Researching an Ancestor Who Was a Ship’s Captain

Researching an Ancestor Who Was a Ship’s Captain

Expert advice on researching an ancestor who was master, or captain, of a ship.

Q. My great-grandfather came from England in the mid-1870s and is a “master of steam vessels” in the 1880 US census. I haven’t been able to find him in passenger lists. Is it possible that, because of his occupation, he wouldn’t appear on those lists?

A. Although the name of the ship’s “master” or captain was a standard part of passenger lists, it’s possible that the indexes, transcriptions or online databases you’re using omit this portion of the records. For example, browsing the June 1872 passenger list of the Victoria reveals that it was signed by R.F. Wyman. But a search of these same records on fails to find Wyman’s arrival in the port of New York.
You might also look for your ancestor in “vessel documents,” which include certificates of registration, enrollment and license, issued by collectors of customs. These records are part of the Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, National Archives Record Group 41. The content of vessel documents varies, but a certificate usually includes the name of the master. A master abstract of these documents, spanning 1815 to 1911, lists the master of each vessel at the time of issuance.
From the January/February 2016 Family Tree Magazine 

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