Category Archives: How-To

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.

Using WorldCat Records in Part 2, Finding Books By Ships

My previous post looked at how WorldCat records can be used to locate books mentioned in the database, and locate books that are about a specific ship. There’s still a lot more that WorldCat can do, but there are some idiosyncratic methods of tracking down the actual resources, and I want to write about those here.

Remember that all the citations from WorldCat are in the free database, which anyone can access, without any subscription at all.

A book “by” a ship is one in which the vessel is the corporate author, so this would include logbooks, journals kept by the ship’s crew while on board (that is, while they’re at work; private reminiscences are still written by the person who recorded the information), and similar corporate works. Manuscript collections also include a lot of mentions of ships, and unlike the half-dozen or fewer subject headings of a monograph, a large manuscript collection could have dozens or hundreds of subject headings. (Again, these were determined and assigned by librarians, or more likely, archivists. This is incredibly in-depth work, and the ‘finding aid’ created for a large manuscript collection is often a significant scholarly work in and of itself.)

However, finding the actual manuscript collection can be difficult, and that’s what this blog post is really about. Here’s how to find out which institution owns the manuscript, or journal, or logbook, that you’re seeking. Imagine that you’ve done a search for “Jennie Cushman” and you saw an entry for “Jennie Cushman (Bark)” which led you to this entry in WorldCat, and the entry called “Log/journal, 1870 May 5-1875 Mar. 20” by Jennie Cushman (bark), looked especially useful.


You click on the link for “Log/journal”, which looks great, but has no location listed:


So, what do you do?

First, understand where this information came from. These records came from the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, also known as NUCMC, and pronounced “nuck-muck”. If you search NUCMC, you can find who owns the collection.

Go to the NUCMC search page at, choose the third search option (you can use any of them, but the others will often return too many unrelated results), and search for the ship name. In this case, your result will look like the following:




Click on “More on this record,” and the complete result will provide lots more information about this entry, including its location (highlighted below). Looks like it’s time to book a spot on the ferry to Nantucket!


ScreenHunter_07 Jan. 09 15.33


There are more records in NUCMC, as noted in the original results from WorldCat. Go back to the NUCMC page and use the first search option, and search for “Jennie Cushman”. You’ll get a lot of results — some that don’t match what you’re searching — but look for the matching titles; in this case, “Papers, 1870-1879“. (You could also search NUCMC by the title of the collection, knowing that the ship name will appear as a subject heading.) This one also has “Jennie Cushman (Bark)” as a subject heading, and a location, in this case at Mystic Seaport, at the bottom.


ScreenHunter_08 Jan. 09 15.38


Sometimes, however, there’s not even a “Location:” note in the record. Never fear; there are still ways of tracking down the information!

Imagine you’ve done a search for “Abitibi” and you see the entry “Abitibi (Ship)”, which leads you to this WorldCat entry, which then takes you to an entry for archival data, which also has no holdings information.

Again, this record came from NUCMC. Go to and search for the ship name. In this case, your third result will look like the following:




Click on “More on this record”, and you’ll see the NUCMC entry for this collection, but without any Location information.




So, now, we get a bit technical. Click on “Tagged Display”, and you’ll see the MARC record for this entry. The only thing to focus on here is the 040 field, which shows which library created this record, and therefore who owns it. (Or, I suppose, who owned it when it was cataloged, but since these are all manuscript records, ownership likely won’t have changed. In any case, we’ll confirm before we book a plane ticket to somewhere.)

The 040 field, subfield a, reads “GZD”. (“$a” is the subfield divider; MARC is a very old technology, but it was cutting edge in its time…)




We now need to discover who “GZD” is. For this, we go to another service from OCLC, maker of WorldCat. At, they offer a “Directory of OCLC Libraries“. Type “GZD” in the “OCLC Symbol” field, and we get this result:


ScreenHunter_14 Jan. 10 10.28

OK! Now we know (or feel reasonably certain) that Milwaukee County library owns this item! Google that name to get their website (it’s, then search their catalog for “Abitibi”. And there you have it:


ScreenHunter_15 Jan. 10 10.30

You can’t request that the library send this to your library, but at least now you know where it is, and that MPL is worth a visit, next time you visit Milwaukee County.

This does get admittedly a bit technical. If you have questions, please post them in the comments below.

Using WorldCat Records in Part 1, Finding Books Mentioned in the Database, and Finding Books About Ships

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about using WorldCat through I finally started, but as usual, my blog post has grown to be much too long for just a single post. So I’ll split this into two posts: one on finding monographs (ie, books) through WorldCat, and one on finding manuscript works through WorldCat. WorldCat does many different useful things in the database.

First, what is WorldCat, and what kind of records do you find there? WorldCat is a massive database that shows what books and magazines are owned by libraries in the US and around the world. WorldCat is created and managed by OCLC, an Ohio-based library services company. The first great application of WorldCat in is in helping you locate a book that mentions a ship of interest to you. I believe that knowing that a mention of a ship exists gets you at least 75% of the way to finding that citation. If you didn’t know the citation existed, then it wouldn’t count at all. But if you know it exists, then there are lots of ways of getting your hands on it, and seeing what it says. The easiest way is to see if a library near you owns the book, and here’s where WorldCat is a huge help.

If you click on “Find in a library near you” on any monograph (book) or serial (magazine) citation in, WorldCat will try to figure out where you are, and then locate the library nearest to you. You can always put in a ZIP code or a city name, too, to customize your search.

For example, imagine you’re searching for information about the ship “Punnet”. The premium database tells you that it’s mentioned in H. T. Lenton’s massive volume British & Empire Warships of the Second World War, on two different pages. You don’t own that book, so where can you find a copy?


Click on “Find in a library near you”, as shown here, and it’ll take you to this page in WorldCat that shows you more about the book, and most importantly, where the nearest copy is. In my case, WorldCat reports that the nearest library with this book is less than a mile away! (I’m lucky that way.)


Other libraries also have it, and maybe one near where I’ll be going has a copy. For instance, if I’m headed to Chicago on some upcoming trip, I could put in a Chicago ZIP Code (or just type “Chicago, Illinois”), and find out what libraries in the city own a copy. (Chicago Public Library and University of Chicago Library both own it, I find.)

If there’s no library near you with a copy, remember that you can almost certainly request that a copy be sent to you through your local public library, via “inter-library loan” (ILL). ILL is sometimes free, and sometimes costs something — but remember what a great thing the library did for you, and be sure to provide a bit of financial support to them for helping you obtain this volume!

 As a somewhat advanced aside, it’s definitely worth looking through multiple records in WorldCat. For technical reasons, not all holdings records (ie, “my library owns this book!” messages) are attached to a single bibliographic description of a book. This is especially true for American versus non-American holdings: if you only see European libraries that own a book, and you’re in the US, be sure to see if there are other records that display American libraries’ holdings, and vice versa.

There’s more to WorldCat’s content, however. One of the great collections of resources in the free part of the database is the set of about 40,000 authority records from the WorldCat database, but there can be some challenges in using the results you find there. I thought it would be useful to describe how best to use the results you find here.

WorldCat’s holdings identifies books that are about a specific ship, along with manuscript information about specific ships. In the first case, it’s important to recognize the difference between WorldCat results and other results in the database. Any given book will be assigned subject headings by professional librarians. Most books only get a handful of subject headings (rarely more than, say, six), so a book needs to be substantially about a specific ship, if it’s going to have a subject heading for that ship. Lincoln Paine’s 2000 book, Warships of the World to 1900, has the following subject headings: Warships — History, and Warships. That’s it. There’s no mention in the subject heading of the specific vessels mentioned in that book. That’s what does: it tells you which specific ships are mentioned in this book. But when you want to find the book, the “Find in a library near you” tool helps you do just that.

If a book is about a specific ship, however, there will be a subject heading for the book, which will also appear in WorldCat. For example, Cathryn Prince’s recent book, Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, has as its primary subject heading Wilhelm Gustloff (Ship). Through, you know that an entire book about the Wilhelm Gustloff exists, and you can track it down through whatever channels work best for you.

Wilhelm Gustloff

Several years ago, folks at OCLC were kind enough to generate a list of subject headings that cited ships. We agreed that these citations would be added to the free collection, not the subscription database. The result is that helps you quickly and easily find books that are by or about the ships in question, which is super-great.

Wait a minute – what was that about books by ships?

That’s the other part of the collection of records from WorldCat, and the subject of part 2 of this blog post.


Big News! 40,000 new links from WorldCat added to!

Well, this is exciting stuff. We’ve just added new content to, and this is big news for a variety of reasons. First, this is the first new content we’ve added in something like six years. Second, it’s interesting new content – it’s very different from what we’ve had before, but complementary to it. Third, the content contains web links, rather than book or journal references. Fourth, it was compiled for us by our friends at OCLC; they did it on their own and offered it to us, for which we are quite grateful.

Here’s a bit more about the content. As a reminder,, in its late-90s, ultra-low tech setup, had content added to it up to about 2002 or so. Then it went dormant. The content remained available, but nothing was done to enhance or improve it. With the new interface, and new plans for it, we’re actively expanding the content, at least in the background. I’ll talk more specifically about what we’re going to do with the site in a future post.

For right now, though, we’ve dramatically increased the size of our database, adding nearly 40,000 entries to the just over 100,000 that had previously existed. These entries are different from the ones that were already in the database. The content in has always been pulled from indexes to books, so if a ship is mentioned just once in a book that’s in, it’d appear in our database. The content we’re adding now consists of Authority files from OCLC’s WorldCat. Most readers will be familiar with WorldCat, but a few might not be. WorldCat is, essentially, an enormous collective of library catalogs. The content of thousands of libraries’ catalogs, from around the world, all appear in the WorldCat database.

Several weeks ago, we added “Find in a Library” links, which link to WorldCat and tell you where the nearest library is that has the book or journal you seek. This is, I think, incredibly useful. So, for instance, if you live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and are seeking Gordon Newell’s H. W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, you can click on the “Find in a Library” link, enter your ZIP Code (I used ‘87505’; it will remember the location from your last visit to the site), and find where the nearest copy is. Unfortunately, it looks like the nearest copy is in Tucson, then San Antonio. Well, there’s a reason for a road trip, I suppose.

The good folks at OCLC, specifically Lorcan Dempsey (and his blog) and Thom Hickey (and his blog), created a file of all authorities in the OCLC database that they could identify as a vessel. Thom wrote a blog post about creating the file several weeks ago.

There’s a big difference between the vessel references in WorldCat and what has been added to in the past – items from WorldCat are, basically, subject headings for books, while items already in our database are simply mentions of ships in an index. If you search for Bremen in, you’ll find it mentioned in a number of different resources, including Robert Albion’s Five Centuries of Famous Ships, which those of you in Santa Fe will find in the Los Alamos County Library System. But if you click on the “Bremen (Ship)” hyperlink, it’ll take you to a specific entry in WorldCat, which describes 19 different works about this specific vessel. You’ll find the book Shadow Voyage: The Extraordinary Wartime Escape of the Legendary SS Bremen (and at Amazon), published in 2005, for instance, which is held in many different libraries.

But that’s not all. WorldCat also contains many rare and manuscript items. One example is Lamproie. The link to WorldCat from the Lamproie entry is for a hand-written journal, held in the National Library of Australia, describing the voyages of J. Chuissagne (or J. Chuisagne) through the Pacific in the mid-1840s, aboard the Corvette La Lamproie. Obviously, getting to Canberra to take a look at this will take some doing, but knowing that such a logbook or journal exists can be incredibly useful.

For Bremen, one of the items that’s been cataloged and added to WorldCat is “Coming! 1929: Bremen and Europa, the new giant twin fliers of the North German Lloyd, Bremen.” This is an image, cataloged by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, which, they say, “Depicts the side-by-side red-painted bows (with names visible) of the soon-to-be-completed North-German Lloyd ocean liners Bremen and Europa entering a harbor.” There’s all kinds of neat stuff like this in WorldCat.

Adding these Authorities files opens up vast new areas of research paths for those who are really looking for a lot of information about a specific vessel. Or, for those trying to identify a book on a particular vessel, this is also a good way to go.

Many thanks, again, to Lorcan and Thom at OCLC for creating this file for us to use. It’s a huge enhancement to the site.

New Search Behavior – What do you think?

This Day in History – 2009, I deployed some new search behavior.

The goal was to make the search behavior smoother when there’s an exact match on the search term you’ve put in, or if there’s only a single match. I’d like to know if this feature is helpful or confusing. Personally I think it’s pretty nifty, but then again I made it, so I’m biased.

You can see it in action by searching for “Seattle“, “Lusitania” or “fonseau“. (Those links are actually searches, they just redirect. Feel free to try a search from the side bar.)

How is that? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Suggestions?

On a side note, I changed the destination of the search form a little bit because as it was, it was obscuring the vessel named “Search”. I apologize for the inconvenience but if you have linked to a search rather than a specific ship page, your links will need to be updated.

New functionality added: “Find in a library” links

Yesterday and today, we’ve added “Find in a library” links to every single resource currently in the database. This is useful for tracking down the specific title that mentions your vessel. Say, for instance, you’ve done a search for the ship Smart. You find two mentions of the vessel, in two books about Maine ships. When you click on either title — A Maritime History of Bath, Maine, or Fairburn’s Merchant Sail — you’ll see the linked words “Find in a library”. When you click that link, it’ll take you to WorldCat, a global directory of libraries’ holdings.

WorldCat will show its record for that book, and will even do its best to find the copy nearest  you. You can put in a location to be even more exact, if you like. (The location can be a ZIP code, a postal code, a city, or a country.)

In nearly every case for items in this database, you’re only looking for a small part of the book or resource in question. You can almost certainly use the library nearest you, even if you don’t have a borrower’s card from that library. All you really need is the book and a photocopier, or the book and a pen and paper, and you’ll get the data that’s available there.

This is a big step forward in being able to track down the resources, once you’ve identified that they mention the vessel you’re seeking.

We’ll be adding more ways to locate specific resources over the next few weeks, so keep an eye on the resources pages. If you have thoughts about features you’d like us to add, or more ways to find the specific resources, please let us know.