Have you used newspaper shipping news for genealogy research? This is a new and welcome addition to my resources for  immigration research.

SLIG Class on Immigration

Classes I’ve taken through the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) Academy, whether in person or through the web, are always goldmines. And this year is no exception.

I’m taking Settlers in the New World and Immigrants to a New Nation: Colonial Times to 1900. I knew it would be great, as it is taught by John Philip Colletta, author of the essential immigration book, They Came in Ships.

Newspaper Shipping News for Genealogy

In the opening session, Dr. Colletta suggested using newspaper shipping news for genealogy research. Why hadn’t I thought of this? It’s a wonderful way to add context to your ancestor’s immigration story. And this should be especially useful for ancestors who departed from ports, such as Bremen or Antwerp, whose records can be spotty.

newspaper shipping news genealogy hamburg amerikaIt’s important to note that the majority of newspaper shipping news articles did not list passengers by name. But nearly all notices included the ports of departure and arrival, additional stops, shipping line, and departure and arrival dates.

Additional information in some notices include the number of passengers by nationality, cargo, and weather conditions of the voyage, and even deaths of passengers or crew.

Note: when searching databases for newspaper shipping news, you’ll see that port cities listed mail and shipping information for many ports, not just their own. Also, when searching newspapers, try alternate terms, such as “marine news,” “mail news,” or “harbor news.”

SS Hammonia

The newspaper shipping news example above is from the Birmingham Daily Post, published in the West Midlands, England, 29 Aug 1883, p. 8, via newspapers.com. This article documents the arrival of the SS Hammonia in New York. This ship carried my Prussian great-grandfather Bruno Kirschstein from Hamburg. I already knew his dates and ports of departure and arrival, that Bruno was one of 700 passengers in steerage, and what the Hammonia looked like from these and other sources:

New Information from Newspaper Shipping News

newspaper shipping news genealogy

“Appalling Disaster on the Clyde. Vessel Capsized at a Launch. Great Loss of Life.” Glasgow Herald. 4 July 1883. p. 9. Retrieved 13 Jan 2020.

But when I searched newspaper shipping news, I discovered that the Hammonia was considered quite a dangerous ship. Even as Bruno was sailing across the Atlantic, hearings were being held about the design of the Hammonia and her sister ship, SS Daphne. When launched the year before, Hammonia nearly capsized in the harbor at Glasgow. When launched in the same harbor that year, the Daphne did capsize, killing 124 passengers.

More Questions

As with all great genealogy research, this inspires more questions.

  • Was my great-grandfather aware of this risk?
  • Did he get a discount for traveling on a dangerous ship?
  • What exactly did he experience those 12 days he was aboard?
  • Did the ship design make his passage difficult?

Stay tuned!