Watch out!

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weren’t al­ways com­plete, for all sorts of rea­sons, es­pe­cially for the poorer classes of pas­sen­ger. Again, If your an­ces­tor died at sea and their body was not found, he or she will not have a GRO death cer­tifi­cate or a parish burial. Some parishes con­sid­ered drown­ing an un­nat­u­ral death, so even if a body was re­cov­ered the burial may have been in un­con­se­crated ground, es­pe­cially be­fore 1808. news­pa­pers can some­times help. By read­ing the Western Times, for ex­am­ple, we find a let­ter re­port­ing that third class pas­sen­ger Fanny Batch­e­lor from Ply­mouth died on board the SS Lon­don when it sank in a storm in 1866. This fact is not recorded any­where else.

Some web­sites such as The Ships List ( the­ship­ in­clude lists of ship­wreck vic­tims and sur­vivors, and th­ese can be valu­able short­cuts. There are also books that may help you nar­row down the pos­si­bil­i­ties if you are stuck. For ex­am­ple, Mil­ton Wat­son’s book Dis­as­ters at Sea (Pa­trick Stephens, 1995) de­scribes ev­ery pas­sen­ger ship catas­tro­phe since 1900. Fi­nally, be aware that al­though pas­sen­gers who drown in a ship­wreck fre­quently do not have a grave, they may have a me­mo­rial in their parish or there may be a me­mo­rial to the ship­wreck that claimed their life. The Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum has started to in­dex th­ese, and their data­base can be searched by name at memo­ri­als.

Find­ing and in­ves­ti­gat­ing an an­ces­tor who died as a ship’s pas­sen­ger is not al­ways easy, and can in­volve quite a lot of de­tec­tive work. Hope­fully, the re­sources high­lighted here will en­cour­age you to be­gin your search.

A sink­ing Bri­tish fish­ing boat is res­cued off the

coast of Calais, 1912

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