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 ( theshipslist.com) 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 blogs.rmg.co.uk/ 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