Shipwrecks and how to research them
Every family historian is, from time to time, faced with ancestors who ‘disappear’. There are lots of potential explanations for these people vanishing from your family tree, but have you considered that they might have been a passenger on a ship that was lost? Sea voyages were a lot more common in the past than now – people travelled to find work, conduct business, to emigrate, meet family, and to take a holiday.
There is no centralised, single resource describing every person who died at sea. The earliest records relating to the demise of commercial ships were produced to enable ship-owners, merchants and insurers to keep track of their business interests. Lloyd’s List has recorded the loss of ships at sea since 1740. It will tell you that, for example, the schooner Waterwitch was wrecked off Florida in 1816, but not much else. Individual passengers are not mentioned and we have to wait until the 1850s before the Board of Trade began systematic attempts to record the deaths of the travelling public at sea. You have to be a little careful with these records because they are not comprehensive, and sometimes only provide cursory details about individuals such as a surname and initial. You may end up with a number of possible identities for
A ship runs aground on the Sussex coast in November 1829