. Is there a central repository where the death of a merchant seamen who died abroad would be recorded? My ancestor is rumored to have died in Peru, possibly between 1875 and 1890. (This question comes from the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Forum
. The merchant marine is a civilian auxiliary of the US Navy. Mariners transport cargo and passengers during peacetime; but during war, they may be called upon to deliver troops and supplies.
Until 1985, merchant mariners (also called merchant seamen) weren’t eligible for veteran’s benefits, even if they were killed participating in military action.
First, learn more about your ancestor’s service by requesting a search of Merchant Marine records from the National Personnel Records Center
(part of the National Archives and Records Administration
, or NARA). In the April 2006 Family Tree Magazine
, professional genealogist Emily Anne Croom advises readers to provide the mariner’s full name, birth date and approximate employment dates.
You also can find some merchant crew lists on microfilm at NARA
and at the Family History Library
, or FHL (run a keyword search of the FHL's online catalog
on merchant crew list
You can rent relevant film through a local Family History Center (See a directory of locations on FamilyTreeMagazine.com
.) Crew lists arranged by port, so it’ll be helpful if you know the ports your ancestor sailed into.
These records should tell you about your ancestor’s employment and give you an idea of whether he in fact died while serving as a mariner.
NARA also has seamen’s protection certificates
, identification issued to seamen to protect them from being impressed into service by the British.
As far as civilian deaths abroad, US consular officers have been charged with reporting to the Department of State deaths of US citizens in their districts. NARA has an online listing of its resources for overseas death reports
For deaths from 1870 to 1906, consult Registers of Consular Despatches. It comprises 14 volumes on rolls 19 through 32 of NARA microfilm M17, Registers of Correspondence of the Department of State, 1870-1906.
The FHL has copies of many films from this series, titled by place. To find them, run a keyword search of the online catalog
on registers of consular despatches