestor was connected to a particular ship for a long time, you\’re in luck. While scanning the indexes, I saw certain ships mentioned repeatedly, especially if Victoria, BC was their home port. It would be quite possible to trace decades of sailing for a particular vessel.
If you are looking for the originals of these images, they are in the custody of the Royal BC Museum and Archives in Victoria, British Columbia.

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