Category Archives: Research Help

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.

Introduction to Searching

The video below shows effective ways of using the database. It’s good to know what the database can, and cannot, do.

Here’s an overview: tells you what books, journals, websites, databases, resources, and more, mention the ships you want to learn more about.

There are, basically, two versions of the database: the free database and the subscription database. You’ll find over 150,00 citations, and lots of great content, from many significant books in maritime history, in the free database. You’ll also find links to subject headings in WorldCat, though have significantly declined in value, due to a change by OCLC, WorldCat’s owner, this past month. Read more about that here.

The subscription database has over 3.2 million citations in it, and it’s always growing. The subscription database contains lots more online content than the free database, plus many, many new books in maritime history. All content that’s been added since 2009 has gone into the subscription database, except for updates to the WorldCat file.

Watch this video to learn more about the specifics of searching the database, and a bit more about what you can expect:

Subscribing to the database is inexpensive and easy — you can subscribe for a set period of time, from two weeks to a year, or you can subscribe on a monthly basis, in which the subscription will continue until you cancel.

You might also find that an academic or public library near you subscribes to the database. If you’d like to suggest that your local public or academic library consider a subscription to ShipIndex, please take a moment to tell them about the database! We can set up a trial for them, and if they let patrons access resources during a trial, you could use it then. Ask your librarian to contact us about options for subscribing!

We believe strongly in the importance of maritime museums, so we offer free access to the full database for all full members of the Council of American Maritime Museums (CAMM). A museum staffperson can contact us to get access set up on their campus and in their buildings. If they so choose, they can offer this access to museum visitors, as well, such as in their library or through their wifi network.

Basic advanced searching

When you search for a ship name, you’ll often see the following phrase at the top of a results page: “See other matching ships”.

This means that, in this case, you’re looking at ships whose full name is “Eagle”, excluding any prefixes like “HMS”, “USS”, or of course, “USCGC”.

When you click on the “See other matching ships” link, which is in the red box shown above, you get this result:

Each ship name here either contains the word “Eagle” in the name, or somewhere in the citation. With a common one-word name like “Eagle”, this can be overwhelming. The next step is to narrow down the search, by using this search term: “@ship_name eagle“, to get this result:

Now every citation has the word “Eagle” in it, which definitely narrows down results. But there’s more that can be done to get to better results. See our video on advanced searching, to learn more.