New GeneaGem: Mariners Lost at Sea Database

Although I am always on the lookout for new GeneaGems to share, I don’t come across these hidden treasures very often.

Today’s GeneaGem is a fabulous find if you have ancestral lines that originate on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Being an island, Nantucket offers an opportunity to live a seafaring life, whether it be as a local fisherman, a mariner sailing ships from sea to sea or as a whaler.

At the time the American Revolution broke out, Nantucketers worried for their safety and their livelihood, as most of the men’s occupations were related to ocean life.

Their success had reached its peak in the 18th century, but life at sea remained dangerous, not only in wartime, but during peaceful times, too.

Aside from inclement weather, which sank many ships, most sailors were unable to swim. Shipboard accidents happened. Men fell overboard. Angry whales rammed ships. Pirates attacked. Fatal illnesses like yellow fever.

Occasionally, bodies might be brought home for burial, but in the majority of deaths at sea, sailors were ‘buried’ in the ocean.

However, crew members had to be accounted for, so families and government officials knew what happened. Deaths were reported to the Nantucket town clerk, likely by the captain or first mate, and the names of the deceased were duly noted in town or court records.

Today’s GeneaGem is found on at the Nantucket Historical Association, where a database has been created to record and remember Mariners Lost at Sea.

More than 1,100 seafarers from 1726-1896 have been identified and their names added to the database.

Notice the tab at the top right side of the main page (above) – Mariners Lost at Sea Database. Just click and then scroll down.

If you have multiple family surnames and prefer to browse, the database is set up with 50 entries to the page. That can be adjusted up to 100 entries to make browsing a little easier.

If particular surnames are of interest, note the green arrow at the top right. Enter a surname and the list will appear.

The site if very easy to use and I believe as more men who died at sea are identified, the database will be updated.

My own ancestor, Joseph Coleman, died at sea off the coast of Guinea, Africa, of yellow fever sometime between 1775-1790. His name appears in this database.

This database is also very useful for identifying collateral relatives who died at sea.

The Nantucket Historical Association is doing a tremendous job preserving its history. Its website is fun to browse even if Nantucketers aren’t in your family tree – and it’s free!





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