Mary-Anne Warner and other volunteers are transcribing passenger lists held by the State Archives and Records Authority of New South Wales (SRNSW) and making them available on the Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters website.
This unique website provides searchable access to a huge database of shipping records. It is an ongoing initiative and currently (January 2019) passenger lists from 1845 to early 1922 have been transcribed. The transcriptions are linked to scans of the original records held at SRNSW.
Shipping records are one of the major brick walls for Australian family historians and this site has the potential to help find that missing arrival. It is not a sophisticated site by modern standards but it is well worth taking the time to understand how it works to get the most out of it.
There is both a Browse and a Search facility. The Browse displays a calendar of ship arrivals for each month between 1845 and 1922. Clicking on a month shows all the ships arriving in that month and drilling down to a ship shows a transcription of the crew and passenger list.
And here is the icing on the cake -
scroll down to the bottom of the transcription to find the red link (or links)
to an image of the original passenger list.
Above: Example of links at the end of transcribed passenger list retrieved using Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters
If you know the name of the ship but not the date of arrival take the advice on the website and search the SRNSW Index Vessels arrived in Sydney for all arrival dates for that ship.
The Search facility enables a name search. And this is where it can get a bit tricky. However with a bit of persistence anything is possible.
Here are some key points to remember when searching:
- The search is performed using Google's Custom Search Engine across the website. It searches for the words you type into the search box in ALL of the transcribed lists on this site.
- A search for (say) "John Smith" will find all the lists containing the name "John Smith" but it will also find lists containing "Mary Smith" and "John Brown".
- The search is not name specific. That means it will look at all the characters in the transcribed document and may find a match with the transcriber's name, the ship's name or an occupation.
- Google will find all the matches and display how many were found but the list of matches returned is limited to 10 pages of 10 matches i.e. 100. The "John Smith" search finds over 6,000 results but only displays the first 100.
- A search can be sorted by relevance or date. Relevance is based on number of times a word appears and if it is in a heading. Be wary of using a date sort as that applies to the date transcribed - not date of ship arrival.
This may sound daunting, especially if you are looking for that proverbial "John Smith". But there are ways around it.
- Include a year. You may have a reasonable idea of the year your proverbial John arrived so include that in the search parameters - i.e. "1867 John Smith". This will limit the finds to transcriptions for that year. There may be a few strays that are picked up because of an "1867" in a microfilm number but these are usually minimal.
- Include names of others who may have been on the same ship i.e. a wife or a brother. Be careful about children's names as they are not always specified. e.g. "1867 John Mary Smith"
- Try different spellings.
- Have realistic expectations. Remember that many of these lists were of people who arrived as unassisted passengers. Their details were generally not recorded as assiduously as those wonderful convict indents or the assisted passenger lists. A name may be simply recorded as "Mr Smith" or "J Smith". The steerage passengers may not even rate a name mention - just a head count. i.e. 10 men, 5 women, 4 boys, 2 girls.
- Like many things Family History it may take persistence and a bit of lateral thinking to find what you're looking for.
- The creators and transcribers associated with this project are to be congratulated and thanked for their initiative and dedication. The number of hours that have gone into delivering this valuable information is unimaginable.
- I'd be grateful to hear from anyone who can add to this review. Hints on how to get the best out of it are especially welcome.