The merchant seamen of Sailortown, Belfast, 1918-21

Part of: PRONI on Youtube, Local history

David Snook gave a talk on 6 June 2016 exploring photographic ID record cards, relating to merchant seamen from Sailortown working in home and foreign trade about 1918, and the unique possibilities offered by the source in the making of family history for people with roots in a storied part of Belfast.

The British Government introduced a central record system for merchant seamen in September 1918 which included a passport style photograph. The photo was dropped in December 1921 and didn’t return until 1948.

David Snook has created a searchable online database which gives details of 3000 Belfast born seamen out of the 23,000 Irish born seamen identified from the 1918-21 period. He has identified sixty Belfast born seamen who gave addresses in Sailortown, Belfast, and forty of them appear in this photo exhibition. Surnames found include Gillis, Gough, Lyttle, Mulholland, Murray, Shiels or Shields, Sloan, Strong, Ward and Withers. Follow up work has identified WW1 and subsequent service, plus additional family members who were at sea but didn’t give next of kin details.  A few of these men were still at sea in the 1950s and were photographed again as part of the record system.

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