Shakespeare and Ships

It’s a few days late for his birthday, but this interesting page highlights the role of ships in many of Shakespeare’s plays. As the author writes, regarding the pirates who rescue Hamlet in his eponymous play, “Consider that without the intervention of the pirates, Hamlet would have ended up in England with his neck on a chopping block, and Claudius would have reigned unchallenged as King of Denmark.” And here’s a bit about the British sub HMS Shakespeare — plus, of course, the entry for ships named Shakespeare. The first links came from gCaptain’s Maritime Monday links for today.

“National Fisherman” photo database at Penobscot Marine Museum

The Penobscot Marine Museum has announced the arrival of the first version of its database of images from the magazine National Fisherman. The collection, consisting of previously-undigitized images from the 1950s to 1990s, is being released in groups of 5000, as the museum is able to digitize and index them. (The work is being done by Past Perfect, a company that provides software tools for museums.)

You can search by topic or by “advanced search“. The “keyword” option doesn’t limit searches to just this image collection, so it’s not as useful. And, alas (for me, anyway), there seems to be no list of ships represented in the database. To search for a ship you need to put the ship name in the Description field, but note that it just becomes a keyword search — if you’re searching for a ship named “Elizabeth”, you’ll get many results, most of which mention Elizabeth, NJ, or the Elizabeth River, or Cape Elizabeth, or people named Elizabeth. Your only option to find out if the term is used in a ship name is to look at the metadata about each image.

In addition, the searching is done as an “or” search, rather than an “and” search. A search for “elizabeth” returns 16 results in the National Fisherman collection, but a search for “elizabeth anne” returns 19 results, rather than fewer. The expected result would be that a search for “elizabeth anne” returns only the images that have both terms, not either term. (You can force the search engine to do an “and” search by putting the word “AND”, in all capitals but not in quotes,  in between your two terms.)

There’s also no way to go from one result to the next; one must go back to the search results each time, which can be frustrating and does waste time.

Search terms are also problematic; I found images with a location of “Washinton, Tacoma”, and though you can find results if you put “washington” or “oregon” in the Place field, you won’t find any results if you put those terms in the State field. (You can also see the effects of the “and” vs “or” search here: A search for “washington” in the Place field returns 197 results; a search for “oregon” returns 62 results; a search for “oregon washington” returns 259 results. A search for “oregon AND washington” returns no results.)

There are several other collections on the site, as well, including the museum’s artifact collection, so keeping your search narrowed to just the National Fisherman set is a bit tricky; you need to be sure that the phrase “national fisherman” (in quotes, this time) appears in the Collection field.

Overall, the Past Perfect interface is clunky and frustratingly non-specific. It’s not bad if you want to just browse and look at pictures, but much tougher if you want to do actual research. However, every time more content – especially images – appears online, it’s a step in the right direction. “And” versus “or” searching functionality can be fixed easily, I assume. Functionality to limit results to specific sets more effectively could probably be implemented fairly easily. Providing links from result to result may or may not be possible, likely depending on the database structure. And adding ship names is now tough work; that would have been a great thing to be doing when the other indexing of each image was being done.

Enjoy browsing the collection, in any case.

“Chasing the Whale” at National Maritime Museum

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, continues to come up with new and different displays and shows. Last summer I managed to snag two kids (actually, my son and nephew) to get me in to see their fantastic interactive production, “Against Captain’s Orders”, produced with Punchdrunk Entertainment.

I realize that this show is different — it’s not really at the Museum, and it’s not a show they produced, but it’s in the same place, sort of.

What I didn’t realize is that Cutty Sark, a stone’s throw from the National Maritime Museum, uses its space inside the ship to put on productions and host musicians. But I read of a show — two shows, one night — that looks great, and wish I could be there to see it. The folk group Kings of the South Seas, along with Tim Eriksen and Philip Hoare, will present “Chasing the Whale” on April 1.

If you can make it, please check it out and report  back!

14 Odd RN Ship Names

The Portsmouth (UK) News has a brief article titled “14 odd names for Royal Navy ships” which discusses exactly that. The topic was raised on the Maritime History discussion list (MARHST-L), with a few others mentioned – most of which appeared in the comments on the article’s page.

Check it out at .

New content added in the past three weeks

The following resources have been added in the past few weeks. I have a lot more content still to add, but thought I’d get this list out there now, and will put out the next list after I add more.

My data focus over the past few months has been on printed resources (primarily monographs). I’m doing a separate large data set project, and hope to include those resources soon. In 2016, I plan to be looking more closely at online resources.

Deleting data dilemma

Of course I hate to remove content from the database; I’m always working on trying to expand, not contract, the database. But bad data is worse than no data, and an online resource recently disappeared, so I had to delete its contents from the database. The truth is, I have waited too long to remove this content, because I had been really pleased to get to 3.4 million citations, and removing 380,000 will be a big hit in getting to three and a half million citations.

While online resources are certainly wonderful – you can get to your results without leaving your home – they are most certainly not permanent. They exist in one place and everywhere at the same time, but then when they disappear, they’re gone completely. This is, obviously, not the case for books.

I have contacted the creator of the missing database, and haven’t heard back from him, but perhaps I’ll find another way of getting in contact, and maybe, just maybe, we can find a way to get that content in to ShipIndex separately.

One result of deleting these records is that there will be some of what we call “citationless ships” for a little while. These are entries for ships that now have no citations on them at all, because the only citation was from this one resource. I need to remove them from the database, but that will take a bit of time for some technical reasons. But I’m working on it, doing my best to keep the database clean and accurate.

Some good news is that I have scores (actually, four score, at present) of book files waiting to be imported. I’ve started adding those and have more to go. While they won’t add up to today’s lost 380,000 citations, they will get me back closer to that number, and since they’re all printed resources, they won’t disappear any time soon.

Search successes from NY State Family History Conference

I spent September 17 to 19 at the New York State Family History Conference in Syracuse, NY. It’s not too far from home, so I was glad to attend the first one, two years ago, and I certainly looked forward to attending future conferences, which are scheduled for every other year.

Of course I talked with lots of people, told them about ShipIndex, and learned about new sources of content to add, as well.

Here are two examples of searches I did for folks, which I felt were a great example of successes from searching ShipIndex.

First a woman was looking for information about a ship her ancestors emigrated on, from Holland, in the 1650s. The ship was named “King Solomon”. So I did a search in the full database for “King Solomon” and found the following result:




The entry from Coldham’s book, The Complete Book of Emigrants, makes sense, given the time period. (She said they emigrated in the 1650s; perhaps her dates are off by a decade, or perhaps this doesn’t include the travel of her ancestors but rather travel a few years later.)

But what I was most excited about was the discovery of the mentions in the Navy Records Society volumes. Of course, without checking the actual volumes, we don’t know if this is really the same ship or not, but the dates, the relatively unusual ship name, and the origin (more on that in a bit) all seem to work, so that’s in our favor.

The Navy Records Society has been publishing primary documents in British naval history for the past 130 years or so. The documents they publish go back to the 14th century. While each volume often doesn’t have a lot of ships in them, I feel that these citations are incredibly valuable, because they usually link to primary documents. In this case, it would appear that Sir Thomas Allin mentioned a ship named “King Solomon” in his journals at some point. It may or may not be the ship that these folks were researching, but it certainly seems close enough to warrant a second look.

By clicking on the “Find in a library near you” link from the ShipIndex page, we were able to determine that the library University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is near their home, has these titles. (A junior college in Durham also has the titles, but as a proud Tar Heel and UNC graduate, I choose not to speak its name.)

Screenshot 2015-10-08 13.32.04


I then took a look at the “other matches” in the green box and found the following citation:


So, a ship with the name “King Solomon of Amsterdam” is mentioned in another NRS volume that covers the same period, apparently in Samuel Pepys’ diary or papers. The name of the ship is probably “King Solomon”, but the city certainly confirms the information about the ship coming from Holland, which the researchers had provided before we started.

I particularly like the fact that we very quickly found citations that certainly appear to be related to the ship the people were researching, from a source far separated from standard genealogical sources. It’s possible that they’re not the same ship, or that there’s nothing relevant to the researchers’ work, but at the same time, it’s quite possible that they’ll discover something quite valuable. This is the kind of serendipitous discoveries that I love to help facilitate.

Here’s my second example. A gentleman sought information about the 19th century ship William Tapscott. From the ShipIndex database, we found multiple citations, from many sources. Some were standard works for that period, such as Fairburn’s Merchant Sail, but others were a bit different. There’s an 1856 article that mentions the ship in the newspaper News of the Day, accessed via Accessible Archives’ “Civil War Collection”. The link to an authority record for the ship, in OCLC, provided the best sources, however.

We found four works about the ship in WorldCat. One is a recent book, of which only 200 copies were printed, about a captain of the ship. Another was a manuscript resource from Utah State University Library, though unfortunately the URL in WorldCat to the finding aid online is broken. It would appear that when USU moved their electronic catalog into the joint Orbis Cascade Alliance of many Pacific Northwest university libraries, their URLs for finding aids were never updated. I went to the USU library catalog to find the correct URL, and their own link also broken – so certainly WorldCat is not to blame here, if USU’s implementation of Encore can’t connect to their own finding aid.

The resource called “Sketches from the Life of Hans Christensen Heiselt” is a small part of the overall collection called “Joel Edward Ricks Papers, 1850-1972”. You can find it via USU’s online catalog, or the Archives West search box. (Interestingly, the Heiselt resource doesn’t appear to be cataloged in the Archives West collection; it’s only listed as part of the Ricks Papers.) From these records, I believe from the original resource is just three pages long, and is in Box 6, Folder 7, of the Ricks Papers.

The other sources were a bit more interesting. One, from the “Ebenezer Beesley papers, 1863-1950,” says it includes “a photostat copy of a handwritten list of passangers (sic) on the William Tapscott in 1859.” This was when the researcher’s ancestor was aboard, so it would certainly be worth viewing this collection, held at Brigham Young University, if the researcher is ever in Provo.

Finally, the “Jason B. Bell papers, ca. 1800-1860” include a “log (1855-1857) for the square-rigger sailing ship William Tapscott, noting weather conditions, sailing strategies, and location. The William Tapscott sailed between Europe and North America carrying cargo and passengers.”

The challenge with this entry is that it does not show where this logbook is held. I have written about how to track down the logbook, in a previous blog post – there’s no way you’d know how to do this without knowing it, so I want to repeat it often. Please take a look at that blog post, and keep it in mind when WorldCat won’t tell you where a manuscript collection is held. Long story short, I searched NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, searchable at and found the entry, among the 48 results:


When I clicked on “More on this record”, I found the following. (I added the highlighting, to emphasize the location information.)


The record showed me that this logbook is held in the Sheldon Museum Research Center, in Middlebury, Vermont. In looking closer at the “tagged display,” I believe this record was created in July 2010; either way, I’d certainly call the museum library before driving out to Vermont to see it. (And a quick review of the website shows their library is just open to visitors two afternoons a week.)


On an important note, this conference will switch from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years, starting in 2016, so that it’s off-set from the New England Regional Genealogy Conference, which currently occurs in odd-numbered years. That’s a good move on the organizers’ part, I think, and I look forward to returning to Syracuse next fall.

In the end, these two examples showed some of the resources – some monographic, and some manuscripts – that one can find quickly and (mostly) easily through a search at I hope they’ll inspire you to find remarkable resources through ShipIndex, too.

New Report on Naming USN Ships

A colleague on Twitter, @ICComLib, pointed me to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service about the naming of US Naval ships. This is actually a pretty interesting issue, and can get quite controversial quite quickly.

Ever since the founding of the US Navy, there have been conflicts about how names are assigned. Aircraft carriers are now nearly always named after former US Presidents. So was it a slight to Jimmy Carter to have his name assigned to a submarine, rather than an aircraft carrier?

Not really, since Carter was a USNA graduate, joined the submarine service where he sailed on and commanded submarines, and worked directly under Admiral Rickover to develop the new nuclear Navy.

On the other hand, the Seawolf class of attack submarines are named Seawolf (SSN-21), Connecticut (SSN-22), and Jimmy Carter (SSN-23); as the report states, “which were named for a fish, a state, and a President, respectively, reflecting no apparent class naming rule” (pg 4). There’s not a lot of continuity there.

From the launch of the brig Jefferson in April 1814, to the naming of the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson in 1970, apparently only one Naval ship had been named after a living person – in that case, John Holland, creator of the Navy’s first submarine (USS Holland (SS1)), which they bought from him, and then named after him, in 1900. Since 1970, however, this has happened every couple of years; three ships in 2012 alone were named after living people (John Glenn (MLP-2), Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), and Thomas Hudner (DDG-116)).

One interesting point in the report is that, while one might say that there is no regularity to how ships are named in the US Navy, at the same time the right of the Secretary of the Navy to make exceptions in naming conventions is one of the oldest ship-naming traditions.

Another highlight is the role that Congress plays in suggesting or influencing vessel names and clarifications: one interesting example was that of a message to the Navy from Maine’s two Senators in 2013, seeking clarification of the forthcoming amphibious dock ship, to be named USS Portland. Senators Collins and King were concerned because the Navy had indicated that the ship was being named after Portland, Oregon, and not Portland, Maine. As the Senators pointed out, not only were previous Portlands named after Portland, Maine (for instance, USS Portland (CA-33)), or both cities (LSD-37), but Portland, Oregon, itself, was named after Portland, Maine.

This report is a followup to a report submitted to Congress from the Navy three years ago (though this report was written by staff at Congressional Research Service, not the Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command, which put together the previous report). It seems clear that the Navy will continue to create guidelines for how ships should be named, and also continue to ignore them, when they see fit to do so.

“Against Captain’s Orders” at National Maritime Museum

The ShipIndex team is traveling through Europe for a few weeks. I had initially planned to post one little maritime thing each day, but that has, alas fallen by the wayside. It’s certainly not for a lack of maritime-related items I’ve seen, but more a lack of time sitting at the computer, rather than exploring exploring exploring.

So, now that I’m on a two-hour train ride in France, perhaps I can write some entries of particular maritime relevance.

About a week ago (ten days? four days? Who knows when you’re traveling) my wife and I took my son (11 years old) and nephew (12) to the Royal Museums at Greenwich, home of the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory, the Cutty Sark, and the Queen’s House.

As an aside, we started the day with a visit to the Sky Garden, the viewing platform at the top of the Fenchurch Street building known as the “walkie-talkie building”. This a new place to visit in London, and it’s not super-easy to do, because you need to make reservations in advance if you want to go up there for free. I think you can also go up if you agree to buy some food at the cafe, and I was surprised to see that the prices are quite reasonable, so that could also be a good option. The views from here are great – and maritime, too, if you consider the views of the Thames, and of HMS Belfast, and Tower Bridge, and more on the river.


But then we went on to Greenwich, where we visited the Cutty Sark and saw the production of “Against Captain’s Orders” at the National Maritime Museum.

I love what the folks at Cutty Sark have done with the ship in its recent renovation. I have read long-time ship enthusiasts express dismay at the work, but I honestly don’t know why. The glass around the ship shows where the waterline was – something that isn’t easily done when a ship is permanently out of water. The new event space under the ship, at the bottom of the drydock, is really impressive. The ability to see what the ship is like from underneath is just great. You get an idea of the size of the thing, and you can see what sort of work went into creating this ship long ago. And the idea of creating such a remarkable and unique event space is also great – any historic ship needs some way of generating revenue for any of the work it plans to do, so I see nothing wrong with this. Especially when it is such an amazing layout.

CuttySark   BelowCuttySark

We then went on to the 4pm performance of “Against Captain’s Orders”, a production by Punchdrunk Entertainment for the National Maritime Museum. I don’t know anything about who put this together, but they did a great, great thing. I’m also not going to tell you much of anything about the content of the production itself, since that would ruin the “Adventure”.

It’s a very active performance; you spend time running from room to room. You have to have a child (6-12 years old) to attend – so it was a good thing I had my son and nephew with me. I made it clear to them that they were simply my ticket to see the show, but they did enjoy it a great deal. It can be a bit scary for the youngest kids, though we saw one of the ‘curators’ give a young girl a small electric candle, and we wondered if they’d done that because they thought she might be a bit scared. The performance really does adapt to the audience.

The performance uses important pieces from the museum’s collections to encourage kids to think about the stories behind them, and how they might create their own Adventures (I’ll say we were on board HMS Adventure during the experience) from items of historic significance and historic value.

I honestly think every museum curator, especially at living history museums, should find a child to take to this show, before it closes. I think they’d all come away with crazy new ideas about how to engage kids with the unique or special items they have in their own collection. Even more so, theater groups should see what Punchdrunk is doing, and figure out how they could propose or create such productions for museums or other cultural institutions in their community. The level of detail that appeared here was pretty unreal; we didn’t have anywhere close to enough time to absorb all of it, or pick up all the in-jokes on the walls.

The entire show was about 45-50 minutes long; the only change I would have liked to see would have been some better conclusion, where we could applaud or somehow recognize the two ‘curators’ (really actors) – they sort of left and we didn’t realize that they weren’t coming back. So I’d say to them here, if I could reach them, that the performance really was great, and they did a fantastic job of making it so.

All in all, it was a great experience and I hope its model can be used in many other locations in the future.

Lots More Book Content Just Added

Since my last update on new content, in mid-March, I’ve added indexes to over two dozen new monographs and one new online collection. I have a lot more content to process and add, and I’ll just keep plugging away at it, as best I can.

The exciting thing (for me) is that this gets the total number of citations to over 3.4 million now. Especially with print resources, it takes a long time to really move that dial. But I feel like I did, and I’ll keep at it. Now, 3.5 million is next…

There are parts of multi-volume naval histories of the US and Britain, several more Navy Records Society volumes, some passenger list books, and some good non-Anglo/American content, as well. The new content is as follows: