Advanced Searching in

Our “Introduction to Searching” Research Help Guide provides an overview of the basic parts of searching There are some advanced features, as well, and they’re worth knowing about.

It seems straightforward – type in a ship name, get results. Actually, there’s a whole lot more that you can do in the database, and it is, admittedly, kinda wonky and a bit tricky. Please watch the following video to better understand how to use the search features more effectively.

Here’s an overview of the most important points:

  • Remember that your search only brings back that ship name. There’s lots more after you click on the “See other matching ships” button.
  • To limit a search to just the ship name field, use the term “@ship_name” and then the name of the ship. For example, “@ship_name union“.
  • To search for a ship name that starts or ends with a specific word, use these characters: use “^” (the carat character) in front of a word, to indicate that the ship name must start with that word; or “$” (dollar sign) at the end of the word, to indicate the ship name must end with that word. For example:
    • @ship_name ^union” to display ships whose name starts with “union” – Sample search
    • @ship_name castle$” to display ships whose name ends with “castle” – Sample search
  • Use “*” (asterisk) to expand a search, but you must start with at least two characters.
    • A search for “acht*” returns ships where a word that starts with “acht” appears in the ship name or the citation. In this case, it includes “Acht Gebroeders”, “Achtienhoven”, “Martini Achter”, and “Y’acht Tu Put Family First”. Sample search. It does not look for “acht” within a word; it only looks for words that start with “acht”. (The apostrophe in “Y’acht” appears to create a new word; note that no entries with the full word “Yacht” appear in this search.)
    • If you search for “@ship_name *acht” you’ll get lots of citations for ships with names like “Deltagracht”, “Dotte Yacht”, and more. – Sample search.
    • And, if you put an asterisk before and after “acht”, you’ll get a combination of both searches from above, plus ship names where “acht” just appears within a word, as in “A Lil Naughty Yachty”. – Sample search.
  • You can even exclude specific words from ship names by putting a “!” (exclamation point) in front of the terms you want ignored. A search with the phrase “@ship_name ^mary !annie” will return all entries where the ship name starts with “mary” except for those that also have “annie” in the name. – Sample search

The full help page will give you more guidance as well. But it’s clear that there’s a lot you can do when searching the database.

An important concept here is that the database serves as a de facto authority file for vessels. There’s no larger collection of vessel names out there, and if you’re having a hard time finding information about a ship with the name you have, you might do some searching to see if there’s a different version of it. At a genealogy conference in England, a person came to me seeking information about a ship named “maid of sussex”. We found no ship with that name. Now, it might have still existed, but the database is pretty comprehensive at this point. By playing with the database, and searching for just “sussex”, for instance, then clicking on “See other matching ships”, we found “Sussex Maid,” which was, most likely, the ship she was seeking.

There are many ways of using and searching the database, even if you’re not subscribing. Give it a try, and let me know if you have questions or comments.

4 thoughts on “Advanced Searching in

  1. Thanks for using ShipIndex at LC!

    In truth, ShipIndex isn’t the best place to search for owners’ names. You can find some personal names, sometimes, because they were in the citation that we’ve added for the ship, but it’s hard to search for them. If you want to search for a name like, say, “Lewiston”, you can do the search, then click on “See other matching ships”. You get 40 ships ( and it looks like only two of them actually have “Lewiston” in the name of the vessel. For all the others, the word appears in a citation somewhere. For the boat “Jodee Pearl” (, there’s only one citation, and it mentions Lewiston, Idaho. For “Faith”, there’s one citation among the 374 – you need to use the Ctrl-F search in your browser to look at each of the four results pages. Somewhere, in some of those results, you’ll find a citation that refers to an owner, rather than a former ship name, a location, or something else. Probably. If you were searching for “Brown”, it would be just impossible — the amount of time it’d take to look at all those pages would absolutely not be worth the very small chance of finding anything useful.

    So what can you do? Well, you’re at the Library of Congress, so I’d start by asking for assistance in searching NUCMC (pronounced “Nuc-muck”; it’s the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections), as you might find owners’ papers in a manuscript collection through that path. (Though I think, given the name, it’s only looking at holdings in US collections.)

    If you know the name of the shipping line, then you *might* find a printed history of it, which might be useful, or you might find it in NUCMC. You could also try searching LC’s discovery layer to see if comes up with anything. (Ask for help in locating this tool, if you’re not familiar with it. I didn’t see it immediately when looking at the library’s home page.) Though, again, if you’re searching for an owner named “Brown”, that won’t be practical. And, it’s worth checking to see how many historic newspapers are in the discovery layer. Not to get too technical, but if the discovery layer is provided by ProQuest/Ex Libris/Clarivate, then it will likely include a lot historic newspapers. If it’s provided by EBSCO or another vendor, it won’t have as much — because most of those historic newspaper collections are digitized by ProQuest and they don’t let other vendors include their data in the other vendors’ central indexes. Searching newspapers through the ProQuest interface, and/or through the Making of America site are both good ideas, too, though it will depend on the age of the newspaper, as LC digitized MoA quite a long time ago and the scans and subsequent optical character recognition (OCR) work was very rough on the earliest newspapers.

    California’s digital newspaper collection at takes digitized content and allows individuals to edit and enhance the content, making it easier to search.

    I hope some of this might be helpful! Best of luck in your research.

  2. I am looking for the ship PANAMA, Liverpool to NY
    Arrival date: Oct. 12, 1846
    I’d like passenger information

  3. I am looking for the ship ROSCOE, Liverpool to NY
    Arrival: Nov. 29, 1841
    I’d like passenger information

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