Occupation records are some of our most popular collections. It’s not surprising really; learning about your ancestors’ careers can really help paint a picture of how they lived their lives, and what sort of people they were.
That’s particularly true about our latest addition. Masters Certificates, 1850-1927 reveals more than 250,000 hardy souls who spent their working lives at sea. The records were created when each merchant sailor qualified as a master or mate.
As you might expect (or hope!), before anyone was put in charge of a ship they had to prove they had extensive experience at sea. That means there are reams of documents in this collection charting each sailor’s entire career.
As an example, I searched for Edward John Smith the famous captain of the Titanic. Just his full name and birth year (1850) are enough to bring up four obvious matches – a quick check on Wikipedia shows that Hanley in Staffordshire is the correct birthplace, so it looks like we have the right man.
The reason there are four matches is that Smith gained more qualifications as his career progressed. The earliest certificate, from 1871, shows he became a Second Mate. Then he quickly progressed to First Mate and Master, before eventually gaining the esteemed status of Extra Master in 1888.
But the certificates themselves aren’t the only records in this collection. Like our WWI Service Records each match is actually a bundle of related papers. To browse them all, view the actual record images, then use the left and right arrows in the top-right corner to move forwards and backwards.
In the Titanic captain’s case, you’ll also find a declaration that provides his address, date and place of birth, and signature; an application form completed in his own handwriting, showing how much he paid to apply; and best of all, a career history listing every ship he’d served on, together with the dates he worked and his rank.
If your ancestors worked on water, you could find similarly extensive details of their careers. Search now
Or, see all our occupation records
Emma Pulman is a Social Media and digital Marketing Executive for Ancestry.co.uk. Based in Ancestry's London office in Hammersmith, Emma regularly tweets and posts on Ancestry's Facebook page.