You can now freely search births, marriages and deaths onboard ships, with the release of BT 158, 159 and 160 on BMDRegisters.co.uk. You can choose to view the original documents either using this pay per view site or as part of a Premium subscription to TheGenealogist.co.uk.
The websites give detailed information which has been compiled from ships’ official logs of births, deaths and marriages of passengers at sea by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen (RGSS) and its predecessor. The records range from 1854 to 1908 and include over 150,000 individuals.
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Included are 288 death records for the ‘Royal Charter’, which was traveling back from Australia in October 1859, when it became caught in a storm just miles from home off the coast of Anglesey. The ship was carrying a great number of prospectors who had gone to Australia to find their fortune, so when the ship sank on October 26th it took over 67,000 ounces of gold with it. Many inhabitants of nearby coast lines became rich overnight as the gold began to wash up on the shores.
There are also examples of births and marriages within these records, with BT 160 entirely dedicated to births onboard ships. As the majority of the ships included were passenger ships, which would travel across the world from America, to the UK and Australia, people met and fell in love and often married onboard. Babies which were born whilst at sea can often be seen to be named after the ship, such as the daughter of welsh miner William Brown, born on December 2nd 1883 onboard the ‘Waroonga’, who then decided to name his baby Elizabeth Waroonga Brown.
Also included within these records are other disasters at sea such as the White Star Line’s passenger ship SS Atlantic, which struck rocks off the coast of Nova Scotia on 1 April 1873. 562 people died when the ship sank, making it the biggest marine disaster of the Nineteenth Century and 508 of these are recorded within BT 158 and BT 159.
From 1874, the RGSS was required to report births and deaths at sea, aboard all ships registered in Britain or its colonies and on foreign-registered ships carrying passengers to or from the UK, to the Registrars General of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland (the General Register Offices). The name of this series is misleading as it includes events related to persons of any nationality, not just British nationals. It should also cover events on foreign-registered passenger ships travelling to or from a UK port, but there is little evidence of this in the registers themselves.
There are separate volumes for England, Scotland and Ireland corresponding to the GRO to whom the details were to be reported. The registers for Scotland and Ireland contain details where the deceased was a ‘Scotch or Irish subject of Her Majesty’. The registers for England include all events not reported to the GROs for Scotland and Ireland and thus contain entries for foreign nationals as well as those for English and Welsh subjects.