Hi Nancy --
It's so nice to have a "conversation" about this! And thank you for sharing your own US records experience (and a sample of the documents themselves). I often do a lot of foreign (well, foreign to me) research (Swedish, Polish, Hungarian) and am sadly not very up-to-date with US or UK records, how and where to find them, etc.
Thanks for offering to do a quick look-up of the ships my great-grandfather sailed on. I have a few database/genealogical website subscriptions (besides Ancestry, they are mainly European), but not to the ones you mentioned. I have done a little research on the actual vessels and may know more than I think I know, if that makes sense. I don't have that material in front of me, but I will compile it and, as you wisely suggest, post a query on these message boards.
In the meantime, I do have his Discharge book right here:
Karl Emil Hjelte was on the SS Glenfruin (#119134 built 1904) out of Calcutta (how he got there, I have no idea) on August 23, 1904; discharge date November 4, 1904 at Barry, UK. Description of voyage: Cape H.
Then he was on the SS Verbena (#102726 built 1895) out of Barry, UK on November 15, 1904; discharge date January 28, 1905 at Cardiff, UK. Description of voyage: Black Sea.
Finally, he was on the SS Corby (#115220 built 1901) out of Barry, UK on January 31, 1905; discharge date May 28, 1905 at Barry, UK. Description of voyage: Rio and USA.
And that's it. He was only in for a short time, perhaps enough to raise some money to start his life in the US. Sometime in July 1905, he departed from Hull, England and landed in Philadelphia -- so ended his Merchant Marine career.
The only other material in the book is a report of character; he was marked "Very Good" in ability and character for all 3 voyages.
I also plan to take your advice re: inquiring anyway about locating his records/contract/documents, even though it seems a fair number are missing or lost or destroyed. There is an email address in one of the links you sent yesterday; I will gather up all I know and give it a shot.
Thank you again for helping me investigate this further; I appreciate it very much. Your information and advice are so useful to me.
Take care --