Updates to online resources, especially Mystic Seaport resources

A few weeks ago I went through all of the online resources in ShipIndex.org, to see if they all worked. It’s not uncommon for interfaces and search structures to change, and the result is that URLs slightly change. Any change to a URL, however slight, will likely cause the link to break, however, so I wanted to review all of them, and fix the ones that I could.

In one instance, I thought that the resource had disappeared completely, but I got a very helpful reply from the folks running the site, I learned of the new URL structure, and was easily able to update those links. In another instance, I thought a different resource was gone for good, but after a bunch of searching was able to find it, and figure out an update. Some still need attention, and I’m still working on those.

Yesterday, however, I learned that some of the oldest links in the database, to Ship Registers and other resources at Mystic Seaport, no longer work. These worked when I checked two or three weeks ago, and have worked since they were loaded into the ShipIndex.org database in 2009, but not today.

The Research collection at Mystic Seaport has gotten an online overhaul, and the new online resources are in a different interface. While some like the new interface, and the old one certainly did need an update, it appears that we can no longer link directly to an entry for a ship. I’m checking with the staff at the library to see if that is, in fact, the case, but if so, I’ll have to take out about a million direct links to these ships. I’ll keep the ships in the ShipIndex database, because I can still say with certainty that these ships are mentioned in the resources at Mystic, but I won’t be able to take a user directly to the entries any more.

This has happened with other resources in the past, most notably (in my mind) the Ellis Island Ship Database. I find it frustrating, because I like providing direct links, and I think they’re easier for people to use and cite, but I guess it was done for a reason. In the past, one could save a URL, and use that to link directly to the resource. Now, you’ll need to repeat the search every time you want to get to that specific resource, and your citation will need to describe how to do the search, rather than just include the link to the page in question.

 

If I’m able to update these links to direct links at some point, I’ll certainly do so, but I doubt that’ll be possible.

Tracking Vessel Arrivals in New York City

While poking around in the library today, which is always a fun thing to do, I went in search of Way’s Packet Directory, 1848-1994. It’s a great volume that has lots of information about many ships that sailed the inland American waterways. But the ships are listed alphabetically, so there’s no index to it that would indicate all the ships that are included. That’s certainly not a problem for using the resource, and I don’t mean it in any negative sense. If you know the ship you’re looking for, then it’s an easy resource to use. But if you want to create an index to the ships in the book, so you can put those in another database and tell people that the ship they’re interested in is mentioned in this book, you need to collect the list of ships by hand. This takes a ton of time, especially for a 600-page book. I have an idea that I might try, but that’s a long ways away.

Anyway, while looking at the shelves, I came across this volume: Passenger Ships Arriving in New York Harbor, 1820-1850, edited by Bradley Steuart, and published by Precision Indexing in 1991. It’s labeled as “Volume 1”, but I don’t think any other volumes subsequently appeared. Nevertheless, it’s pretty great for some instances. The first half of the volume lists vessel arrivals chronologically, so you see something like the following:

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The second half lists the vessels by name, so you can see when and how often a particular ship arrived. Again, a great resource. I didn’t know about this – maybe I should have, but at least now I do, and I’m telling you.

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As you can see, both halves include the NARA Roll Numbers so one can find the correct microfilm to find the related passenger lists. I expect that’s not vital anymore; online databases have digitized the vast majorities of these rolls (I think), but even today that information can be useful if there are limitations or gaps in the online resources.

I think this is a useful resource for genealogists in many instances, so I thought it’d be worth sharing here. You can always find this in a library near you, even if you can’t find it in ShipIndex.org!

ShipIndex.org “Guides to Ships” Published! Introductory Sale, too!

ShipIndex.org is excited to announce our first publication(s)! We have three “Guides to Ships”, and each one introduces a different type of important vessel, with historic and modern images, and brief descriptions.

Each guide is a 12-panel, folded, laminated publication. They’ll hold up to rigorous use, and will be helpful in many different settings. They are each 9” by 4” when folded, and are a great size for slipping in your bag for the next trip to the port or the beach.FanFold

As an introduction, and for May 30 and May 31 ONLY, the guides are available at $2 off their regular price – for two days only, they’re just $5.95 a piece! A set of all three is available for $15.95, for the next two days only. On June 1, they’ll all return to their usual price. Standard shipping in the US remains FREE. Standard international shipping is an estimation of the actual shipping cost. And there’s no sales tax, except for residents of New York.

These are a great Fathers Day gift, though they won’t be at this price again. Stock up now!

 

The three guides are as follows:

Guide to Tall Ships: With a focus on square-rigged versus fore-and-aft-rigged ships, this guide explains terminology such as brigs, barks, barkentines, sloops, cutters, schooners, ketches, yawls, and more. It is illustrated with modern and historic photographs and paintings. The guide also has a map of significant maritime museums around the world.

Guide to Naval Ships: Highlights include a range of modern and historic naval ships, from battleships and aircraft carriers to patrol boats and cutters. The Guide to Naval Ships has images of modern and historic vessels from around the world, and particularly notes several naval museum ships.

Guide to Merchant Ships: This guide describes a wide range of merchant vessel types that one might see from shore, from oil tankers and roros (car carriers) to container ships and LNG carriers. Unusual ships, like orange juice carriers, livestock ships, and more, are also described and illustrated. Fishing vessels, ferries, and cruise ships round out the guide.

 

Each guide has a webpage associated with it, though as befitting the newness of the guides, the webpages aren’t yet complete.

Please check them out and let me know what you think. This is an introductory offer, and prices go back to the list price on June 1.

Marine Art Paintings and Big Ships in Bottles

The Yale Center for British Art, in New Haven, CT, has two marine art-related exhibits coming up.

From Sept 15 to Dec 4, 2016, they’ll be hosting an exhibit titled “Spreading Canvas: Eighteenth-Century British Marine Painting“, which they say “is the first major exhibition to survey the tradition of marine painting that was inextricably linked to Britain’s rise to prominence as a maritime and imperial power, and to position the genre at the heart of the burgeoning British art world of the eighteenth century.”

Yale University Press will be publishing a fully-illustrated volume to accompany the exhibit.

At nearly the same time, and to complement the exhibit, the YCBA will host an exhibit titled “Yinka Shonibare MBE“, which will highlight the Nigerian artist’s work on Adm Nelson. The website describing the exhibit includes an image of Shonibare’s work, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, but it’s unclear to me if that work will be present. I’m a little unclear on it — perhaps they’ll have a smaller version of the work, as the original is quite large, and is now permanently (I thought) installed outside the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Both mentions come via Enfilade, an online newsletter for Historians of Eighteenth-Century Art and Architecture (HECAA).

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 ShipIndex.org 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 http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/defence/14-odd-names-for-royal-navy-ships-1-7168404 .

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 ShipIndex.org 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.