Category Archives: Uncategorized

Updates to online resources, especially Mystic Seaport resources

A few weeks ago I went through all of the online resources in, 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 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. “Guides to Ships” Published! Introductory Sale, too! 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 entry for ships named Shakespeare. The first links came from gCaptain’s Maritime Monday links for today.

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.

Giving as a Gift

Looking for a last-minute gift for a maritime historian or a genealogist?

Consider access to the nearly 3.4 million citations in!

You can give a genealogist three months of access to the premium database for just $22. Or give a historian access to the premium database for six months for $35. Or give a maritime history fanatic access for a year, for just $65! This is a one-time payment, via PayPal (and yes, you can use a credit card through the PayPal site).

To make it happen, send a note to We’ll need the following information:

  • The recipient’s email address
  • When you’d like access to begin, and for how long

We’ll create a pdf certificate that you can print out or email to the recipient. It will include a username and a temporary password, plus information on how to access the database.

This can be a great gift, for any occasion — from a holiday or birthday gift to a retirement or ‘Thank You’ recognition.

38th Voyage training: Visiting the Library and Collections at Mystic Seaport

One of the great treasures of Mystic Seaport is its research collection. Like any museum, they are only able to display a very small portion of their collection at any given time.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the library there, both in its old and its new locations, but it’s always great to visit again. I have also often had a chance to visit the CRC, the building where the library, along with hundreds of small boats, and many other special items that can’t be on display, are stored.

Still, I never pass up a chance to visit the place. Here are a few shots of the hundreds and hundreds of boats in the mill:

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From there, we went to the collections storage area – ship models galore, paintings, drawers and drawers of scrimshaw, clothes and costumes, nautical instruments, and so much more.

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I can’t quite find ways to describe how important these collections, and the work they do, are. There’s so much more to a museum than just the exhibits, and the Seaport’s library, and its excellent staff, are a perfect example of that. Doing research in a collection like this makes it possible for people to learn new insights, discover old truths, and better understand what our ancestors did and why they acted as they did.

But libraries, especially specialized ones like the Seaport’s, generally don’t get a lot of financial support from their institution. Much smaller libraries (the Seaport’s is the largest maritime library in the US, and one of the largest in the world) have even less support, and are even harder pressed to justify their presence or growth of their part of the organization.

I feel certain that there must be ways to better monetize the resources in the research collection. I realize that could sound heretical, and probably sounds terrible. (I admit, “monetize” isn’t the loveliest word – but it is specific and accurate in this case, so I’ll stick with it.) But it is what needs to be done. A library needs to justify its value to the organization by generating revenue. There’s plenty that can be done for researchers that doesn’t involve revenue generation, but there is so much more that can be done for them, as well. And when it creates revenue, it gets attention within the organization, and is seen as a force for growth, rather than a drag on expenses. The fact that something cost money tends to give it greater ‘value’.

I would like to see maritime museum libraries work together to create tools that non-maritime people will want to use, and will want to pay for. I don’t know if it can happen, but if there’s a chance, I’d like to see if I can help make that so.

3 Million Citations! And a full run of Mariner’s Mirror!

Today, I’ve uploaded a file that brings the total number of citations in to over 3 million! I’ve learned, as I’ve grown the size of the database, that it gets harder and hard to hit big milestones when you add another set of digits to the citation numbers. Nowadays, adding 100,000 citations is somewhat significant, but I feel like only the rollover in the millions mark (or maybe every half-million) is really worth noting.

The file that’s making the rollover is a very important one, and reflects some changes to data in the database. I’m actually reducing the number of resources in the database, but I think it’s appropriate. I’m not reducing content in any way. Before today, the database contained the following resources, all listed separately:


So, the database contained volumes 56-70 and volumes 76-90 of Mariner’s Mirror, the most important journal in maritime history. I’ve now added the missing content – volumes 1-55, and 71-75. And, I’ve put them all into one single ‘resource’, since they really are all the same set. I also standardized how the volume and page numbers appear in each citation. now shows ships mentioned in 90 volumes of Mariner’s Mirror. This is valuable stuff.

So, to be clear, I’ve removed five resources from the database, but I’ve kept all of their citations. I put them in a new resource, and then I added new citations to that resource. I’ve added citations for 30 years of Mariner’s Mirror to the database, and not removed any. These 30 years of new content add up to an additional 17,605 citations, getting me over 3 million in the total database.

Now you’ll find just one resource for all of Mariner’s Mirror, which makes a lot more sense:


New Marketing Paths

I’m putting together a new marketing push these days, which consists of a range of traditional to non-traditional approaches.

The most traditional is a series of ads for in several maritime and naval magazines over the next few months: Military History, Power Ships, Sea History (I have been writing a column in Sea History about ‘Maritime History on the Internet’ for many years now), and Naval History. Personally, I like print ads. I know there are reasons why they might not be a great idea, but I like ’em. I may add some online ads, as well, but (despite my previous work with electronic journals) I do love me a good print serial.

I am thinking of doing some ads in genealogy magazines next. Any suggestions on which you think would be most relevant?

The first non-traditional marketing tool is underwriting my local NPR station, WSKG, and I’m writing this now because I heard the first on-air acknowledgement spot earlier today, at the end of “On The Media”, which is a show I very much enjoy. The other spot is at the end of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, which everyone in my family enjoys. I will look forward to see if they have any impact at all. It’s really not that non-traditional, though, is it? I mean, has been doing it at the national level for a while, and I have heard national underwriting spots for library database companies that individuals can’t even purchase, like EBSCO, ProQuest, and even for Summon, from Serials Solutions. (I’ll admit, hearing the last one was pretty cool.)

The totally non-traditional marketing move is to sponsor collegiate cycling teams. Now, in this case, I expect essentially no financial return from the move, just good karma and psychic positivity. (Plus a cycling jersey with the logo on it…) At first, I wanted to sponsor TeamType1, which is now Team Novo Nordisk, but they limit their sponsors to cycling and diabetes products and services. Also, they’re a professional, international cycling team, so I probably couldn’t have afforded it, even if they had accepted me. Then I thought about the local collegiate cycling teams, but the Cornell guy never got back to me, the Ithaca College team seems dormant at the moment, and I wondered why I was thinking about them, and not my alma maters.

The folks on the Carolina Cycling Team know what they’re doing. They put together a great proposal, were quick with the information, plus offered great information about the team and its current status, and were quick and accurate in requesting actual payment. I hope my jersey from them comes soon, and I look forward to keeping an eye on how they’re doing. I’m also going to sponsor the Oberlin College Cycling Club, though they haven’t yet asked for the actual money. I guess I should bug them about that soon. I would gladly sponsor teams at East Carolina University (they’d be especially appropriate, since their institution also subscribes to the database) or Binghamton University (well, SUNY Binghamton, as my wife, the graduate, still calls it). If you know someone there, have them contact me. My research suggested that both are dormant at the moment.

(Since cycling is not an NCAA-approved sport, they don’t have limitations on accepting sponsorship. They also don’t get any [or much] money from their athletic departments, so they need the sponsorships. My wife suggested I try to sponsor rowing teams — at least they’re on the water, after all — but since they’re NCAA sports, they cannot accept any sponsorships. Also, I love cycling, and that’s where I wanted to start.)

So, that’s where marketing is going right now. If I’m doing it wrong, tell me how to do it right.

Old Ship Picture Galleries temporarily down – what should ShipIndex do?

I discovered this afternoon that Old Ship Picture Galleries was recently taken down.

A site on the home page says “If you want this site back, e mail  and ask him to stop bombarding with e mails. He seems to take exception to me posting some copyright expired pictures that he has paid someone for. I do this as a hobby for the enjoyment of others and just don’t want to know all this animosity – life’s far too short for that! for god’s sake it’s only a picture of an old ship!”

This site had a ton of great images of old ships, and it’s a shame that the author feels bullied into taking it down, but I do not fault him for doing so.

I don’t know when it will be back; I guess I may take the links out of the database, at least for the time being, though I hesitate to do that. I’m trying to decide what to do right now. What are your thoughts?