I have now written five books on immigrant ships with more in the pipeline. I have never found a boring immigrant ship, although maybe I'm the boring one being so interested in them! Most ships have at least one tale of woe, one tragedy or one amazing link with huge moments in history. I encourage you to research the ships your ancestors came on and I guarantee that you will learn more about what your ancestors went through on the voyage and the people who they were interacting with while travelling, on what was often a long and monotonous journey.
Where to start researching your ancestral ship?
1. Type the name of your ship into Google and the year it sailed. Often a rootsweb page will appear with details of the ship. I have typed in 'Ivanhoe 1864' without quotation marks and the following three pages appear:
- www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nzlscant/ivanhoe1.htmFeb 16, 2002 - The 'IVANHOE'. From The Lyttelton Times 14 June 1864. "Marred by no fewer than 25 deaths among the passengers. Twelve of these caused ...
www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nzlscant/ivanhoe.htmTHE 'IVANHOE'. From The Lyttelton Times 14 June 1864. "Marred by no fewer than 25 deaths among the passengers. Twelve of these caused by low fever.
freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~ourstuff/Ivanhoe1864.htmThe voyage of the ship Ivanhoe from England to New Zealand in 1864 was ... Under the command of Captain Dunn, the Ivanhoe left Plymouth on February 25.Most of the information you need is on there, but to avoid copyright or plagiarism issues you need to find the original sources of information. Also it is SO wrong to copy someone elses work. You need to either obtain permission or find the original source and do the work yourself. It doesn't take long to do the work yourself and is much more satisfying. The advantage of the above pages is that they instantly point you to many sources of information.
2. Find the original passenger lists. I take a name from the above rootsweb site, or your own ancestors name and go to familysearch.org the famous Mormon website for researching your family tree for free. On the home page click on "Records" and then scroll to the bottom of the page and click on "Australia and New Zealand." You will be taken to a page of records from these two countries. Down the bottom of the page is "New Zealand Immigration Passenger Lists 1855-1973."Click on this and type in a name from the passenger list or your own ancestor's name. They should appear with a year of emigration next to them. Find the correct person and click on them. Then go to the image and you have the original passenger list. Then go to page one. I do all my passenger lists from original records as often the transcribed records on the web have a few transcription errors. Often you know a lot more about the ship than most transcribers because you have researched the passengers, so know that the spelling of Barrett should be Barnett and so on! You can put correct and incorrect spellings in the passenger list.
3. Use paperspast.natlib.govt.nz to search for your ship. If there are lots of hits then narrow it down to a week after the ship arrived. There will usually be one or two major reports on a ship about one to two days after the ship arrived in port. Sometimes the main stories are spread over a week and include passenger lists. Search advertisements as well as articles as often an advertisement has a testimonial to the Captain with an ancestor's name in it, or your ancestor may have lost some luggage and is asking for it back in an ad! Sometimes you need to search months ahead as there may be court cases and other interesting articles that mention your ship.
4. Go to Trove (trove.nla.gov.au) and search for your ship on there. It can turn up other Australasian journeys, where the ship was built, where it was wrecked etc and even pictures of the ship.
5. Do the same in 19th Century British Newspapers which is a database available through many New Zealand public libraries. Just enter your library card number and password and browse in the comfort of your own home!6. Find your ship in one of Ian Nicholson's amazing books "Record of Records" which details where to find diaries and ship logs for your own ship. If you find there are diaries then try and order them from Alexander Turnbull Library, Museums and other places. If there are no diaries, don't fret, yet!7. Look at the cabin passengers on your journey or any "famous" or well known passengers who were mentioned in the newspapers. Often there are letters or diaries still in existance for these well known people with journey summaries. Bingo! Often you will find something startling that wasn't in Ian Nicholson's amazing book.8. Then research obituaries for people who were on the ship in Papers Past. Often they died many years after the journey and sometimes these obituaries have comments about the journey. Sometimes there is a comment that Joe Blogs has written his autobiography. Search for this autobiography in the public libraries. These most often have details of the voyage. Some have almost a full summary of the voyage as the writer has worked from his or her own diary. This original diary may have been lost, but their autobiography lives on. Sometimes these autobiographies have startling details about other passengers and what became of their lives and how they interacted with the person writing the autobiography. It could even be your own ancestor mentioned!9. If you still can't find any decent accounts of your ship voyage and you only have a few lines from a newspaper then search Papers Past again. Sometimes this can take hours and hours but will often turn up a reunion of the ship 50 years later with some details of the voyage. Or sometimes you will find an 80 year old telling the story of their journey in the newspaper.10. If all else fails research every single passenger on board your ancestor's voyage and often you will find a family tree book or two with one or two details from the voyage, based on people's memoirs. Once you piece the newspaper articles you have together, plus these few details from memoirs, you start to build a complete story of the journey which no one has seen before. It grows out of nothing into a wonderful thing.A word of warning. People's memoirs after often grossly exagerated and do not match the newspaper reports of the day. They often have embellishments, wrong names, etc. I even read an obituary for a man who was a sailor on board a ship. He must have told his family stories of a terrible storm at sea and if it hadn't been for him the whole ship would have been lost. This was rubbish as the newspapers of the day stated a completely different person saved the ship! So please treat all these memoirs with a grain of salt! Remember if a person is 90 years old when they die, they can tell their family anything and there will be no one else alive from back in the day to correct them!Diaries are, from my experience, way more correct, although sometimes a person wrote about a death or birth or other event many days after it happened which can be extremely confusing if you are comparing two diaries!
11. You will discover through all this research that your ship probably spent time a several wars, or was around when a major earthquake went off in Chille and a tsnami wave hit the ship etc. This is exciting stuff. Research what happened during these major events and how your ancestral ship was involved. 19th Century British Newspapers are helpful for this and other websites on major historical events.
12. Draw a map of the ship's journey using the latitude and longitude from newspaper reports and diaries. You can find coordinates on Google by entering them in the search bar, or right click and click "What's here?" on the area you think the ship might have been.
13. Find where the ship was built, using the tonnage, newspaper articles that suggest where it may have been built etc. Often you will find a similar ship sailing at the same time and can not confirm which ship is which until you do extensive research in the newspapers. Check details of ships on Lloyd's register.
14. Try and find what happened to the ship. Often you will find a website or family story that says that after the passengers were dropped off at port, "then the ship returned to England and was never seen again." I have seen this several times and every single time it has been an incorrect family story. People exaggerating to make their lives seem more dramatic or interesting. Search the newspapers, Lloyds register and just do google searches such as "Ivanhoe wrecked" and other searches. Sometimes it will come straight up! Sometimes it will take a couple of nights to find it! Check the tonnage and other details to make sure you have the correct ship.15. If the diaries or journey details were not great, it pays to find some general information on ship board life. There are museum websites and other places that have it.16. Remember to always check copyright, ask permission, thank the person, reference the source and you will cover yourself from being guilty of any plagiarism. If you ever make a mistake and publish something you shouldn't or get something wrong, apologise to anyone who contacts you about it. Happy researching!