Finding Official Numbers

To find the Agreements of a particular vessel and year, researchers have to locate a ship’s official number: the MHA documents are filed by this number. Watching the video on this site “Welcome to the Maritime History Archive” will explain why: the following explains how you find a number, and then how you can check for what documents have survived and which now constitute archival holdings.

In the Mercantile Navy Lists [See Glossary], find the name of the vessel alphabetically. There may be several vessels with the same name, but the official number is unique: it never changed for the lifetime of a vessel regardless of changes of name or purpose. Several vessels may have the same name, so it helps to have as much information about the vessel, including Port of Registry, Tonnage, and Ownership.

To search the Mercantile Navy List, one can locate physical copies for the years in which one is interested in by asking the MHA staff for research assistance. The Maritime History Archive holds bound volumes for the following years:

1868, 1875, 1876, 1878, 1880, 1882, 1891, 1892, 1896, 1899, 1904, 1907, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1925-1940, 1947, 1949, 1951, 1953, 1955, 1957-1965, 1968, 1973.

Microfilm and/or microfiche copies are available for the following years:

1857-1864, 1866-1908, 1910-1914, 1916-1920, 1922.

Researchers can also check their local libraries or archives for copies of the MNL near their relevant year.

It is becoming easier to search the Mercantile Navy Lists online. The Maritime History Archive and the Memorial University Digital Archive Initiative now offers the Mercantile Navy Lists and Maritime Directory online in their self-search collection.

The Crew List Index Project (CLIP) is also a useful resource for finding official numbers and other vessel information through their online finding aids.

Once an official number is determined, researcher can use the number to search the Maritime History Archive Index, which will show the years for which the MHA has documents, including the main type of document, and whether other archives have holdings for vessels and years. See the guide to the MHA codes and Agreements and Accounts for the different types of documents.  For example, if we search the MHA Index for the official number of the Brio (97966), the Index tells us the MHA has holds at least document for each of the years: 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894, 1897, 1899, 1900, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1906, 1908, 1909, and 1910.