By Peter Finn January 2019
I was researching local history in the Southampton Archives in the Civic Centre when a piece of family history unrelated to Southampton or my search jumped out of the documents I was viewing.
“It was 2012 and I was looking for the Titanic crew members who had been residents of the Worthy villages (two from Headbourne Worthy and one from Abbots Worthy – two drowned and one survived). Whilst looking at the papers of the White Star Line I by chance came across the name of my father, Patrick Finn! So I asked the archivist for a related file with his service record, and there it was – an identity card and a photograph of my 17-year-old father that had never been seen by anyone in my family. Subsequently, he served in the Royal Navy throughout World War Two, but died in the final year.
“I was pleased to find the names of the Titanic crew members, but even more elated to discover the totally unexpected information about my father. This has triggered a new-found and absorbing interest in my family history, as well as requests for copies of the record from my adult children.”
The Central Index of Merchant Seamen 1918-1941 held at Southampton Archives takes the form of 4 series of index cards. The record for Patrick Finn shown here comes from the CR10 Series, which covers the period 1918-1921 and usually includes a small photograph of the seaman. Peter Finn has made many contributions to the history of the Worthy villages, which are in the Itchen valley, upstream of Winchester. He was formerly chairman of the Worthys Local History Group and edits its periodical, Worthy History. He was co-editor with Pamela Johnston of A History of the Worthy Villages, published in 1999, with contributions from several members of the group.
The card referred to is from the Central Index Register of Merchant Seamen, a collection of over a million and a quarter merchant navy service record cards. It has details of people serving on board British registered ships between 1918 and 1941 and is held at Southampton Archives please click here
The register tells us the name, date and place of birth of a seafarer. It gives their rating, discharge number and details of any certificates they hold (for example, master or mates certificates).
Sometimes it has a physical description of the mariner, even down to details of their tattoos. One part of the register, which covers 1918 to 1921, includes a passport-style photograph of the seafarer.
It also has details of a mariner’s dates of engagement or discharge on board particular vessels.
As well as British seafarers, the register also has service details of foreign merchant seamen serving on board British registered ships.