ancestryink fisherman

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

November 2nd. Put this special event at Penobscot Marine Museum on Your Calendar

The Penobscot Marine Museum is hosting a one-day event that combines the past and the future. 

The History Conference is best introduced in the Musuem's description from their website:

"For generations the resources of fish, wind and tide played key roles in Mainers’ lives. The Industrial and Technological Revolutions dramatically changed our use of these resources. What is the current state of our fisheries? Is there a new vision for Maine’s working waterfront? Can Maine lead the way in wind and tidal power development? This year we examine Maine’s history and future with regards to our resources of fish, wind and tide."

Visit their event page for further descriptions of their lecture series.

The lecture sessions are separated by 15 minutes breaks, and end with a beer-tasting from Marshall Wharf Brewing Co.

You can register for the event online.   

Entry fee is $50. for museum members, and $60 for non-members, with lower prices for teachers and students.

Once again, the Penobscot Marine Museum offers another interesting, fun and very relevant event -- this time for those fascinated by the history of life on and by the sea, and for those interested in the future of ocean resources. 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Slight Absence...

I have missed quite a few Maritime Mondays.  Life has been good and busy lately and in fact, with the completion of my local mariners writing project, I will admit to taking a little time away from dead folks and old records to be out and about enjoying life in a slightly different way!

However, in my ambles, there is always an irresistible cemetery to explore.  As I venture further out onto the Cape towards Provincetown, I am getting a good sense of the most prominent families that had settled in the area so long ago - sea captains, small town citizens, et al.

Last weekend, I visited the Swan Lake Cemetery of Dennisport.  Yes, this lovely old and very atmospheric cemetery (perfect for Halloweeners) sits on "Swan Lake."  Across the street is the cemetery annex, hosting newer burials.  But the original cemetery with overgrown grasses, crows, and burials dating back to the early 1800's, proved pretty interesting.

Here are a few photos:

This monolithic granite stone (center) is for the Wixon family.  The Wixon name was only etched at the bottom of the monument and the sides remained glassy and reflective.  The crow seemed to know how to stage a scene:


The  next stone is unique.  Elijah Small must have been a local mariner and his final voyage from Australia to Hong Kong is etched forever in this ornately carved stone.  Quite beautiful.  There is something very touching about the "No Tidings."  How often this was the case, when a mariner was lost at sea.

Elijah Small 1834 - 1874

Those knowledgeable about marble gravestones may
understand the green coloring.  Normally I
would assume this is a discoloration due to
copper, but unless there are copper posts within
the monument, there is no evidence of it from
the outside. 

"And the Sea Gave up the Dead Which were in it."

Following is a view of the cemetery on the hill, just as the light broke through the clouds:

Swan Lake Cemetery
Finally, at the far left of the cemetery facing into the woods, stood this tomb.  I have never before seen the words inscribed above the beautiful old door:  (click to see a zoomed image)

"Receiving Tomb  1880"

Here are some of the local surnames in the Dennis/Yarmouth/Chatham area:
Thacher (no second "t")

It was interesting to discover that many of these family names are plentiful both in Maine, and on Martha's Vineyard.  And yet not so commonly found here in Falmouth, MA.

Happy Fall to all!  Cemeteries are the best places to do some serious leaf-peeping, so don't forget to visit one or two in your travels.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Maritime Monday and Labors of Love

Genealogical research is a labor of love, you have to admit.  The hours, months and years required to navigate all the twists and turns of time and historical events - to locate just one elusive ancestor - chronicle a mad devotion to the task. Almost every day I encounter someone new caught up in the "Where's Waldo" of it all.

Today, Labor Day, is a good day to acknowledge the meaningful, honest good work of historical researchers bent upon connecting the dots between people and events and recording this information for future generations.

Today, I would like to highlight a new website - surprisingly, one I use almost daily but have somehow been remiss in including in my genealogical research links.

Image: Cape Cod Gravestone website
Cape Cod Gravestones  is a cemetery list of the cemeteries of Barnstable County, by town.  The list of interments in each cemetery, though not fully complete, records the most historic of graves - and there are many.  This is a great resource.  The burials in each cemetery are listed not by name, but by date of death.  The burial dates range from 1683 - 1880, and in some cases to 1900.

A note on the front page of the website offers good instruction on searching by name.  Simply go to Google and enter "capecodgravestones +  (surname)" and this will scan the site for your person.  I have located, and visited many many graves thanks to this site, and used hand in hand with the Falmouth Genealogical Society "Cemetery Project," you have a very good chance of finding that elusive ancestor.  Photo images are of course included on both sites, though not for each grave.

Cape Cod Gravestones appears to be created and maintained by Robert Paine Carlson and he is the contact for the website.  Besides providing genealogical information, make sure you read all the info on the home page of the website regarding all that can be found here. Carlson's project has accomplished a valuable service in recording by photograph, gravestones that very soon will be unreadable or lost, due to ravages of time.

Labor of love??  You bet!  Happy Labor Day.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Maritime Reading - Best Nautical Bookstore on Cape Cod

Again, Maritime Monday slips into Maritime Tuesday.  It might be well worth the 24 hour wait to discover a somewhat hidden treasure for all you readers of nautical-related books - the Columbia Trading Co. of West Barnstable, Mass.

Columbia Trading Co.  (image: website homepage)

There is no finer destination on a rainy day - or any day - than the Columbia Trading Co. bookstore.  One visit will convince you the small bookstore, in general, is a precious asset we should all go to great lengths to keep alive and thriving.

The bookstore is located in a rather unassuming Cape style house at 1022 Main Street,  near the intersection of Route 6A (Old King's Highway, and across from the really historic West Barnstable Cemetery! ) and Route 149.  Depending on the direction you are coming from, I suggest you take at least part of your journey along Route 6A.  It is beautiful, scenic drive, winding through marshes and rural seaside land and homes.  From the village of Sandwich to the bookstore is particularly wonderful.  Take in "Momo's" for a gourmet-sandwich or their great cafe-style coffees, and sit on their deck overlooking the marsh.

Back to the Columbia Trading Co.  Several spacious rooms include used books, new books of local flavor, maps, artifacts (real, not chotchkies), clocks, and lovely ship models. The layout of the store is so light and comfortable for browsing and reading, you will suddenly find an hour has passed while exploring the shelves.

They are very likely to have that book of maritime interest that you have been unable to find elsewhere.  My particular lucky find was "Live Oaking - Southern Timber for Tall Ships"

which was published in 1981 by Virgina Steele Wood.  I had found this book in the Falmouth Public Library and had slim hopes of locating it elsewhere.  Sounds like a snore?  Not at all!

Wood's (appropriate name) thorough research of using live oak timbers in the construction of ships spans from the early 1600's through as recently as 1960. Her story is enlivened by letters from the shipmasters and tradesmen who set up camps in the South to harvest the majestic live oak.  She shows us the human side: the tribulations of weather, illness, shipwrecks, at times drunknness. And also successes for the magnificent sea-faring families who, as brilliant businessmen, greatly influenced the maritime history of the U.S. The books if full of old news clippings, illustrations, even photos, and Wood's writing style is simple and conversational.  A young adult reader could easily get caught up in the stories.  It is a true story of adventure.

The Swifts of Falmouth are a huge source of  information, and Wood includes letters (1825) between Oliver C. Swift and his father Elijah Swift, and also between the Hiller family (1858) of Mattapoisett.

The Columbia Trading Co. is a  marvelous find, with an unparalleled collection that is obviously widely researched and thoughtful. You might want to call ahead to make absolutely sure they are open.

They have a Facebook presence, and if you 'like' their page, you can keep up with hours, events, and inventory. They also have an online bookstore presence on at least one website that I found -

It is really more fun to go for a visit - rain or shine. Set aside a couple of will have a hard time getting yourself out the door and I doubt you will leave empty-handed.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Relatives and the Theory of Relativity a Graveyard

While searching for the relatives of a Falmouth sea captain at the Church of the Messiah Cemetery in Woods Hole, I happened to make a relatively surprising discovery.  (Please forgive the punniness - it was hard to resist.)

Hans Albert Einstein was the first son of Albert Einstein.  He was born in Switzerland, lived and taught at the U. of California, Berkeley,  and just happened to pass away of a sudden cardiovascular event, while lecturing at a symposium in Woods Hole in 1973. 

I did also find the sea captain and his family.  Captain Calvin Childs and his wife Mercy are buried a little higher up the hill from Hans Albert Einstein in what is known as the Old Village Cemetery - the oldest portion of this Woods Hole cemetery that sits next to the stone church, and across the road from Vineyard Sound.  Captain Childs also died far from home.  He succumbed to cholera, in 1855, in Piermont, New York.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Maritime Monday - The Lovely Liberté

There are times, along the New England shoreline, when it almost seems as if nothing much has changed since the mid-1800's.  The other night was just such a night...watching a schooner sail into the sunset across Vineyard Sound.

The Liberté was actually built in early 2000 to the exact specifications of her owners. She is a charter vessel that hails from Maryland, and is tied up at the Patriot Ferry dock in Falmouth during the summer months.  Every evening, her fair lines and full sails grace the waters between Falmouth and the Vineyard. When the daily din of automobiles and busy summer life has gone quiet, you can easily imagine a life on the sea, in another, earlier century.

Here she is, timeless, in the last light of the day:


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Limerick Burial Records Go Online

This information came through a Facebook forum.  Pretty exciting news for those of you who are searching for Irish ancestors.

Limerick, Ireland
70,000 burial records from the Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick will go online this month - August 20th .  The information will not just be a list of names of those interred there, but also position of grave, names and addresses, age at death, and in some cases, cause of death.

Click here to read the news article.

I Googled the Mount St. Lawrence Cemetery.  Here is a link to the cemetery webpage.  The dates of the burial records span from 1855 - 2008. The records are broken into four sections and require a DjVu viewer to download, first.  It appears the records are already online, earlier than the 20th of August, though I did not take the next step and view any individual records.

Happy researching! 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Maritime Monday - Double Rainbow Arcs Over Vineyard Sound

If there were a ship's log entry penned of the evening of August 4, 2013, it might go something like this:

"Aug. 4 - Seas calm. Storm clouds gathered moving west to east. Passed ships: ferry Island Queen, Falmouth to Oak Bluffs; Schr. Liberte Falmouth to Vine. Sound; Schr. Alabama under full sail heading before the storm into port Holmes Hole.  Thunder and lightening, long approach, rain finally begins in heavy downpour, moving across Vineyard Sound, east. Seas quiet. Sun breaks through after storm, followed by full double rainbow arcing over the Sound. All hands on deck to view display."

August 4th Vineyard Sound 7pm
A serendipitous event, last night's ritual evening swim off the sandy beach along Surf Drive in Falmouth included this beautiful show of light and color.  Though I was unable to capture its full arc, it reached from East Falmouth to Martha's Vineyard (in this photo) in full double glory, lasting 15-20 minutes. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

NEHGS Name Origins: Sena - My 3x Great-Grandmother

Last Spring, The Weekly Genealogist, published online by NEHGS, did a nice feature on this AncestryInk blog.  There was a little fun in the article regarding my Master Mariner great-grandfather (1860-1934) who was known for, among other things, his seemingly overlapping marriages.  Polygamist!  In truth, they were all on the up and up, but records of an earlier divorce were not found, casting a little "shadow" on his moral proclivities.

Purely by coincidence, this past Wednesday's The Weekly Genealogist mentioned another ancestor of mine: Sena Luddington.  In the "Name Origins" section of this edition, the meaning and origins of "Sena" were discussed, using Sena Luddington as one of the examples. 

A Little Back Story

Sena Luddington was the grandmother of my nefarious Master Mariner great-grandfather, Allan Henderson!   In our genealogical records, she is known as Lucina, or Lusina.  There is one record that refers to her as Sena.

"Lusina Henderson: Manchester Guysborough Township Records

She married Alexander Henderson, a Scottish Loyalist, who at the end of the Revolutionary War was granted, along with Lucina's father Titus Luddington (Ludington) of CT, acreage in Manchester, Guysborough, Nova Scotia.  There they had eleven children, the youngest being Allan Henderson.

Skeletons in the Closet

Allan, a mariner,  soon made his way to North Haven and Deer Isle, Maine where he acquired land,  married, and in 1860 had a son, Capt. Allan Henderson, the maybe-somtimes-but-not-really Polygamist Master Mariner. The very same ancestor whose name was never uttered in my family, but for one brief moment. Delivered with a shrug and a peeved, impatient laugh, his daughter Eva, (my grandmother) threw out into one family gathering: "Oh yes, he had a woman in every port."  I was about eight years old, and that was the first and last time I ever heard mention of Capt. Allan Henderson.

Coincidence Happens

Two closely related Henderson ancestors brought to life in The Weekly Genealogist within a few months - what are the chances?  It is always a great read, but you can be sure I won't be skipping any future editions.

The only other astonishing and rather exciting airing of an ancestor's name came via Ken Burns's "The Civil War" film.  The mention of the two Henderson brothers from Deer Isle, Maine who were killed in the Civil War?   Cousins of the Captain.  

With all the attention genealogy is receiving lately, I wonder how many of you out there who have been vigorously "shaking your family tree,"  have suddenly found yourself reading or hearing about one of your very own ancestors in the media? 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vacationing on Nantucket??

If so, the Nantucket Whaling Museum cannot be missed.

As part of the Nantucket Historical Society, the Whaling Museum building was, in brief, originally a candle factory, circa 1846 - 1860, at the end of the whaling era.  After several incarnations, the building was bought by the NHA in 1929 and converted to the Whaling Museum.

Nantucket Historical Museum

No museum of dark and dusty artifacts - there is something exciting to see for everyone in your family.

Here is a little preview of what you will enjoy there: *

A favorite:  the full skeleton of a sperm whale that "washed ashore on New Year's Day, 1998."  Yes, you read that right:  not "1898" but fairly recently, in 1998.  He is the happiest looking sperm whale around (and could possibly have been cast in "A Night at the Museum.")

Sperm Whale skeleton at the NHA

Whale, boats, and scrimshaw and art

Not to be missed, among this summer's current exhibits, there is "Nantucket Legends: Foggy Facts and Fiction."  Any Off-islander will quickly come to understand that Islanders have a unique gift for passing down colorful tales.  The trick is discerning truth from fantasy.  Or...does it really matter??

Another exciting must-see is the premiere film of "Lost on a Reef: Nantucket Whaleship Two Brothers."  The Nantucket whaling captain Pollard of the ill-fated "Essex" ended his career in a violent storm off the Hawaiian Islands, aboard the "Two Brothers," in 1823.  This documentary brings alive the two year salvage operations of the "Two Brothers."  In cooperation with NOAA.  For more historical info about the ship "Two Brothers," click here to the NHA page.

*All images and some description in this post are from the NHA website.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Maritime Monday: Cause of Death: Commotion & Who Do You Think You Are

The volunteer transcribers of have been very busy.  I am seeing many new records online, including not-seen-before death records and mortality schedules, for Massachusetts.  This is very exciting and many a mariner is included in these records. On the other hand, the speed at which these records are being transcribed is starting to yield a disturbing number of errors.

Here is one 1850 record of deaths in Falmouth, Mass., including that of a certain mariner, Albert Baker, that was pretty humorous.  (And a bit shocking.)

Here is the abstract:  Click for closer reading.

Cause of Death:  Commotion

Albert Baker, age at death 26, died in May of 1850.  "Cause of Death: Commotion."

Hmm,  was that a euphemism for someone who had lost their marbles?  Or had he died of a heart attack amidst a particularly busy or chaotic day? Could this be the 1850 version of "Hypertension," a cause of death that is used currently? Naturally, I went straight to the original document.

Here is the original.  Click on it for a closer view.

Commotion or Consumption?

Honestly?  I can completely understand where this curious cause of death came from.  At first glance, the penmanship reveals a word that looks much like Commotion.  But, if you scan down the document, it appears  that at least eight Falmouth citizen succumbed to Commotion, also.  Hmmm, I would think that curiosity at the odd death, and a little knowledge of common causes of death in the 1850's might prompt the indexer to see that Commotion is in actual fact "Consumption."  

Keep an eye out for errors.  But, this one record of death gave me a good chuckle.


Remember that show?  It was produced by Lisa Kudrow on the NBC network and was pretty popular for awhile, though it seemed to limp into the second season with a few too many contrived moments of "tears of emotion," perhaps. Anyway, I enjoyed it.  At the end of the season, however, it was unclear if it was returning to air.

Well, "Who Do You Think You Are" is back!  Yes, now aired on TLC, and still directed by Lisa Kudrow, the season began with Kelly Clarkson.  

I have to say, it was a fun episode.  She is a truly engaging, well-spoken young woman, and her ancestors had some really unexpected twists and turns.  The format is the same, as she travels hither and yon, in search of her ancestor, consulting knowledgeable historians along the way.  But there was none of the scripted "oh wow" and then the torturous wiping of tears stuff.  Her surprises and yes some tears, seemed genuine. 

Just my opinion - but  the whole show just seemed less "Hollywood" and more authentic. I actually do not really care who the celebrities are, as long as they have an intriguing ancestral journey.  I'm looking forward to the next episode.  You can read more about it on the show's website: WDYTYA

Watch it Tuesday nights at 9:00pm.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Getting Ship-Shape

Woke up this morning enlivened by a lonnnnng-awaited cool breeze wafting through my rooms, returning temperatures (and brain functioning!) to normal.

With the wind in my sails, I decided to bring the AncestryInk blog up to a more ship-shape condition.  There is one simple change of which to take note. I think it will help readers find resources more readily.

The right hand "research" menus have become more defined. There is now a "Maritime Research Online" list which should enable you to home in on maritime stuff right away, without weeding through links to genealogical resources.  "Genealogical Research Online" stands alone as a separate resource list.

The "Historical Societies" resource list remains the same.

Also, those who are interested in whaling crew lists and vessel lists and whaling voyages by year:

 The New Bedford P.L. (Public Library) has a great searchable archive.  And the New Bedford Whaling Museum ALSO has an archive.  Redundant, you say?  You would think.  However, I have searched for someone on one list, not found him, and then found that crewman on the other of the two lists.  So, try them both, just to be safe. The differences may just be a function of their search engine capabilities.

TIP: when searching for crewmen, in particular, if you are not finding them - try searching with just their last name.

Lastly, I have added a link to the really fabulous "Nicholson Collection" held by the Providence Public Library.  This collection holds many, many whaling logbooks - all digitized for you to read online.   You can search by vessel names which are listed alphabetically.  

I think that is about it!  Enjoy the cool air and I will see you next Maritime Monday.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Maritime Monday: Launching of the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport

The 1841 whaleship, Charles W. Morgan, was launched into the Mystic River, this weekend, after five years of restoration.

Launch Ceremony attended by many
The ship was launched on her 172nd birthday.  She is the oldest commercial vessel in existence and made 37 whaling voyages in her lifetime.  Her 38th voyage, which will take place in May 2014, after her interior and rigging is restored, will take the Charles W. Morgan to various ports of New England, including New Bedford and Vineyard Haven, on the island of Martha's Vineyard.

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ric Burns (not sure if he is related to the well-known Ken Burns) gave the keynote address.

More about the launch and facts and video about the restoration process, can be seen at the Mystic Seaport website.  

The New York Times, Hartford Courant, and The Washington Post also carried news of the launch, this past weekend.

A touching and significant part of the launch ceremony was the breaking of the bottle on the bow of the C. W. Morgan by Sarah Bullard, the great-great-great granddaughter of Charles Waln Morgan, the original owner.  The bottle was not filled with champagne.  Instead, it contained waters gathered from each of the seas traveled by the Charles W. Morgan on her various whaling voyages.

Another notable fact is that the C. W. Morgan's whaleboats were contracted out to various boat yards around the country.  One of these is the highly-esteemed wooden boat builder Gannon & Benjamin, of Vineyard Haven. 

Gannon & Benjamin's whaleboat for the C.W. Morgan
Having lived on Martha's Vineyard for nearly 30 years, I know both owners and many, many Vineyard people who have worked for them.  Their work is exquisite and their adherence to the traditions and art of wooden boat building is admired across many seas and borders. 

You can follow news updates of the Charles W. Morgan over the coming year, at the Mystic Seaport website.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Update on the Shifting Ice of Arctic Waters

My copy of Rolling Stone finally arrived (safely and unmutilated by dissenters) in my mailbox yesterday.  I read the article about the Arctic Ice right away.  The concerns we have in this century, differ quite radically from the concerns of 1800's mariners, and the fate of the 32 ships locked and crushed in ice, in 1871, which I reported yesterday.

This article follows Jason Box, a scientist tracking the melting of the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland which, according to the article,  holds about 10% of the world's ice.  Between July 8 and July 12 of last year, "the entire surface of Greenland began melting." Shocking facts abound.

This is a different threat than those our mariners faced, for sure.  We are not talking about the seasonal shifting and calving of glaciers.  This is about the glaciers disappearing altogether, and changing our climate forever.  Box explores the effect of soot from wildfires creating a warming effect over the glaciers. The article is a huge wake-up call,  and important to read. 

"Jahar" Tsarnaev?

 The piece about the Marathon Bomber written by Janet Reitman is a thorough, well-written, and unbiased biography of this - boy.  Whether you are offended by his portrait on the cover or not, I wouldn't let anything about the cover put you off from reading the article.  Especially those of you who are passionate Bostonians.

Most of us, in the event of a sudden tragedy,  immediately want to know "why."  This article gives a timeline to the lives of both Tsarnaevs, and left me feeling a sense of - rest. Not peace.  But the reconstruction of his background from childhood, and of his brother, does bring a certain sense of order and in a way, understanding, to the shockingly violent, sad events that unfolded in just a matter of minutes, in downtown Boston.  It helped me to read it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Let's Talk About the Cover of Rolling Stone - Things Are Heating Up

Warning:   I am about to post an image of the cover of this week's Rolling Stone magazine.  You can turn away right now, or hear me out.  Because just to the left of the inflammatory, controversial image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,  is the headline for another extremely important issue:  "The Arctic Ice Melt: Report from the Front Lines of Climate Change."  I have to tell you - this is the article I cannot wait to read.

Blistering heat and high humidity this week, on the East Coast, and over much of the country.  It certainly gives one pause to think about global warming. Maybe the following 1871 story of icebergs and shipwrecks will at least give you a few moments of coolness. 

It is a dramatic tale and a true one. Despite the $1.6 million loss to the whaling industry, (in our 2013 terms, that translates into over $22 million)* and the desperate circumstances, great heroics were exhibited and not one life, out of the 1200 whaling mariners involved, was lost in this icy disaster that took place in the Bering Straits.

The New York Herald reported the incident in their November 7, 1871 edition, in the following way: (article, broken into excerpts)

Financial view of the Arctic whaling incdent

Thirty-three vessels in this report - lost in the Arctic Ocean.  What happened to cause a disaster of such large proportion?  The incident would affect the whaling industry for years and garnered attention, worldwide.

Abandonment of the Whalers in Arctic Ocean
The next excerpt from the New York Herald article lays the timeline for the event: (click to read)

Scientific observations about whale migration

The fleet of whaling ships would push northward in June of 1871, in pursuit of the bowhead whale.  As the whale sightings became more plentiful, the fleet pushed on passing through the Bering Straits into the Arctic Ocean.  In June, the ice was open and passage through was viable.

"Have we not here, then, some very valuable hints in reference to any future expedition in search of the North Pole and the open sea, into which these whales migrate as their summer cruising ground?"

As early as 1871, the migrations of both whale and ice were under investigation.

Images of the whaling disaster were even caved in scrimshaw
What happened next was unprecedented.  The floating moving bergs of Arctic Ice would shift in such a way as to surround the 32 ships and - crush them. All were lost.  The nine remaining ships who had heeded the warning of local populations, would turn from a whaling mission to a rescue mission.

The next excerpt from the New York Herald, November 1871:

1200 sailors  rescued by remaining fleet

A word of remonstrance to the unfortunate whalers. The article would conclude by reminding whalers to familiarize themselves with the patterns of whale migration and to take note of the effects of a warm and sunny June, July and August, in the Arctic region.  This warming trend in 1871 proved disastrous and affected the whaling community until - believe it or not - a very similar incident took place seven years later, in 1878.

I look forward to reading both articles in Rolling Stone. I hear the article about the Marathon Bomber is very well-written, and I like good, informative news writing.

But this remarkable tale of the demise of the whaling fleet shows that warming trends happened, and then reversed themselves - and happened again.  Is this historic pattern of polar ice migration forever lost now?  Have we irretrievably warmed our planet to a point of no return?   The headline posted next to the Bomber's image on the cover of Rolling Stone?  That is the article I will read first.

* Source: has a colorful depiction of the 1871 Arctic whaling loss on the National Marine Sanctuaries website. Though I have read of this disaster from many different sources, including whale ship logs of Falmouth sea captains, this website provides an excellent total picture of the remarkable event. To read more: click here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Maritime Monday - Photograph Rescue After High Tide (And High Humidity)

Here we are again at Maritime Tuesday!  This time let's blame the day-lateness on the Fourth of July throwing everything off.

My house feels like a boat.  The high humidity level lately reminds me of a year I lived on an old wooden sloop.  I thought nothing could feel as damp as that, but this summer in Falmouth is becoming a close second.  I have thought about years lived at sea in the 1800's for both mariners, and their families that at times traveled with them.  Being damp was a way of life.  It's amazing the ship's logs and journals were preserved for us to read today.  As I sit here watching the pages of my books curl in the humidity in my own living room, my heart goes out to those ancient mariners.

I was further prompted to investigate treatment of moisture-ridden objects, by my local Falmouth Library.  They have recently sent out their microfilm of old newspapers, ships logs, and other manuscripts, for digitization. Besides the conservation effort, digitization will also relieve the library visitor (like myself) from sitting at a very noisy microfilm machine under too-bright lighting (necessary, in a library) straining to read penmanship from the early 1800's.  Yay!

Whaling Log Penmanship &Whales

Back to the topic of moisture. In times of floods like those hitting the west and south lately, and high humidity - there is great concern about books, documents and photographs.

AIC - Conservation of Valuable Objects

The AIC or American Institute for Conservation is a vast and multi-faceted organization dedicated to preserving and restoring artworks of all kinds, manuscripts, books, pretty much anything of deep historical or personal significance.  They are as they say on their website:  "The SWAT team for art."

AIC Emergency Response Team

On the Resources page of their website, they also offer a great tip to the common man, for saving photographs after a flood.  Maybe not an every day occurrence in your life, but good to know in case your valuable photos either fall off a boat or otherwise meet a watery demise.

Quoted from the AIC site:

"Photographs and photo albums are often the only records of momentous occasions like weddings, birthdays, and graduations," Sarah Wagner, senior photograph conservator at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) said. "If the flood has damaged them, saving them may be possible. Remember that if flood waters did not damage the negatives, you can make new prints anytime."

Damaged photographs for which there are no negatives should receive attention first. Once photographs have stuck together or become moldy, saving them may not be possible. Handle wet photos carefully; the surfaces may be fragile. Wet photos may be rinsed in clean water (if needed) and sealed in a plastic garbage bag with a tie or a ziploc type plastic bag. If possible, put wax paper between each photograph. If a freezer is available, freeze the photos immediately. Later, the photos may be defrosted, separated, and air-dried.

If no freezer or refrigerator is available, rinse wet photos in clean water and dry them, face up, in a single layer on a clean surface (a table, window screen, or clean plastic laid out on the ground. Avoid drying the photos in direct sunlight. Don' t worry if the photos curl as they dry. A photo expert can be contacted later about flattening them.

The tip about separating the photos with wax paper and freezing is a brilliant idea.  Obviously, if you have experienced a massive flood, there may be no power to run your fridge.  Maybe you can find someone with a generator to help out.  In any case, even if it is just your basement that has flooded or fallen to damaging humidity, this is a quick and easy thing to do until you are able to bring the photos to a better environment.

 Stay cool and dry, all ye mariners and non-mariners alike!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fourth of July from the Whale Ship's Log

From the log of the "Lafayette" whaling ship, voyage 1843:

The Coast Peru

"Tuesday 4th
Lat 15 - 15
Land 25 to 40 (miles)

Steady winds from SE by E. Employed men wing Boat at 6am passed the Napoleon Maria and Henry in Co. at 8am the Barque a see whales and caught one at 11Am see whales going to the NW the Napoleon in pursuit Could not come up with them Hauled our wind in shore for more whales so ended this Fourth of July pursuing whales I am in hopes we shall soon get a good fair of oil to make up for our hard fortune may fortune Smile on us Tomorrow."

 "Whales seen 53 times."

From the voyage of the Florida, 1858-1861, Captain Thomas William Williams. Journal written by his wife Eliza Azelia Griswold Williams, on board. Two of their children were born on this voyage to the Pacific and Indian Oceans:

"July 4th.  It was thick this morning and all night. About 12 o'clock the Cooper told us that there were boats around.  He could hear their horns...Very soon they came alongside.  They were ours....some of the boats, it seems see aplenty of Whales, and once in a while are lucky enough to take one, but not often.  Our boats lost two of their Men and that was not all...It doesn't seem much like the Fourth of July, up here."  (Shantarr Bay)

"July 4th. Today is Independence.  Oh how I would like to be at home and enjoy this day with family and friends.  We cannot celebrate it here with any degree of pleasure. Just after dinner, we spoke the bark Monmouth, Capt. Ormsby...He reported the loss of the clipper ship Polar Star, Capt. Wood, Master.  Capt. Ormsby also told us that the Alice Frazier is lost..."

And from the journal kept by Mary Chipman Lawrence aboard the Whaler Addison* with her husband Captain Samuel Lawrence, Falmouth - 1856 - 1860:

"The Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean: 1858

"The Fourth of July today and the Sabbath.  How different our situation from our friends at home! A gale of wind with ice and land to avoid. The ice probably would be a refreshing sight to them.  Probably the celebration, if there is any to come off, will take place tomorrow.  We had a turkey stuffed and roasted with wild ducks, which are very plenty here. Perhaps tomorrow we may get a whale..."

"Lower California: 1859
July 4.  Minnie arose early this morning and hoisted our flag, which was all the celebration we could boast of, as we did not get that whale that we hoped to.  A beautiful day, which I improved by washing, after waiting ten days for a clear day."

(Minnie is the child of of Mary and Captain Lawrence.)

So ends this day!

Happy Fourth of July to all, on land and sea.

*Excerpts from "The Captain's Best Mate, The Journal of Mary Chipman Lawrence on the Whaler Addison, 1856-1860," Stanton Garner, editor; 1966 by Brown University.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Even Sheep Go to Sea

This photograph entitled "Pentecost" by Peter Ralston, 1983, was posted by Maine Magazine to their Facebook page, yesterday.

There was a time when sheep were transported by boat from mainland to island, in Maine and Massachusetts, to clear land.  Again today, flocks of sheep are growing in popularity for keeping brush and grass under control. Whatever the reason for this particular voyage, it's a lovely image.

( Peter Ralston's website for more stunning photographs, click here. He lives in Rockport, Maine.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Take No Prisoners Prose of Edgartown Vital Records 1820

As many vital records as I endlessly peruse in the name of research, Edgartown, Massachusetts vital records of the early 1800's are still my favorite.  The details of the death records are deliciously unsparing snippets of prose.

Edgartown citizens beware! Live a pious and humble life, or have your bad temper or small crimes made public for all eternity at the time of your death.

Here are some examples encountered while researching mariners of the Cape and Islands:  (click for larger image and

Edgartown Death records 1820

Excerpt:  "Oct. 15   Melatiah Davis  He was a Baptist   a mixed/ character  unhappy in his Temper  weak & / avaricious."

Handcuffs and chains?

Edgartown Death records 1818

Excerpt:  "Nov 27   Dennis Davis  son of Melatiah died distracted/  in chains & Hand Cufs   He was a Baptist/  they sent for James Crosby a very ignorant / man to attend Fun"

Clearly the Meletiah Davis family had some issues.  And though it looks like James Crosby arrived on the scene to have a good time at the expense of Dennis - in - chains, I believe "Fun" means "funeral."

Besides these very candid remarks, the actual details and causes of death are quite helpful in many cases, not to mention the additional family information. And the colorful prose is highly-addictive entertainment!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Whale of a Thank You Note

Sometimes the greatest inspiration comes from the most unexpected places. 

This year was the "whaling year" for the my daughter's students at the small Chilmark elementary school on Martha's Vineyard.  She asked me to help them research whaling captains of Martha's Vineyard.  Yes !! What could be more fun???  I spent a few months in between my own research projects, accumulating and emailing to them lots of wonderful facts and tales of whaling families on the Island.  As I had lived on the Island for so many years, it was easy to jump right into local records.

Map of the Whaling World
They had a great year:  they went to the New Bedford Whaling Museum  (with a side-stop for bowling in Falmouth); they went to Barnstable and boarded a boat and went off-shore for a whale watch. They visited the home of Captain Mitchell West, Chilmark, where just recently exciting artifacts have been uncovered.  All told, they had a whale-full year.

Last week, I got a call to come over to the Island one evening, to visit their end of the year Research Fair. They would be displaying all their knowledge in the form of various whaling projects.  I jumped on the ferry and made it over there in the midst of a crazy rainstorm.  They did a wonderful presentation.  And much to my surprise, I was offered in gratitude a very fascinating, colorful map of the "whaling world" as it was in 1800's. All eleven of the Fifth Graders, and their teachers, had signed it.  The map, which came from the New Bedford Whaling Museum, is called:  "New Bedford: The City That Lit the World." 
- another startling reminder that whale oil was of the utmost importance to this world, for well over 100 years.

There were flowers and other nice gifts, but the whaling map will remain a treasured possession.  I will frame it and hang it in my office. It will always remind me of how important, and exciting, maritime history is to all of us!  But most of all, the thanks from the enthusiastic Fifth Graders will remain my biggest inspiration for continuing to "bring light" to our historic maritime families and their occupations on the high seas. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

MA Vital Records Project Website Changes the Historical View of Mass. Towns and Families

From MA VR Project website

Today is the first time this website has come up in my searches for birth, marriage and death records for Massachusetts towns.  The Massachusetts Vital Records Project.

It seems to be entirely created and maintained by John Slaughter, of Ipswich, Mass., along with volunteers, and donations.

As much as I love pulling the "tan books" (so named Vital Records books for Mass. towns) off the shelf of my local library, and settling in for a couple of hours of research, it is immensely helpful to be able to go over these vital records at home.  Especially, due to one special feature made possible by the website's technology.

The ability to view birth, marriage and death records to 1850,  in the usual alphabetical form per family is incredibly helpful  - but to be able to switch that data to a chronological view, starts to really illuminate life before 1850.  If you are going beyond genealogical research, and exploring historical trends and particular subjects, such as illness, war, deaths at sea, birth rates - this is an incredible resource.

Here's an example:  click for larger images of these death listings:

Alphabetically: the Bearse family of Falmouth, Mass.:
And now Chronologically, for the same family:

What jumped out at me, here?  I was able to see right away that Benjamin Bearse and Charles Bearse, both sons of Crocker and Susan, died on exactly the same day, Dec. 28, 1844.

Here is another random example (which ended up being not so random!):  First the Clark families, alphabetically:

And now Clarks, chronologically:

Notice that when viewed in chronological form, we can easily see that two children of Alexander and Mary  Clark died on the same day, Nov. 1844.

This is when historical research really gets exciting.  Are you seeing the trend here?

Note* I chose these families randomly simply because they were at the beginning of the Falmouth Vital Records list, alphabetically, and were small families. When you are dealing with a very large family, with many names - in Falmouth, "Crockers," for instance - this reoranizing feature is even more valuable.

 Right away, a little "alarm" goes off. In late 1844, there appears to be a number of deaths occurring within families at the same time.  At this point, I would have to suspect that something might be sweeping the town: consumption perhaps. Possibly even a horrible weather event.  Pretty fascinating stuff. 

The next step is to click on the image next to each name.  However, it is rare that the original image lists an actual cause of death.  You would need to delve deeper, at another source.  Yet, this initial viewing from the MA Vital Records Project is invaluable for honing your research time, and even discovering new facts about your family and their town.

I have added their website to my list of online research links, for quick access.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Live Cannonball Brought to Falmouth HMS Nimrod Lecture

Maritime Monday is being aired on Tuesday this week, as you can see.

The following news article relates an 'explosive' event that happened last month during a talk given at the Falmouth Public Library, regarding cannonballs retrieved in Falmouth during the War of 1812.  I desperately wish I had been present during all the excitement.

First, here's a little back story of the maritime and land clashes that took place in Falmouth during this time period. A link to the news article follows:

During the War of 1812, Falmouth suffered from the embargoes in no uncertain terms, but generally stayed out of the fracas.  Some accounts report that she lost some ships: the brand new schooners Nancy, Elizabeth and Fancy were all burned by the British.  These ships were possibly anchored in Wareham, which suffered the burning of a cotton factory, and some of its own ships. Falmouth itself was threatened with conflagrations, yet endured none. The citizens, nonetheless, moved to safe quarters, away from the shore.  And when the commander of the British brig Nimrod demanded Gen. Joseph Dimmick surrender his cannons, he basically said:  "Come and get them."

Painting of HMS Nimrod, held by Falmouth Historical Society

Nimrod responded by lobbing a few cannonballs towards the town.  There were no casualties, a couple of buildings were grazed, and one cannonball lodged in what is now the (seemingly abandoned and vine-covered) Nimrod Restaurant. Apparently, the cannonball hole is still viewable in the men's room wall, and men and women alike have delighted in taking a look.

The talk given at the Falmouth Public Library the first week of last May, was all about these 1812 cannonballs.  It was an evening that would conclude in a rather unexpected way.

Here is the article.  Enjoy!

PS.  The brave mariners of Falmouth would have the last word.*  In 1814, 32 men led by Capt. Weston Jenkins, would slip from Woods Hole harbor aboard the small sloop Two Friends and approach the British privateer Retaliation.  Retaliation fired a warning signal at the Two Friends which responded by dropping anchor.  However, 20 of the canny and brave Falmouth men set out quietly in long boats, came alongside Retaliation, pointed their muskets at the crew, and took possession of the ship and and her plunder, which included two American prisoners.  Retaliation indeed for the town of Falmouth!

*Source:  Freeman, Frederick, "The History of Cape Cod, Vol. 2"; The Annals of Falmouth; pages 467-8.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Here Comes Tropical Storm Andrea - Just Another Day in the Life of an 1850's Mariner

As tropical storm Andrea rushes up the East Coast today, pushing powerful storm surges towards the shore and generally wreaking havoc, I am reminded again of how many men, and sometimes women, in the 1850's routinely experienced powerful storms, on ships, at sea - not watching them on TV from a dry, safe abode in their pretty, coastal home towns.

Waquoit is a part of Falmouth, Mass. that in 1850, 'gave berth' to so many mariners that I thought I would share just one census page for this community.  While researching Andrew F. Bourne, I came upon this page illustrating how many families might be affected by a storm such as Andrea - either waiting anxiously at home for news of a husband or father, or out at sea, battening down the hatches, on board a heaving ship.

Click on the image to read:

1850 Census Record for Waquoit

On this page, there are exactly eight dwellings listed.  Within those eight homes, there is a total of thirteen separate families, enumerated.  Each dwelling contains under its roof at least one mariner, master mariner, or sailor. These men include the head of household, relatives, and also at times, their sons of eligible seagoing age.

Only one man, Henry Crocker, has an occupation other than mariner.  He is a farmer. However, within his home lives the Weston Swift family - another master mariner.

Charles H. Bourne, at age 16, is the youngest "sailor" listed on the census here (though we know that boys went to sea as young as 13 and 14.)  Charles H. Bourne lives with his widowed mother, Susan, in one Bourne household, and his brother Andrew F. Bourne, age 13, lives in another Bourne household. Their father was Capt. Isaac B. Bourne. He married their mother Susan in 1830, and died at sea in 1839, at the young age of 33.

Capt. Isaac B. Bourne of Waquoit, died 1839

Barnabas Bourne,  "Mariner," at age 59, is the eldest seagoing man on this page.

This one census page, and Capt. Isaac B. Bourne's gravestone, are a stunning reminder that at times, in an area such as this in Waquoit, the only inhabitants of a small seaside community in 1850 during both fair weather and storms, might consist almost entirely of only women and young children.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Capt. Tristram Pinkham Swain: A Nantucket Whaling Captain Caught By Gold Rush Fever

Captain Tristram P. Swain was not just a phenomenally successful whaling captain, he was also the embodiment of a wild fever that gripped many a New England mariner,  changing their lives forever, and the whaling industry as a whole,  in the years between 1848-1851.
Tristram Pinkham Swain was born in 1799 on the island of Nantucket to Uriah and Judith (Pinkham) Swain.  He married Mary Nye (Edwards) on Nantucket, May 1826. Mary’s mother was the daughter of Ichabod and Remember Nye of North Falmouth. During Tristram’s lifetime, he and Mary and their family made their home on Nantucket. Tristram is descended from Richard Swain, one of the original settlers of Nantucket.

Census records show Tristram and wife Mary, with children, living on Nantucket in 1850.  He would die later that same year, Aug 12th, and be “buried at sea.”

From 1860 to her death in 1887, Mary Swain lives in North Falmouth with her children and a sister, thus explaining why the headstone for Mary and Tristram resides in the North Falmouth Cemetery. In my research of Falmouth mariners, I include him in the list of Falmouth mariners lost at sea, not just because of the location of his gravestone and his wife's ties to Falmouth, but also because he sailed with many Falmouth men during his life at sea. His career as a successful whaling captain is remarkable. When he heeds the siren song of California Gold and imagined riches, as so many mariners did in 1849, his life takes a sudden turn.

The following information details the activities of Tristram P. Swain as shipmaster, ship owner and gold seeker.

Swain’s whaling trips were enormously fruitful, sending home at times thousands of barrels of sperm oil and baleen oil. And on his trip aboard the New Bedford, he additionally brought home 14,721 lbs. of whalebone!

In 1849, the lure of the rich gold mines of California turned the heads of many a whaling mariner and town tradesmen. Ships set sail from New England to California in huge number to seek the mother lode.  The Gold Rush severely affected the whaling industry.  Some whaling crewmen even jumped ship, mid- voyage, to find their fortune in California.

One of the first ships to set sail from Nantucket to California was the Henry Astor, departing for California in March of 1849. The Gold Rush had officially begun, for Cape Cod and the Islands. The Henry Astor was a Nantucket whaling ship purchased by the Astor Mining Co., a Nantucket company formed specifically to be outfitted and voyage to California in search of gold. She would arrive in San Francisco, September 1849.[1]

Swain and Russell purchase the Emily Farnham

In 1849, Tristram P. Swain, Thomas Russell of Nantucket, and several other men from New Bedford, together purchased the brig Emily Farnham of Boston with the intention of a voyage to California. A July 20, 1849 news clipping from the New Bedford Mercury announces that the “fine brig” Emily Farnham will sail for San Francisco with Nantucketers Tristram P. Swain, Russell (his wife and child), Alexander Chase, and others, on board

And from the July 18, 1849 edition of the New York Herald, this passenger list:[2]

Passenger List of the Emily Farnham, to San Francisco

The fact that co-owner Thomas Russell of Nantucket had brought along his wife and child, indicates that the Nantucketers might be planning to stay in California for some time.

It seems clear that Tristram Swain made that voyage. A year later, leaving his friends and the Emily Farnham in San Francisco, he boarded another ship bound for Panama, either on business, or possibly to make his way home to Nantucket - the very ship to first leave Nantucket for California - the Henry Astor. The sad news of his death arrives via the New Bedford Mercury newspaper, August, 1850:  (see bottom of item)

On board the ship “Henry Astor,” traveling from San Francisco to Panama, Tristram P. Swain of Nantucket, age 48, died August 12, 1850.”[3]

His body was committed to the sea, and his simple gravestone with his wife Mary Nye Swain, stands quietly behind the North Falmouth Congregational Church, in the North Falmouth Cemetery.  

[1] Nantucket Historical Society; Downey, Judith; Consequences of California Mania: Nantucket and the Whaling Industry; “Historic Nantucket,” Vol 48, no. 3 (Summer 1999), p. 25-26; accessed NHS website:
[2] California Bound, 1848-1873; John Ireland, “”; website:
[3] Coincidentally, Capt. O.F. Fosdick, former whaling master of the, Henry Astor, died about a year later, Dec. 3,1851- on board the “Emily” three days out of San Francisco. Though no cause of death is reported for him, another crew member on same voyage died of dysentery, an all too common cause of death, aboard ship at sea. Source:

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