THE CREW of the Bath-built schooner Arthur Sewall pose for a photograph in Hiogo, Japan in 1902.

THE CREW of the Bath-built schooner Arthur Sewall pose for a photograph in Hiogo, Japan in 1902.

BATH

Maine Maritime Museum in Bath has created an online directory of all documented merchant mariners who originated from or passed through Maine between the late 18th and early 20th centuries.

The Merchant Mariners Muster was created by Senior Curator Nathan Lipfert, who is set to retire this spring, and is the first directory of its kind in Maine.

“The idea was a question that comes up frequently in our business that we find difficult to answer,” said Lipfert. “People would say that their great-grandfather was a sailor and wonder if there’s a way to look up what ship they were on. There wasn’t.”

Lipfert said that the information was out there. Crew lists and a variety of other written documents state who was on what ship at what time, but there was no government depository or library to organize all of the information according to ship, shipping company and mariner.

“We had a depository of over 600 manuscript collections and literally millions of handwritten documents,” said Lipfert. “Each document is about more than one person, so there was no way we could file them alphabetically by the person’s name. The only chance of finding the info you need is through an index.”

With the help of a private grant funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation secured in 2011, Lipfert and a group of volunteers set to work surveying the catalogs and began profiling each mariner.

“The idea was to create a database just about these mariners and the voyages they made,” said Lipfert. “What they were paid, rate of pay, but also a discovery of the seaman himself. Complexion, eye color, height, where they had been and where they were going.”

Voyages covered in the database spanned the entire world, Lipfert said, from “little schooners between Maine and Canada with five or six guys” to “big ocean-going vessels bound for places like Japan and China.”

Ships and their crews only had to pass through Maine once — including construction and launches — to be added into the database. The database is set up to search by the name of the mariner or the town he or she was from. Lipfert said the names were typed into the database exactly how they were found in the written documents, and that outside information is not used.

“We’ve got 23,735 people in the database so far,” said Lipfert.

Those mariners were taken out of 6,000 documents, but Lipfert said there are still “millions to go through.”

“It’s a lot of names, but only a drop in the bucket in the entirety of history,” said Lipfert. “We’ll be at this a long time and still never get to completion, but I feel like it’s something that can be used by the public to find their ancestors, or just for fun.”

Lipfert said that the project is in good hands as he steps down from his position this spring, and that it’s something that the museum will “continue to do for a long time.”

To search the database, visit mainemaritimemuseum.org.


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