Genealogy Research

Find out how to trace a Shipwright ancestor.

Genealogy Research

Many people researching family history come across a reference to a shipwright forefather, and ask the Company for further information. Sadly, they are usually disappointed. There are two major reasons for this:-

  • certainly by the 16th century, and probably much earlier, the Shipwrights' Company had become an association for the proprietors of the private shipyards on the north bank of the Thames below the City, in Blackwall for example. Such men had been trained as craftsmen, but were no longer "on the tools".
  • by the late 18th century some 60% or more of all craftsman shipwrights in Great Britain were Crown employees in the Royal Dockyards of Deptford, Woolwich, Sheerness, Chatham, Portsmouth, and Plymouth.

Therefore, if your shipwright ancestor did not work in a civilian shipyard on the Thames, he is unlikely to have been a member of the Company, and your research will have to focus on the records of the locality in which he worked. The following Company records exist:

  • The original but incomplete records of the Shipwrights from about 1620 to the 1920s are lodged with the Guildhall Library in the City of London.
  • The Guildhall Library also holds a copy of the "Records of the Shipwrights' Company" in two volumes, a digest of the above made by C H Ridge in 1939/1946, giving all the names recorded.
  • The Company holds a recently-compiled list of Liverymen admitted between 1858 and the present day.

(N.B.  All Company papers between the 1920s and 1941 were lost in the destruction of Barbers' Hall in 1941.)
Those researching family history will be well aware of the numerous websites dedicated to a wide variety of records. However, within the maritime field in Great Britain, and apart from the specifically Company records mentioned above:

  • the personal records of Royal Navy and Royal Dockyard people are held at the Public Record Office, Kew, Surrey TW9 4DU, website
  • HM Dockyard Plymouth has a museum website
  • the Registry of Shipping and Seamen holds a library of seaman and ship records, and has an information pack on those, and others transferred to other locations such as the PRO. If a shipwright signed on as a ship's carpenter, he may be recorded there. Registry of Shipping and Seaman, PO Box 165,