How to Find U.S. Merchant Marine Records for Genealogy

If one of your ancestors served in the United States Merchant Marine, then you’ll be especially interested in the conversation that our recent blog post on the topic of the Merchant Marine has generated about the records that may be available for your genealogy research.

United States Merchant Marine Records Genealogy

Captain and crew of a new Liberty Ship SS Booker T. Washington just after it completed its maiden voyage to England. (L-R) C. Lastic, Second Mate; T. J. Young, Midshipman; E. B. Hlubik, Midshipman; C. Blackman, Radio Operator; T. A. Smith, Chief Engineer; Hugh Mulzac, Captain of the ship; Adolphus Fokes, Chief Mate; Lt. H. Kruley; E. P. Rutland, Second Engineer; and H. E. Larson, Third Engineer.” Captain Hugh Mulzac is fourth from the left on the first row. February 8, 1943.

The article was on how to find military service records. Military Minutes contributor Michael Strauss made this comment about the United States Merchant Marine:

“Although not officially a branch of the military, the Merchant Marines sacrificed and lost lives since the days of the Revolutionary War, carrying out their missions of supply and logistics during times of war.”

A reader named Steve endorsed that brief remark in the article’s comments section, and expressed a desire to hear more on the Merchant Marine. He says:

“Although not considered to be a military arm of the United States, the Merchant Marines were an integral part of the war efforts in WWI and WWII and should be considered in genealogy. Many lives were lost in service of USA.”

Merchant Marine in Newspapers and Death Records

In a beautiful expression of genealogy serendipity, a Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast listener has written in with a specific question about researching relatives in the Merchant Marine. Vicki writes:

“I have a distant relative who was a Merchant Marine during WWII. Raymond Ralph Burkholder was a Merchant Marine Able Seaman killed when his ship the Standard Oil tanker W. L. Steed was torpedoed by a German sub off New Jersey Feb. 2, 1942. Following is a newspaper article about the incident:”

SS W. L. Steed Merchant Marine ship

SS W. L. Steed (public domain image)

Vicki sent the following article from the Lebanon Daily News, Thursday, February 12, 1942:

NAZI SUBS BOOST TOLL OF SHIPS SUNK TO 25

New York, Today – (AP) The toll of ships officially announced as sunk or attacked off the United States and Canada thus far in the war stood today at 25, after the navy reported the 6,182-ton Standard Oil tanker W. L. Steed was sent to the bottom by an enemy submarine off New Jersey Feb. 2.

The announcement of the W. L. Steed’s fate was made yesterday with the arrival of three survivors, who had been picked up semi-conscious after drifting for two icy days in an open boat. No word has come from the remainder of the crew of 38 as three of the tanker’s four lifeboats still are missing.

A Williamsport, Pa., man was listed as a member of the crew. He is Raymond R. Burkholder, able seaman.

Able-bodied seaman Louis Bartz, 38, of Philadelphia, and Ralph Mazzucco, 23, and Joaquim R. Vrea, 39, both of New York, said the submarine torpedoed the tanker at 12:45 p. m. and that after the crew got off in lifeboats the enemy craft fired 17 shells into the sinking ship.

Last night the third naval district reported that a South American steamship sighted a lifeboat containing a number of bodies off the Atlantic coast yesterday, but was forced to flee when a submarine popped up in the vicinity.”

Vicki’s question is this: Where do you think I would look for a death certificate? New Jersey?

Before we jump into answering that questions, let’s learn more about Merchant Marines so we better understand where to search.

About the U.S. Merchant Marines

The Merchant Marine actually served in a military capacity before the U.S. Navy OR the Coast Guard ever existed.

According to the website, American Merchant Marine at War, the Merchant Marine can trace its history to 1775, when “a party of Maine mariners, armed with pitchforks and axes, inspired by the news of the recent victory at Lexington, Massachusetts, used an unarmed lumber schooner to surprise and capture a fully armed British warship, HMS Margaretta, off the coast of Machias, Maine. The men used the captured guns and ammunition from the ship to bring in additional British ships as prizes. American privateers soon disrupted British shipping all along the Atlantic coast.”

The Revenue Cutter Service, the forerunner of the Coast Guard, wasn’t founded until 15 years later, in 1790, to prevent smuggling.

Seal_of_the_United_States_Revenue_Cutter_Service

Seal of the U S Revenue Cutter Service

There was a Continental Navy in 1775, but it ended with the Revolutionary War. The US Navy didn’t come into being until 1797.

The Merchant Marine, as an umbrella term, refers to a body of civilian mariners and government-owned merchant vessels: those who typically run commercial shipping in and out of the country. During wartime, merchant mariners can be called on by the Navy for military transport.

And that’s what happened during World War II. Our Military Minutes contributor, Michael Strauss, says that “On February 28, 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the transfer (Under Executive Order #9083) of all maritime agencies to the United States Coast Guard. This order was a redistribution of maritime functions and included the United States Merchant Marine.”

Training Merchant Marine officers

Training Officers of the Merchant Marine on the Government Training Ship at New Bedford, Mass. Making an afternoon time sight (NARA, Public Domain)

Where to Look First for Merchant Marine Information

According to the American Merchant Marine at War website, over 1500 merchant ships were sunk during the War, and hundreds of others were damaged by enemy attacks and mines. That brings us to Vicki’s question about her relative.

As I discuss in my Premium eLearning video class Google Books: The Tool I Use Every Day, Google Books is a treasure trove of genealogical information.

A search of Standard Oil tanker W. L. Steed “Burkholder” in Google Books leads to the book Ships of the Esso Fleet in World War II (Standard Oil Company, 1946).

World War II ships Merchant Marin

A genealogy gem found at Google Books!

This book is an invaluable resource that actually provides a detailed, eyewitness account of Raymond Ralph Burkholder’s final acts on the ship before having to abandon it. It even details his last torturous hours in the lifeboat before he became delirious and died, only hours before the other survivors were rescued!

Burkholder on the W. L. Steed

In Search of Raymond Burkholder’s Death Record

Here’s where I put my head together with Michael. I suggested checking the death certificates of the county of his last residence, which may now be held at the state level. He liked that idea and said it’s worth the effort.

From what I’ve learned, the Master of the vessel would have reported the deaths of his crew to the vessel owners, who would have reported to the Coast Guard, and I asked Michael whether following Coast Guard records through the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots would be a good route to a death record for Raymond.

He said that instead, he would go directly to the Records of the Merchant Marines. Michael writes that these records during World War II “can be somewhat confusing, but not impossible to search. The records for your sailor during the war can be located at several different locations.”

Even if you don’t have relatives who served in the Merchant Marine, keep reading because you may get some ideas about records to discover for other family members who may have served in the military in other capacities.

6 Places to Look for Merchant Marine Records for WWII:

Where can you find Merchant Marine records for World War II? Here are six excellent places to look.

#1: Official Military Personnel Files

Official Military Personnel Files (known as OMPFs) are maintained by the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, MO. Since these records are considered Archival 62 years after the date of separation, these are open for Merchant Mariners and others who served during World War II who were discharged by the end of the war. Click here to learn more about ordering OMPFs.

Michael adds this note:

“You can also access the files by mailing in (Standard Form #180, downloadable here), and fill in the information requested about your Mariner. Note that the service record is likely to be under the heading of the United States Coast Guard when filling out the form—check that box. Don’t send any money; the Archives will notify you if the file is located.”

#2: Individual Deceased Personnel Files

If your Merchant Mariner was killed during World War II, request the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF). This file is separate from the OMPF file and is also at the National Personnel Record Center.

Michael says, “These files are a wealth of genealogical information about veterans who died during World War II and other war periods. Contact the Archives to request this file. If the file is not in their custody, it is possible it is still in the hands of the Army Human Resource Command located at Ft. Knox, KY. The Archives will let you know the exact location.”

#3: National Maritime Center in Martinsburg, WV

The National Maritime Center website has links to records, forms, and general info. Request records with this downloadable form.

#4: National Archives Collections on Merchant Mariners

You will find Merchant Mariners collections at the National Archives cataloged under the records of the United States Coast Guard, Record Group 26.

This collection has 8 boxes of material containing details on Merchant Mariners killed, wounded, and those missing in action as a result of combat during World War II. Other records pertain to medals and other citations, court martials, and miscellaneous records.

#5: Ship Log Books

If you know the name of the vessel that the Merchant Mariner served on, then try a search for the logbooks.

Logs can name assignments for crew members, among other log entries of the day to day activities of the ship. The National Archives website has finding aids for log books.

A Google search for NARA U.S. merchant seaman finds several excellent National Archives resource pages there, including some for Ship’s Logs.

#6: Officer Applications

United States Merchant Marine applications for the licensing of Officers, 1914-1949 is available on Ancestry.com. This collection covers both World Wars. These document applicants who applied to be commissioned officers with the Merchant Marines, including men designated as Masters, Pilots, Engineers, or Vessel Operators.

Related collection: Lists of Merchant Seamen Lost in WWI, 1914-1919.

Crossing the Bar

During my research of the U.S. Merchant Marine for this article, I came across the phrase, “crossing the bar.” You may have heard this yourself. It refers to the death of a mariner.

The history behind this phrase:  a sandbar can be found at the entrance of many rivers and bays, and crossing the bar has come to mean leaving the safety of a harbor for the unknown.

I wish all of you in search of your ancestors who crossed the bar good fortune in your genealogical pursuit.

Podcast Episode Featuring Merchant Marine Records

You can hear more about Merchant Marine records in Genealogy Gems Premium  Podcast Episode #159. (Subscription required.)

The Newest Batch of British & Irish Genealogical Records Now Online

It’s always exciting to see new genealogical records come online because they offer new hope for discoveries and brick wall busting. 

Findmypast, a leader in British genealogical records, has recently added thousands of new records to existing and new collections. Among these you’ll find everything from baptism and burial records to British and Irish digitized newspapers. 

British Records

Huddersfield, England Baptisms                                                       

A large market and university town in West Yorkshire, England, Huddersfield is nestled between Leeds and Manchester. It’s the 11th largest town in the United Kingdom, and is known for it’s Victorian architecture. Huddersfield railway station was described by former Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom John Betjeman as “the most splendid station façade in England”, second only to St Pancras, London. 

Huddersfield Railway Station (RLH)

Over 52,000 records covering 14 new parishes have been added to Findmypast’s collection of Huddersfield Baptisms. All new parishes are highlighted in the Huddersfield baptisms parish list.

Each baptismal record includes a transcript of an original parish register entry. This will reveal a combination of your ancestor’s:

  • baptism date,
  • parent’s names,
  • father’s occupation
  • and father’s address.

Click here to search the Huddersfield Baptisms                                      

 

Yorkshire, England Memorial Inscriptions

If you are trying to find out when your ancestor died and was laid to rest in Yorkshire, this growing collection is worth a look. Over 5000 additional records have been added to the Yorkshire Memorial Inscriptions collection. 

These newly added records cover 14 Anglican churchyards across the York area (West Riding, North Riding and Ainsty).

The bulk of the records mainly cover the years of the First and Second World Wars. 

Search for your ancestors now in the Yorkshire Memorial Inscriptions

 

Middlesex Baptisms and Monumental Inscriptions

An historic county in southeast England, Middlesex was established in the Anglo-Saxon system from the territory of the Middle Saxons. It existed as an official administrative unit until 1965, and now mostly falls within the ceremonial county of Greater London, with small sections in other neighboring ceremonial counties. 

Baptisms

Findmypast has recently added over 64,000 new records to existing parishes within the collection of Middlesex Baptisms. These transcripts of original parish register entries will reveal a combination of your ancestor’s baptism date, parent’s names, father’s occupation and address.

The collection also covers parts of London, Surrey, and Hertfordshire.

Search the Middlesex Baptisms Collection

Monumental Inscriptions

Over 5,000 additional monumental inscription records are now available to search. The new records cover two cemeteries in Teddington as well as the Parish of St Mary’s in Sunbury.

Monumental Inscriptions can reveal the names of others buried in that plot as well as more specific details regarding age, birth and death dates. This can be incredibly helpful as it can provide you with the names and dates of your ancestor’s next of kin, including their relation to one another.

Search the Middlesex Monumental Inscriptions here.

 

Essex Genealogical Records

Essex is a large county in the south-east of England and forms part of the Metropolitan Green Belt just beyond greater London. The original Kingdom of Essex, founded by Saxon King Aescwine in AD 527, occupied territory to the north of the River Thames and east of the River Lee. In the 1640s, during the English Civil War, notorious witch hunter General Matthew Hopkins lived in the county accused 23 women in Chelmsford in 1645.

You will find five million baptism, banns, marriages, and burial records from Essex on Findmypast. These records were created from the original registers held by the Essex Record Office and other sources.

John Constable The Hay Wain
The oil on canvas The Hay Wain by John Constable shows the Essex landscape on the right bank.

Essex Baptisms

This collection covers 532 parishes and reveals:

  • birth place,
  • birth date,
  • birth place,
  • denomination,
  • residence,
  • baptism date,
  • baptism place,
  • parents’ names,
  • and father’s occupation.

Search the Essex Baptism Index 1538-1920 here.

Essex Marriages and Banns

These records cover 553 parishes and provide the following information:

  • residence
  • occupation
  • marital status
  • banns year
  • marriage date
  • location
  • spouse’s name
  • spouse’s residence
  • spouse’s marital status
  • father’s name
  • spouse’s father’s name
  • names of any witnesses

Search the Essex Marriages and Banns 1537-1935

Essex Burials

This collection covers 455 parishes and provide:

  • birth year
  • age at death
  • denomination
  • birth year
  • burial year
  • burials date
  • burial place

Search the Essex Burial Index 1530-1994

 

Derbyshire Genealogical Records

Derbyshire stole my heart this year during a recent trip to England where I spoke at THE Genealogy Show conference. It’s preserved historic beauty can be greatly attributed to the Peak District National Park which mostly falls within this East Midlands area county. 

Derbyshire
Photo: My recent visit to beautiful Derbyshire, England

Births and Baptisms

Just under a thousand additional records from 15 non-conformist parishes have been added to the Findmypast collection of Derbyshire Births and Baptisms.

Mainly covering Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, the full list of new additions has been highlighted in their Derbyshire parish list.

Search Derbyshire Births and Baptisms here.

 

Kent Burials

Over 4,500 records of burials that took place at St Martin’s church in Cheriton are now available to search here. These new additions cover two periods, 1843 to 1855 and 1907 to 1958. Search these records to discover where and when your ancestor was buried, as well as the names of their spouse and father.

These burial records constitute a valuable resource for researching ancestry in Kent and have been provided in association with:

  • Canterbury Cathedral Archives
  • Kent County Council
  • the North West Kent Family History Society,
  • Folkestone & District Family History Society
  • and Val Brown. 

 

Billion Graves Cemetery Indexes at Findmypast

You just might be able to pinpoint your ancestor’s final resting place with the new additions to Findmypast’s Billion Graves Cemetery Indexes. The latest update includes:

Cemetery records like these can provide you with information regarding your ancestor’s birth and marriage dates.

According to Alex Cox of Findmypast, “With an abundance of cemeteries, it can be overwhelming trying to pinpoint the precise cemetery in which your ancestor was laid to rest, and visiting each potential location is costly. However, in partnering with BillionGraves, we aim to make available all the cemetery records held on their site for free, saving you time and money as you search for your ancestor. BillionGraves is the largest resource for GPS-tagged headstone and burial records on the web, with over 12 million headstone records.”

 

British and Irish Newspapers

Additions to Existing Newspaper Collections

Findmpast has added 98,602 brand new pages to eleven of their existing titles. Spanning the years 1865 to 1999, the new additions include extensive updates the Huddersfield Daily Examiner as well as titles covering the south of England (Crawley and London), the Midlands (Coventry), and the North West (Liverpool).

Further updates have also been made to the specialist publication – Field – for which they now have editions up to 1911.

Additional updates have been made to twenty-one  existing titles, covering the length and breadth of Scotland, Ireland and England. These include updates to two Cornish titles – the Royal Cornwall Gazette and Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser, as well as updates to seven Scottish titles, including the John o’Groat Journal and the Perthshire Advertiser.

There has been a significant update to the Bristol Times and Mirror, with over 33,000 pages added, covering the years 1897 to 1911.

Also updated are two early Labour publications – Clarion and the Labour Leader – as well as one of our religious titles, Witness (Edinburgh), and the sporting title, the Football Post (Nottingham). As you can see, there is a diverse range of interests represented.

New Newspaper Titles

The Queen, The Ladies’ Newspaper and Court Chronicle, a society magazine by Samuel Beeton established in 1861, and the Women’s Gazette and Weekly News have also been added. Published in Manchester, this was a ‘journal devoted to the social and political position of women.’

More historical newspapers added this summer include:

  • Hawick Express covering the years 1892, 1903-1904, 1913-1914, 1919-1940, 1950-1952
  • Coatbridge Express covering the years 1885-1951
  • Dalkeith Advertiser covering the years 1869-1953
  • Barrhead News covering the years 1897-1912
  • Banffshire Herald covering the years 1893-1912
  • Banffshire Advertiser covering the years 1881-1902, 1905-1912

Check out the latest British & Irish Newspaper Updates here.

Big Updates to Find A Grave Records at Ancestry.com

If you’re looking for cemetery records, you’re in luck! This week there have been massive updates to Find A Grave’s global databases at Ancestry.com. But why search Find A Grave at Ancestry.com? We can think of 3 good reasons.

Big Find A Grave at Ancestry.com

Find A Grave at Ancestry.com: Updated Collections

Did you know you can use Google Earth to find cemeteries? Click here to learn how.

The following Find A Grave collections have all been updated to Ancestry.com, where they can be linked directly to your tree:

You’ll also find these records updated at FamilySearch.com as well.

If there’s a specific grave you’re looking for, ask Find a Grave to help! Click here to learn how to submit a photo request to both Find a Grave and Billion Graves.

Why Use Find A Grave at Ancestry.com?

Sunny Genealogy Giants

Sunny Morton, Genealogy Giants Guru

Find A Grave is a free website with crowd-sourced tombstone images and transcriptions from cemeteries all over the world. Last we checked, they boast 162 million grave records! Their catalog of cemeteries tops 400,000, spread out over 200 different countries, and they have at least a partial listing of graves for well over half of these (over 250,000).

So why would you go to Ancestry.com to search records that are already free at Find A Grave? Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton, our resident expert on the giant genealogy websites, says:

“If you’re already an Ancestry.com subscriber, searching Find A Grave from within Ancestry.com may be a good choice for these three reasons:

1. One-stop searching. You’re already searching in Ancestry.com: you don’t need to remember to switch over to search Find A Grave separately for each ancestor.

2. Ancestry.com’s search tool. Find A Grave has a nice but basic search tool. It’s pickier about the search results it returns: does the spelling match? And is a potential result in the exact place you requested? (If you search a specific county, Find A Grave will only return results from that county–not in an adjacent county, across the state line, or even across the country where an ancestor may have been interred.) Lacey has a great example below.

From Lacey: Here’s a search of my 3X great grandfather at Find A Grave:

find a grave search

Unfortunately, no results:

find a grave results

I then hopped over to Ancestry, went to the card catalog, and searched the U.S. Find A Grave Index:

ancestry find a grave search

Turns out there was an extra “t” on his surname (see results below). I didn’t search on a partial name because I’ve never come across a different spelling of his before, and I certainly didn’t expect to see one on his tombstone! But sure enough, the name is not spelled as it had been throughout his life. It’s awfully nice that Ancestry could find it:

ancestry find a grave results

Ancestry.com is much more forgiving and flexible about spelling and places. It will return search result possibilities that don’t have to match exactly. As you can see from the screenshots above, Ancestry offers more fields to enter, including relatives’ names (and people are often buried with relatives), a more detailed place field, and keywords.

3. Tree-building ease. If you build your tree on Ancestry.com, it’s easy to attach Find A Grave search results to your ancestor’s tree profiles. If you search separately at Find A Grave, you have to create a separate source citation to attach to your tree.” (Note: hopefully, if you’re building your tree on Ancestry.com, you’re syncing it to your own software. RootsMagic and Family Tree Maker will both sync to your Ancestry tree–click here to see why Lisa Louise Cooke prefers RootsMagic.)

More Cemetery Resources

Get detailed step-by-steps for using Find A Grave and Billion Graves, plus guides for understanding tombstone epitaphs and symbol meanings in this brand new book: The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide. Discover tools for locating tombstones, tips for traipsing through cemeteries, an at-a-glance guide to frequently used gravestone icons, and practical strategies for on-the-ground research.Use coupon code GEMS17 for an extra 10% off! *Coupon valid through 12/31/17.

https://lisalouisecooke.com/2016/07/cemetery-records/

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

View-Master Toys are Going Virtual Reality

" The View-Master first appeared in 1939 at the New York Worlds Fair. My View-Master Model C, pictured here, was produced between 1946 and 1955. It was made from bakelite and was the first viewer to have a slot into which the reels were placed for viewing. Believe it or not, all reels made for any view master will work in any model from 1939 to present." Image by Jack Pearce, Flickr Creative Commons. Image used without changes; find it at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jwpearce/10725366513/.

” The View-Master first appeared in 1939 at the New York Worlds Fair. My View-Master Model C, pictured here, was produced between 1946 and 1955. It was made from bakelite and was the first viewer to have a slot into which the reels were placed for viewing. Believe it or not, all reels made for any view master will work in any model from 1939 to present.” Image by Jack Pearce, Flickr Creative Commons. Image used without changes; find it at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jwpearce/10725366513/.

Did you have a View-Master toy as a kid? Using these stereoscopic viewers (long before kids had cameras of their own), children could see pictures of any topic from Disney to dinosaurs to the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. According to a collector, whose image is posted here, “all reels made for any View-Master will work in any model from 1939 to the present.”

Well, this decades-only technology is about to get boosted into the 21st century. According to this news report, “Mattel is teaming up with Google on an upcoming virtual reality-based View-Master that is infused with Google Cardboard VR technology.”

“The Cardboard-based View-Master…will share some design elements with vintage View-Masters, but instead of dropping in a reel, you slide an Android smartphone into the unit. View-Master will work with a custom Mattel app, as well as any Google Cardboard-compatible app, of which there are now about 200 in the Google Play Store.”

Want to learn more about these great vintage toys–or share one with the next generation? Click here to purchase a View-Master Viewer and Reels and click here to purchase Collectible View-Master: An Illustrated Reference and Value Guide. (Thank you! Purchasing from these links helps support the Genealogy Gems podcast and blog.)

Did you know that nostalgia buffs (and anyone else) can search Google Patents for fun objects like the View-Master? Click here to see the original patent application materials for the 1939 View-Master, including a design drawing of that first model. Here’s a tip: if your ancestor ever applied for a patent, search Google Patents for his or her name! Learn more about Google Patents–and other fabulous and FREE Google tools you can use for family history–in the new, fully-revised 2nd edition of The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.

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