Notes on Family History Sources at the the Caird Library, National Maritime Museum – and a report on our visit there, 30th January
It is not surprising that an island nation with centuries of maritime tradition should produce seafarers in so many families. The Society’s visit to the Caird Library at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, demonstrated that with a “full house” of 18 Members and their guests; and so keen that they all arrived early! Then we were entertained in a very professional manner by Martin, an archivist and Gregory, a librarian, whose enthusiasm and knowledge of both the subject and the resources was impressive.
The Caird Library is a new building, purpose designed and well suited to both “chatty” researchers and the more serious professional. It is the largest reference library of its kind, holding over 2 million items from the 15th century to the present day including manuscripts, 100,000 books, journals, maps and drawings covering every aspect of maritime history including personal papers, business archives and dockyard records but with remarkably few “official” records, which are mostly available at Kew.
The staff are helpful and keen to promote the use of the library. They cite their main attraction is the breadth and depth of information available in one place at Greenwich compared to the fragmented records that are scattered around so many other record sources, including, even, the University of Newfoundland. A number of Research Guides have been published and the most relevant to genealogist’s are listed below, all of which are available on the Caird Library’s website.
Whilst a good starting point for genealogical research are crew lists, there are numerous supplementary sources such as Masters and Mates Certificates, the Mercantile Navy List, the Royal Navy Lists from 1814, or for an earlier period, the Commissioned Sea officers of the Navy and ships logbooks. Apart from being a source of names, the latter are also a source of entertainment, (much like so many parish registers!). For the family historian, in addition to the well-known Lloyds List and Lloyds Register, there are fascinating additional sources such as the WW2 record of “Movements of HM Ships and Submarines” or “Lloyds Service List of Ships Requisitioned by Government in War” to name but a few.
Clearly, it is only possible here to give a taster of the enormous resources available at Greenwich. Their online catalogues can be accessed at www.collections.rmg.co.uk and their Research Guides, including one specifically for Family History, can be accessed at www.rmg.co.uk/researchers/library. Google have digitised Lloyds Register of Shipping, and Ancestry have digitised and indexed the collection of Masters Certificates (with the usual words of caution about quality).
Finally, of course, a visit to the Caird Library has to include a tour of the magnificent historic buildings in Greenwich Park; but you will need a week for that!
Gregory Toth, one of our hosts, has kindly supplied the following:
The Caird Library The Caird Library is open Monday to Friday, 10.00–16.45 (until 19.45 on Thursday), and 10.00–13.00 and 14.00–16.45 on Saturday. Entry is via a free Reader’s Ticket which can be applied for online in advance of your first visit, or on the day. To register and to request items to view in the Library, please see Aeon and guidance on using Aeon. To help plan your visit to the Caird Library, our online catalogues can help you identify resources that you may wish to view. See the Library catalogue, the Archives catalogue and Collections Online. A guide to your first visit to the new Caird Library is available. Please note that although we hold lots of collections, maritime history research can be time-consuming so please allow plenty of time for your visit.
Non archive and library enquiries If your enquiry relates to a Museum 3D object, paintings, photographs, plans or images, please contact email@example.com for your message to be forwarded to the relevant Museum curator.
Research guides The Library has produced a range of research guides to help people carry out their own research on a wide range of topics. The guides provide information about the Museum’s collections and other sources for research into maritime history. All of our guides are available online from home. http://www.rmg.co.uk/researchers/library/research-guides/
The most useful might be the following research guides:
Research guide A3: Tracing family history from maritime records Remember that maritime records are not usually a good starting point for compiling a genealogy but they can add considerable detail about seafaring activities of an individual.
Research guide A6: Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum Information includes records of the Greenwich Hospital, the Royal Naval College and Dreadnought Seamen’s Hospital.
Research guide B1: The Royal Navy: Tracing people It is important to stress that the service and official records of the Royal Navy and most Admiralty records are deposited with The National Archives, Kew.
Research guide B7: The Royal Navy: Ship records The Archive and Library has many complementary resources which will assist in researching the history, service and crew of Royal Naval ships as our holdings are extremely rich in items on individual ships and actions.
Research guide C1: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Crew lists, agreements and official logs A 10% specimen group of crew agreements for years 1861–1995, taken at random (every tenth box of papers) together with those for famous vessels (with some exceptions, such as those for the Cutty Sark and Great Britain), is in The National Archives. The remaining 90% for 1861, 1862, and years ending in ‘5’, are held by the National Maritime Museum.
Research guide C2: The Merchant Navy: Tracing people: Master-mariners, mates and engineers All master-mariners operating between 1854–1927 would have been required to hold a certificate, of which many have survived and are now in the care of the National Maritime Museum. These have been digitalised and made available via Ancestry.
Research guide C5: The Merchant Navy: Sources for ship histories Early tax records from the 13th–19th centuries and ship registration records from the 18th century until 1994 are held at The National Archives, Kew and in other archives; but probably the best starting place is Lloyd’s Register. Mercantile Navy List is the Board of Trade official list of all British-registered vessels, which started in 1850. Most annual volumes exist from 1857–1976 and are in the National Maritime Museum library.
Research guide C8: The Merchant Navy: Wrecks, losses and casualties It can be frustrating for researchers that information on shipwrecks and losses is often incomplete, and spread across a broad range of official and non-official sources. However, this is a strong area of interest for many people, and in many cases, other researchers will have already identified the data available and compiled it into published texts. It is therefore wise to consult some of our volumes available in the reading room.
Research guide C9: The Merchant Navy: World War One and World War Two There is a wide range of material both in printed and manuscript form. The National Maritime Museum holds some key works that are likely to assist with most research problems.
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