Friday 10 October 2014

Irish seafaring ancestors? See the Liverpool Crew Lists

Schooners at Merseyside Maritime Museum
A new release from Ancestry holds plenty of promise for Irish family historians. It's the Liverpool Crew Lists, 1861 to 1919 collection, which has come our way as a World Archive Project ie it's been transcribed and indexed by volunteers.

It's no tiddler, either. It consists of 1,064,441 entries!

As far as I can make out, there are nearly 78,000 entries for men who were born in Ireland.

The collection includes records for 912 ships whose home port was registered as Liverpool, England. The lists contain information on ship voyages, crew members, and apprentices. Many of the records are grouped together as agreement booklets or ships’ logs.

Depending on year and information available, the details found in these crew lists can include the following:  name, age or birth year, birthplace, nationality, place of residence, service on other ships, rate, date and details of engagement and discharg, and reports of character and ability. Some even include the signature of the crew member.

Ancestry's notes mention that when you have located an ancestor on a particular ship, you should do a separate search for the named ship. This can throw up logs and other ship information.

This release will see me packing up early for the weekend! I've done a search for one of my seafaring ancestors, George Doolittle, born 1842 in Wicklow, and, sure enough, 18 of his voyages, some as Master, are recorded in the 1880s.  I've even found his signature! A couple of his sons are also mentioned as sailing with him on a few of these journeys, but not my great great grandfather, Edward, who owned a number of ships. Presumably Edward's vessels were registered elsewhere. I'll have to look into that.

Of more urgent investigation is a crew member who might just be a cousin from George's mother's family. This might be the link that helps me finally prise open that ancestral branch.

Before I take shore-leave, as it were, I'll recommend this collection as of great potential to anyone whose ancestor settled in the UK and appears in the UK censuses as 'from Ireland'. If your ancestors had any connections with the sea, you may just find that vital clue to place of origin in these documents. The vast majority of the 78,000 sailors recorded as born in Ireland have at least a county of origin recorded. There are, for example, many thousand from County Cork and nearly 1,200 from Sligo; in fact, all the coastal counties seem to be represented.

Some entries also record a specific town; all the ones I found are ports, so I don't think it should be taken as gospel that this was the sailor's real birthplace. Admittedly, most seamen are brought up in ports or on the coast, but it doesn't always follow, so it'd be as well to exercise some caution.