My grandfather Michael Reid told us that he had been on ships carrying saltpetre from South America and that he had been based in Hamburg for a period. I should like to find the names of ships he sailed on.

He left Australia in 1906 and he returned circa 1913.

My initial stimulus for interest was my grandfather's stories of his time on sailing ships. Recently I rediscovered his school exercise book from January 1906, and since that stops early in 1906 I am left with his own words that he ran away in winter, I presume in that year.

He proceeded via Sydney to Newcastle where he was shanghaied onto a ship that took him to South America. His stories are manifold and I have no way knowing their chronological order but at some stage he told me he was on German ships (which he said were preferable to the British because they fed you better) rounding the horn and carrying saltpetre to Germany "for Kaiser Bill". He spoke of having a relationship with a girl in Hamburg.

He was in The British Merchant Navy but somewhere between 1911 and 1913 he returned to Australia, stowing away between New Zealand and Sydney on the last leg. I might add that he was on the "Titanic " for its trials in the Irish sea but he refused to sail on it because of the fires in the coal bunkers. I am very grateful to exist because of his decision. He would have perished along with other stokers.

I thought that finding lists of German mariners on ships doing the South American run in those years might help me to pinpoint some of his adventures in those years.

  • 1
    Hi, Anne, welcome to G&FH.SE! Could you add to your question a brief list of the source material you already have? How have you narrowed the time period down to those service dates? The first step I like to take in solving any problem is to review the materials already collected, in case subtle clues have been overlooked.
    – Jan Murphy
    Sep 25, 2015 at 3:09
  • 1
    Anne -- we encourage all new members to take the tour and read the material in the help center to get an idea of how the site works. Our format is different from discussion forums -- we use distinct questions and answers here. You can edit your question by using the edit link underneath. I've taken the material you've posted as an answer and added it to your initial question. Don't be alarmed if others also edit your question to improve the formatting and make it more readable.
    – Jan Murphy
    Sep 26, 2015 at 15:31

3 Answers 3


You could try searching the 1915 crewlists at the National Maritime Museum to see if your grandfather appears on any of the lists. They have recently been indexed so you can search by name (see link below). The crewlists only relate to British owned ships, however, a sailor was supposed to give the name of his last ship so you might get lucky and find the name of the German vessel that way. Happy hunting!


  • Hi, Tracey -- welcome to G&FH.SE!
    – Jan Murphy
    Sep 29, 2015 at 21:03

Finding ship logs

This reference guide won't give you a direct answer to your question, but it may be helpful in searching for other resources.

The US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has a guide about the microfilm publication M2089, Selected German Documents from the Records of the Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, 1897–1917.

On the four rolls of this microfilm publication, M2089, are reproduced the contents of 34 logbooks and other bound volumes of original German Navy and merchant marine records located among the Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, 1897–1917, Record Group (RG) 45. The materials reprodued here constitute a part of those original German documents approved for restitution to the Bundesarchiv following the latter’s request and subsequent negotiations with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). For these German documents, microfilm publication M2089 represents the record copy retained by NARA.

The guide describes logbooks and other records from German ships, many from the age of steam. I don't expect you to find your grandfather mentioned by name in any of these materials. But this guide describes the nature of the material held by the archives, including the names of the different kinds of logbooks in German. You could use this background information for keyword searching, to look for other German ships' logs in other archives.

Finding Ship information

Another source of keywords for searches is Wikipedia's category page: Merchant Ships of Germany, which lists some of Wikipedia's articles on the individual ships, and other background articles. If you read German, check de.Wikipedia.org, too.

Contemporary reference books, such as Herbert B. Mason's Encyclopaedia of Ships and Shipping (1908) can be found on Google Books and other online libraries, and are good for finding background information.

Finding information about the port of Hamburg

The website The Maritime Heritage Project, focuses on the maritime history of San Francisco, but check their Research Sites page for links to International Maritime Museums and World Seaports for Germany. Scroll down the Germany page to find the section on the history of Hamburg as a seaport.

Possible record sources for Merchant seamen

You may have difficulty finding records for your grandfather because of the way the records were created and collected.

At Find My Past (subscription required), the description for the database Merchant Navy Seamen says:

There are more than 2.6 million Merchant Navy Seamen records, which we are publishing in partnership with The National Archives. The Merchant Navy Seamen records comprise two main sections:

  • Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1857: records of individual seamen that the central government created to monitor a potential reserve of sailors for the Royal Navy. Over 1.6 million records are available to view between these dates.

  • Merchant Navy Seamen 1918-1941: records of index cards that the Registrar General of Shipping and Seaman used between the two world wars to produce a centralised index to merchant seamen serving on British merchant navy vessels. There are 998,838 records available to search between these dates.

The records are split into two very distinct sections / timeframes because in 1857 the Board of Trade abandoned the Seamen's register, deeming the agreements and crew lists enough to meet the department's needs. This means that no register of ordinary seamen's service was kept between 1858-1913.

However, you might find something in England & Wales Merchant Navy Crew Lists 1861-1913:

The records include many born throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and further abroad. Furthermore, the records include the names of over 700 Lascars from Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

If you want to learn more about the history of the ship companies and the ships involved, try the website The Ships List. Here are some routes that were used in the time period you are looking for, which I found by searching the site for Chile:

There's a great deal of information on the site, but it can be fun to explore.


perhaps go to your local library if they have Ancestry subscription and search its shipping lists I found a German passenger on ship to South America in that time frame

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! As a new user be sure to take our Tour which gives a good introduction to how our Q&A format works. If you could edit your answer to provide additional steps like the particular ship and voyage you found and the precise record set that you found it in it may be helpful to the question asker.
    – PolyGeo
    Oct 1, 2015 at 3:46
  • Could you tell us what collection you found your passenger in?
    – Jan Murphy
    Nov 4, 2015 at 17:07

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