Was your ancestor a whaler sometime between 1809 and 1927? If there is a remote chance, no matter where he lived, you should take a look at a whaling museum’s new crew database of the more than 100,000 men who embarked on whaling voyages out of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Using records of handwritten customs documents that were copied by the chaplains of the New Bedford Port Society and are now stored in the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Research Library, volunteers entered the names and physical descriptions of men leaving the port of New Bedford on whaling voyages from 1840 to the end of whaling in 1927.
These records were then combined with earlier work completed years ago at the Free Public Library. The completed online crew list database now includes 127,531 records and spans the years 1809 to 1927.
A. Burnham Shute. Frontispiece. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Boston : C.H. Simonds Company, 1920.
Men from around the world
While the crew list represents only men who left the port of New Bedford on whaling voyages, it is not at all limited to men from Massachusetts or even the United States.
The list shows what Herman Melville picturesquely noted in his novel, Moby Dick, that people from all around the world passed through New Bedford. In all, there were men from 33 states and two territories in the United States represented, as well as men from more than 100 nations or islands worldwide.
A search of Canada, produced 87 results, and England and Scotland produced 264 and 126 names respectively.
But don’t restrict your searches to a country. Search counties, provinces, and cities. For example, a search of Nova Scotia produced 63 results, Quebec produced eight, Ontario produced 11, and 23 names appeared when I entered Montreal.
Try different spellings
Be creative with the spelling of names. The original records were written by customs officers who may not have been accomplished spellers and who received the information from seamen who may not have been certain of how to spell their own names. It is also possible a single sailor’s name may have been spelled different ways if he went on multiple voyages.
Vessels and maps
In addition to the database of crew members, you will also find images of vessels and maps of whaling destinations.
Visit the Whaling Crew List Database on the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s website.