Battle Creek MI
Are you searching for information on Immigrant Ships?
Many genealogists are interested in knowing how their ancestors came to America. They search for passenger lists to find the name of the vessel and date of arrival and are often seeking an image of the vessel that brought their ancestors to this foreign land.
1860s - 1950s
For those whose ancestors came in the mid to late 1800s to the mid 1900s, an image of the exact vessel may be available from a maritime museum, an archival collection, or from various printed and online immigrant ship resources. After the 1880s, the majority of passenger vessels carrying immigrants were steamships. One difficulty with this research is that there are many vessels of the same name in service on any given date. The port of arrival, date of arrival, and/or Captain's name may help to identify the correct vessel. If you cannot find an image of the exact vessel, it is possible to find the image of a "sister" ship, one which was constructed using the same design drawings as your ancestor's ship.
1600s through 1850s
The search is harder for those whose ancestors came on sailing ships before the age of readily available photography and before the age of rapid communication across the sea. Both of these technological advances (widely available photography and the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable) occurred in the mid 1800s. Some of the more wealthy ship owners commissioned paintings of their vessels. Some ships' logbooks contain elaborate drawings of vessels at sea or in various ports. Some ships' portraits were sketched for newspapers, especially during war years and during end of the slave trade. Reproductions of these images can be obtained from museums, publications, and occasionally on the web. However, the chance of finding an image of the exact vessel that brought a person's ancestors in these early years is usually very slim. Often the best that can be hoped for is to find an image of a similar type of vessel.
Identifying Types of Vessels
Vessels used for exploration during the 1500s usually had small chunky hulls and two or three masts, each with one or two large sails. Through the years the hulls became more streamlined, much larger, and the sails on the masts became more varied. Sailing vessels were categorized by the number of masts and types of sails used on the boat. Some early vessels were called galleons, caravels, and, generically, ships.
By the 1700s, the word "ship" often took on a more precise definition - a vessel of at least three masts and "square rigged" on all three masts. The term "square rigged" refers to rectangular sails, one above the other (often three or more per mast). A "bark" or "barque" had three masts, like a ship, but was "square rigged" on the first two masts and had a triangular sail or two on the third mast. A "barkentine" was "square rigged" on the front mast only and had more triangular sails on the second and third mast. Typical "Brigs" and "Snows" had two masts with square sails on both masts. The "snow" had one additional small triangular sail. "Brigantines" had two masts, one "square rigged" and the other with more triangular sails. A typical "Schooner" had two masts and no square sails. Brigantines and schooners tended to be smaller vessels, had less carrying capacity, and were used less frequently in trans-Atlantic commerce. However, these smaller vessels traveled at faster speeds, had shallow drafts, and were frequently used in the slave trade and coastal transportation.
Various sources can be consulted to determine the type of sailing vessel that transported one's ancestor. These include ships' registers, newspaper arrival notices and passenger manifests. Once you have determined the type of vessel upon which your ancestor traveled, you can search for an image of a similar vessel.
Staff from The Mariners' Museum Library at Christopher Newport University has culled its collections of paintings, drawings, books, newspapers, logbooks and photographs and compiled a list of over sixty sailing vessels of various types from the mid-1700s and 1800s, at about ten to twenty year intervals. Many of these are colored images from our paintings collection. In addition, the staff has identified a number of images of "ships" from the 1500s and 1600s. It is now easier to obtain a reproduction of an image of the type of ship upon which your ancestor traveled. For personal image and research assistance visit the Museum's research assistance web page.
The Library and Photographic Services staff is also offering custom prints of images of your ancestor's ship or a similar type of ship for the time period. If you provide the name of the vessel, the type of vessel, complete name of the ancestor, the port and date of departure, port and date of arrival, this information will be printed below the image of the ship. For further information about this new service, contact the Library at 757-591-7782 or email@example.com.