How to look for Births, marriages or deaths at sea or abroad
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
This is a brief guide to researching records of births, marriages and deaths at sea (on British registered ships) or abroad. These records were maintained by the General Register Office from the mid-19th century onwards, although their records and indexes are incomplete. Other records of British nationals overseas are held in many different places, so your search may be challenging.
1. What do I need to know before I start?
2. What records can I see online?
3. What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
4. What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
5. What other resources will help me find information?
6. Did you know?
There was no obligation to keep records of births, marriages or deaths at sea before the mid-19th century.
Any record made of a birth or death at sea from 1837 onwards was sent directly to the General Register Office and recorded in the Marine Register.
Statutory registration of marriages of English and Welsh people in other countries began in 1849. Marriages were registered in the relevant country before notification was sent to the General Register Office, so local records of marriages may exist in some countries.
No merchant ship has ever been approved for marriages, although from 1854 any which took place had to be reported in the ship’s log. Any marriage which took place on board a merchant vessel was not legally valid.
Details of births, marriages and deaths┬áof Scottish and Irish┬ápeople in another country will be in the relevant Irish or Scottish General Register Office.