This Museum’s Database Will Tell You If Your Ancestors Hunted Whales


Photo (Cropped) by Lee Wright on Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo (Cropped) by Lee Wright on Flickr/Creative Commons

While true places are never down on maps, as Melville famously mused in Moby Dick, your great-grandfather might be in a whaling database.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has compiled a list of more than 127,000 men from 33 states and more than 100 nations who sailed aboard whaler ships between 1809 and 1927. This searchable database, pieced together from handwritten customs documents, includes the sailor’s name and age, even his skin or hair color in some cases.

The database is combination of two separate projects—one started years ago at the New Bedford Free Public Library, and the other, at the museum, the AP reports. Given that neither the sailors nor the customs officers taking down their names were prolific spellers, some sailors’ names change from year to year, making genealogists’ work a tad tricky.

Melville even makes a brief appearance in the database, setting sail on the ship Acushnet as a greenhand, the lowest rank, in 1841. You can search the museum’s database here.

[h/t Associated Press]