For more than a decade, I’ve tried to uncover a certain piece of genealogical information: which vessel was my great-grandfather aboard when it was lost at sea? If I can find the ship, it’d unlock a key piece of information: his death date. This may lead to a newspaper article or record providing additional material on the tragedy.
I don’t have a lot to go on. I have his name—Thomas Taylor—that he left on the last fishing trip of the season aboard a ship out of Burin, NL, and that his oldest daughter (my grandmother) was either thirteen or fourteen years old at the time. He gave her a winter coat before he left, so he probably departed in September or October in 1917 or 1918.
For six months after the ship was lost, the residents of Burin Peninsula kept their blinds down. Many men from the small communities dotting the shoreline had been aboard the ill-fated ship. With that many lives involved, church records or newspapers should have made some sort of report about the disaster, but so far, I’ve found nothing connected to Thomas.
I’ve searched through numerous databases, checked hundreds of websites and posted queries. The leads I’ve chased always led to dead ends or vague maybes but probably nots. So when I find a new source of information for ships that sailed the Atlantic—such as the Maritime History Archives—I continue the search for Thomas.
Located at Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL, the Maritime History Archive “collects and preserves documents relating to the history of maritime activities in Newfoundland and Labrador and throughout the North Atlantic world”.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Crew Lists Database is one of the online resources. It contains more than 40,000 names of seamen who travelled on 430 NL registered vessels between 1864 and 1942. It is searchable by surname, vessel name, official vessel number and voyage year.
In my search I found dozens of seamen with the surname Taylor. In an attempt to narrow the search, I added “Thomas” but found no results. I changed “Thomas” to simply “T” and found “Thos Taylor” who was aboard the Kyle in 1913. The agreement contained twelve pages. Besides information on the crew, it contained the provisions furnished to the crew for the voyage and regulations for discipline.
The crew list provided signatures, age, nationality, home address, dates of agreement, pay and other details. The Taylor listed here was from St. John’s, not Burin, so not the one I was looking for.
The Virtual Exhibits and Digital Collections section contains several resources, including Titanic-Related Documents, William Button Diaries and the Alphabet Fleet, the ships owned by Reid Newfoundland Company that ferried passengers to coastal communities on the island, Labrador and Nova Scotia. This service was integrated with the railway to provide customers with the utmost mobility.
The collection also includes the Mercantile Navy List and Maritime Directory which spans the years from 1868 to 1938. The database can be searched to find individuals and vessels.
Although the archives is located in Newfoundland and contains a British NL crew list, a large number of seamen were from other countries, such as Canada. Any ancestor who worked aboard a vessel travelling the Atlantic Ocean might be found within the database.
Side Note: Several years back, my aunt presented me with a newspaper clipping detailing the Mina Swim tragedy. All her life, she believed this was the ship on which her grandfather had died. After a few months of research, I discovered this was probably not the ship Thomas Taylor worked aboard when he was lost at sea.
Learn more about the Mina Swim on the Mina Swim Memorial website.