Category Archives: New Content

Tracking Shipwreck Survivors

I got a note the other day from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, directing me to a resource about tracking shipwreck survivors. It’s an online publication, titled The Shipwrecked Passenger Book: Sailing Westbound from Europe for the Americas, 1817-1875, by Frank A. Biebel. It’s available for free here, hosted by FamilySearch. It will also be available on the NYG&BS website soon, in the members area.

The publication tracks 339 identified shipwrecks, and, to the best of the author’s ability, includes as much information as can be found regarding the wrecks and the recovery and repatriation of those on board. Biebel provides citations for whatever he was able to find, in newspapers, books, and more.

He also provides a few fascinating stories. In the case of the William Nelson, sailing to New York in the summer of 1865, a violent fever passed through the immigrants on board, while off the coast of Newfoundland. The captain decided to fumigate the areas where the sick had been by dipping red-hot irons in tar, and then swinging them around the space. Somehow, this was supposed to clean the air. Near the completion of this project, an iron fell into a tar-pail, and it caught fire. The passenger overseeing this fumigation process tried to smother the blaze with a mattress, but it exploded (!) and with each roll of the ship flaming tar spread throughout the area belowdecks. In moments flames raced up the hatchway, “running up the mainmast and rigging like fiery serpents.”

The captain got a number of boats launched, but only about 87 passengers, from among 448 originally on board, survived. Survivors were picked up by the steamship Lafayette and a Russian bark, and eventually taken to New York.

While this story and others in the volume are fascinating, one of the most important contributions is in the discussion toward the very end of the book. The author, after looking through so many records and tracking down all kinds of data, provides the following very useful synthesis (p. 616):

Survivors were often picked up at sea or otherwise came aboard a vessel that reached a U.S. port; for that, they were likely deeply grateful. At port, the rescuing captain or master filed a manifest as required by law. But, the survivor’s ancestors, the family historians of today, may sometimes not be pleased.

The U.S. Passenger Act of 1819 which required the recording on an arriving ship manifest of those passengers who boarded at a foreign port made no provision for shipwrecks, including possible survivors. Nor, do I know of any (U.S.) legislation prior to 1875 which accounted for this gap. And, apparently, contemporary social norms did not touch upon the subject. Thus, adding survivor names to his manifest was solely at the whim of the rescuing captain.

The result is that in doing this work, I encountered the full range of possibilities. A rescuing master’s manifest may have nothing at all of the shipwreck and its passengers, the only confirmation of survivors aboard coming from newspaper accounts (strangely enough, sometimes from an interview with the rescuing master himself). At the more desirable extreme, a captain may have mentioned the shipwreck and recorded survivor information as ifthey were his own passengers.

It may be of little help, but even though there was ”nothing at all,” if the name of the rescuing ship was known, it is included in the shipwreck information found when accessing any of the 339 listed wrecks.

I added the ships mentioned in this book to the ShipIndex.org database yesterday, but I particularly wanted to point out the value that Biebel provides by offering some analysis of what happened, across many different situations, with regard to shipwrecked immigrants.

New content, through early June 2014

I’ve been writing a lot about the 38th Voyage, but in fact I’ve also been working on new content for the database. Here’s a list of content added since the last time I posted such a list:

New content:

Updated content:

So, we’re still plugging away at getting new content into the database, even while preparing for the sail. The free database grew by over 20,000 citations. And right now, the subscription database is at 3.36 Million citations.

The 100 Most Popular Vessel Names in the US

The US Coast Guard publishes something called “Merchant Vessels of the United States”, searchable through their Maritime Information Exchange. It’s a directory of merchant ships over about 5 tons in size. (Smaller vessels that aren’t included in MVUS may be registered by states, rather than by the federal government.) Originally, it was in print, and many copies are still available in libraries or through online sources (here’s one from 1897). Then it was published as a CD-ROM, and then USCG made a database out of it, and put it online.

USCG used to have static, ship-specific links to the database, so you could follow a link that would take you right to the entry about the ship. I discovered some time ago that those weren’t working, and eventually I contacted USCG, and got a reply from them that, yes, static links were no longer available.

I had to decide what to do, and I realize I’d made a bit of a mistake in being too caught up on the static links. If you know that a database mentions a vessel, and you still need to search for it once you get to the database, that’s still far better than not knowing at all. Then, while preparing the updated file for import, I discovered that the Office of Science and Technology, of NOAA Fisheries, publishes its own version of the same database, but with vessel-specific links! So I changed what I was doing, and modified the links so they’d point to NOAA’s version of the database.

I will soon remove the old links to the USCG database, and I haven’t yet decided if I should add an updated version of that database, even though one must still do a search for the ship there. If the information is exactly the same as what appears in the NOAA version, I might not add those links. Thoughts?

Anyway, as part of this work, I noticed that many ship names are used over and over in this database. I thought I’d take this opportunity to determine the most popular vessel names in the US.

Here are some caveats: This data is based on information compiled from the USCG MVUS database. It’s not perfect. Some people put “MV” or “SS” or other terms in front of their ship names, which they really shouldn’t do. Others (many others) start their ship name with “The ”, which I also think they shouldn’t do. (That said, my brother built a rowboat for our father, and I carved a name plate for it, and we called it “The Prelude” – with the article – because it was a reference to, among other things, Wordsworth’s poem of that name [pdf]. So clearly at least some people specifically intend to include an article. Most, however, don’t.)

Also, I didn’t combine different spellings of the same name, like “Meant II Be”, “Meant 2 Be”, and “Meant To Be”. Ship names are obviously very popular places for puns, like “Naut On Call”, and they should be left as such. I also did not combine “Nauti Boy”, “Nauti Buoy”, “Nauti Boys”, “Nauti Boyz”, “Nauti Bouys”, etc., into one name…

With all that said, here are the 100 most popular vessel names, including the number of vessels with that name, from the 365,846 named vessels in the US Coast Guard’s Merchant Vessels of the United States database:

Vessel Name Occurrences
  Serenity 417
  Freedom 382
  Liberty 329
  Osprey 306
  Second Wind 289
  Destiny 285
  Andiamo 262
  Dream Catcher 247
  Spirit 245
  Odyssey 243
  Carpe Diem 232
  Island Time 232
  Escape 231
  Pegasus 231
  Blue Moon 230
  Morning Star 226
  Obsession 216
  Orion 216
  Island Girl 209
  Voyager 195
  Grace 193
  Serendipity 191
  Legacy 189
  Time Out 188
  Escapade 185
  Tranquility 185
  Happy Ours 183
  Summer Wind 183
  Aurora 174
  Phoenix 171
  Free Spirit 169
  Double Trouble 168
  Harmony 167
  At Last 164
  Patriot 164
  Magic 163
  Sandpiper 163
  Relentless 162
  Southern Cross 162
  Halcyon 159
  Mariah 159
  Amazing Grace 157
  Pelican 154
  Endless Summer 153
  Calypso 152
  Whisper 151
  Encore 148
  Imagine 148
  Pura Vida 148
  Seas the Day 148
  Impulse 147
  Eagle 146
  North Star 144
  Zephyr 144
  Wanderer 143
  Ariel 142
  Great Escape 142
  Quest 141
  Raven 141
  Cool Change 140
  Prime Time 140
  Second Chance 138
  Camelot 136
  Hakuna Matata 136
  Mirage 136
  My Way 136
  Panacea 134
  Windsong 134
  About Time 133
  Valkyrie 133
  Perseverance 132
  Journey 131
  Valhalla 131
  Puffin 129
  Patience 128
  Dream Weaver 126
  Restless 125
  Gypsy 124
  Renegade 124
  Black Pearl 123
  First Light 123
  Sanctuary 122
  Sundance 122
  Independence 121
  Resolute 121
  Dulcinea 120
  La Dolce Vita 120
  Sea Hawk 120
  Islander 119
  Moondance 119
  Sea Breeze 119
  Sea Ya 119
  Dragonfly 118
  Liquid Asset 118
  Aquaholic 117
  Dolphin 117
  Oasis 117
  Shearwater 117
  Adagio 115
  Sea Horse 115

Updated OCLC WorldCat data – 20% more, and more accurate

I’ve updated an important resource, adding 20% to its contents, and improving the accuracy of all of the data in it. When we converted ShipIndex.org from a hobby to a business, we worked with OCLC to get a file of books by or about ships. For more about how these records are used, see the first of two posts about WorldCat records, here.

In any case, we agreed with OCLC that these records would remain in the free database, rather than the newly-created subscription database. There were about 40,000 records in that file. Last month, I had the opportunity to visit OCLC’s headquarters, in Dublin, Ohio. While there, I received an updated version of this file, which now contains over 50,000 authority records for ships.

I worked through the file, doing cleanup and corrections, and spent a few tries at loading the file into the ShipIndex.org database. It wasn’t as easy as other files, because the OCLC records are fully Unicode compliant. The database likes UTF-8, but Unicode is a bit beyond its abilities. (Actually, not in its abilities to display vessel names, but in its abilities to store them.) I replaced vessel names in Cyrillic, Japanese, Chinese, etc., with their transliterated names, and also removed a lot of the Unicode characters that were causing problems.

I also fixed a lot of names that I hadn’t fixed the first time around. Most of these were ship names with prefixes attached, like “USS Daffodil” or “HMS Daffodil” or “S/S Daffodil”. It’s always best to search without those prefixes. I have cleanup still to do on those leftover ship names, but the new records are live and I can do the cleanup later.

So now, as a result, the OCLC WorldCat resource has grown from about 40,000 to about 50,000 citations, and the metadata is much improved. All of these citations are in the free database. This is a big improvement all around. Thanks again to OCLC for creating this file for me!

New Content in Database, Feb 2014

I realized recently that I hadn’t been posting the addition of new content to the blog here. I should have been doing that. I’d been putting it in the newsletters, but not on the blog. So, anyway, here’s a list of content that’s been added over the past few months:

Got something you think should be added? Please let me know!

More new NRS volumes

I’m plugging away at the Navy Records Society volumes; I’ve added the index to a collection of five volumes today. These are:

So, we’re always getting closer to getting all the NRS content in the database.

Remember that if you see content you’d like me to add, just drop me a line or post a reply here. I’m always interested to hear about new resources to add.

New content added; mostly Navy Records Society volumes

Indexes for the following volumes have been added:

One of my goals is to have the entire set of Navy Records Society volumes included in the database. These volumes are fantastic resources in British naval history. I’m working through them, one at a time. Right now, I think I have about a third or so of them in the premium database, though I’ve been focusing one the ones with the largest number of vessels mentioned in their indexes. (Actually, it’s more than a third, because some volumes have indexes for multiple volumes. I count about 53 actual indexes in the database, out of over 150 volumes published, so I’d guess the total number is closer to 60 or so.) Either way, I’ll keep at it…

New Linking Relationships

Yes, I know it’s been far too long since I posted something here. As ALA Annual rapidly approaches, however, lots of news is coming up. I added a big file a month or so ago, and I’ll add a note about that soon.

Right now, I want to mention a great linking arrangement that we recently settled on, with the good folks at Accessible Archives, who digitize 18th and 19th century publications. We’re actively collecting links to ships mentioned in the newspapers in their Civil War Collection, so you can find mentions of ships in those newspapers.

Read more about this in the recent press release, either via PR Newswire, or at the Accessible Archives website. I’ll write more about this soon.

Don’t forget that we’ll be in New Orleans in about ten days, at the American Library Association Annual Conference! We’ll be at Table 3818. See you there.

More new content, question about shipwreck info

The following files have been added to the premium ShipIndex.org database in the past few days:

The last one listed describes shipwrecks around the world. A correspondent suggested that we add more content surrounding shipwrecks, which I thought was a great idea. This is a start. I understand that there are a number of diving guides regarding shipwrecks, specifically intended to help divers locate particular sites. I’d love to know more about those, and get some examples from folks. If you have any ideas about such items — either books or websites or other sources — please let me know by email or in the blog comments section below.

Thanks.

New content added recently

Content from the following resources has been added to the premium database in the past few weeks:

In addition, a number of resources were update. Several hundred new vessels were added to the entry for IrishShipwrecks.com, and corrected URLs were added to several databases where the URL structures had changed.

The premium database now contains over 1.53 million citations.