Finding a person

There are at least five different ways a person might appear in the American whaling voyages data: as a whaling master, a crew member, a master’s wife, an agent, or by having a whaling vessel named after him or her. Depending on what else you know about your subject, you might search in any of these several places.

Whaling masters

Capt. James F. Smith, New London, oil painting c. 1840. Mystic Seaport 1939.1235. Master AM4504.

If your subject is a whaling master, start with the Voyages database. It contains all of the known masters and has the most biographical information about them, including spouses and whether they sailed.

Note that there are many columns of Master information that do not appear in the Voyages data viewer by default. If you are searching for whaling masters, use the Show/Hide button to show the columns that are of interest to you.

If the initial master did not complete the voyage, the Fate column contains codes to explain. The Vital Records Source column contains the source numbers of references for the biographical information. (Source numbers are defined in the Sources table.)

Once you’ve identified your subject, search by name in the Crew List database. Each crew list should include the initial master for the voyage and might have anthropometric information as well. If the person you’re seeking sailed on other voyages before becoming a master, you may find them here. Note that there may be duplicate or near-duplicate records for masters in the Crew List database—one will come from the original crew list document and one will be from the Voyages database entry for the master.

Master (and owner) information is also available for vessels registered in Connecticut (1789-1939) in the Connecticut Ships database on the Mystic Seaport research web site.

Crew members

If you are seeking a crew member, search the Crew List database. Once you have found your subject, note the VoyageID and use it to search for the full crew list for that voyage in the Crew List database. You can also use the VoyageID to search in the Voyages database to find more information about the voyage and vessel on which your subject sailed.

Additional crew member information is available for about 250 whaling voyages from San Francisco in the San Francisco Shanghaiers database on the National Maritime Digital Library web site.

The “Registers of Seamen’s Protection Certificates” issued at the custom houses of Fall River, Gloucester, New Haven, New London, Newport, Marblehead, and Salem from 1796–1871 may be searched on Mystic Seaport’s research web site.

If your subject sailed from a port in the New London or the Salem customs district, you may find that he also sailed on voyages that were not whaling voyages—the complete crew list databases for these ports are available for online searching on Mystic Seaport’s research web site:

Wives of whaling masters

Samuel Francis Davis and his wife Salome Eldred Davis, 1866. Mystic Seaport 1987.66.3. Master AM1531.

The names of whaling masters’ wives are stored in two columns in the Voyages database—to be thorough you will need to search each column separately. To begin, use the Show/Hide button to show these four fields: Wife, Wife to Sea, Wife2 and Wife2 to Sea. Wives’ names are in Wife and Wife2. The “to Sea” columns contain an “x” if the wife was know to have sailed on a voyage with her spouse.

In some cases only the wife’s first name is known, sometimes her full maiden name. In general, you will do best to search for the master first, at least by last name, then browse through the results to find any entries for the woman you are seeking.

Agents

If your subject may have been an agent, search in the Voyages database. Agent’s names show great variation, so you will need to be persistent and creative in searching. Sometimes the entries are the names of individuals, with last and first names. Sometimes they have last names and initials. Sometimes the agent was a partnership and appears as one or more last names. And sometimes the agent was a company.

Agent information is also available for about 250 whaling voyages from San Francisco in the San Francisco Shanghaiers database on the National Maritime Digital Library web site.

Owner (and master information) is also available for vessels registered in Connecticut (1789-1939) in the Connecticut Ships database on the Mystic Seaport research web site.

Vessels named after people

On the off chance that your subject was fortunate enough to have a whaling vessel named after her or him, search the Vessel column in the Voyages database.