Research Passenger Ships

Research Passenger Ships

You've got questions about discovering, preserving and celebrating your family history; our experts have the answers.

Q On Sept. 9, 1738, my ancestor and 348 others landed at Philadelphia on the Glasgow. I’d like to find out more about the ship, for example, when it was built, its size and what happened to her later. Where can I learn this? I’ve tried Web sites such as the Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild, but the content is mostly passenger lists.

A. Genealogists hot on the ancestral trail do tend to focus on passenger lists, but learning about the ship your family sailed can add meaningful context to your research. Most of the Glasgow‘s passengers, which are listed online, were from the Palatine area of Germany. Walter Sterling served as captain, Amsterdam was the departure port, and the ship stopped in Cowes, England, along the way.

Details on ships get sparser as you go back in time. The Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild has ship descriptions, but the site doesn’t mention your Glasgow. A Google search, though, turned up a transcription of a journal article mentioning the Glasgow. Part of it reads:

According to the Rotterdamse Courant, five of the ships operated for the firm of the Hopes were ready on June 22nd. They were the Queen Elizabeth, Thistle, Oliver, Winter, and Glasgow. The fleet proceeded to English ports for the customs clearance required by the Navigation Acts . . . the [Pennsylvania Gazette] of September 14th registered the Two Sisters, Glasgow . . .


You’ll want to check out the information in the original article. A citation at the end gives it as “The Emigration Season of 1738—Year of the Destroying Angels,” in The Report, A Journal of German-American History, (volume 40, 1986), published by the Society of the History of the Germans in Maryland. You’ll also want to read the Sept. 14, 1738, Pennsylvania Gazette—Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper—which is indexed and abstracted on microfilm at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ Family History Library. Borrow the film through your local Family History Center.

The Rotterdamse Courant is a historical Dutch newspaper. Try contacting the Netherlands Central Bureau for Genealogy (click English for a translated verison), or post a query on a Dutch message board such as those at DutchGenWeb.

You can learn what the Glasgow probably was like in books on early ships and shipbuilding, such as Dutch Shipbuilding Before 1800: Ships and Guilds by Richard W. Unger (Van Gorcum, out of print). Also visit maritime museums and libraries such as Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and others listed at www.bruzelius.info/Nautica/Museums/mm.html.

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