A. 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) werent eligible for veterans benefits, even if they were killed participating in military action.
First, learn more about your ancestors 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 mariners full name, birth date and approximate employment dates.
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 itll be helpful if you know the ports your ancestor sailed into.
These records should tell you about your ancestors employment and give you an idea of whether he in fact died while serving as a mariner.
NARA also has seamens 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.