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Maine Maritime Museum receives $125K grant to catalog crewmembers of Maine vessels

December 19, 2011

Getting historic information about who captained a Maine ship when the vessel sailed on a particular voyage is readily accessible through current electronic databases of historic materials. However, gathering information about the rest of the crew, if not impossible, would take months or years of digging and research through handwritten records and ships logs.

            Maine Maritime Museum has long sought to make it easier for scholars and family researchers of Maine seamen to obtain such information, which is buried among the millions of documents the museum holds in its collections. Now, thanks to a grant from The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) that goal is closer.

            CLIR announced on December 16 that Maine Maritime Museum was one of 19 institutions nationwide to receive a 2011 Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant. Maine Maritime Museum has received $125,600 to fund this project.

            The 18-month project will uncover information about thousands of men and women who made up the crews of Maine vessels from the late 18th century through the early 20th century. The information is contained in hundreds of thousands of pages of documents in 44 separate manuscript collections occupying 133 linear feet of library shelving. The papers include numerous Maine sea captains' business papers, crew lists and voyage accounts, some ship owners' and customs house records, and a shipping agent's records. Collection highlights include important and revealing correspondence between captains and owners, correspondence with families, construction details of ships, detailed documentation of port visits and charter, cargo and insurance information.

            Archivists working on the project will first catalog the 44 collections of papers in their entirety, entering the catalog information into a database on the Museum’s website, so that future scholars, researchers and the general public will be able to find these collections. Staff and volunteers will then build a second database – the Merchant Mariners Muster – of information about the individual sailors extracted from documents in these collections. This second database will also be available on the Museum’s website and therefore accessible to the public from any location.

            Most of the individuals documented in the collections are merchant mariners, but there are also some fishermen and naval seamen represented among the materials. Although all of the collections relate to Maine, they document travels to major and minor ports all over the world, so are a valuable resource for the exploration of maritime history worldwide. 

            Created in 2008 and supported by ongoing funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives awards program supports the identification and cataloging of special collections and archives of high scholarly value that are difficult or impossible to locate. A list of the 2011 awarded grants is available at http://www.clir.org/news/pressrelease/11hiddenpr2.html.

The Council on Library and Information Resources is an independent, nonprofit organization that forges strategies to enhance research, teaching, and learning environments in collaboration with libraries, cultural institutions, and communities of higher learning.

In the photo, Maine Maritime Museum’s Senior Curator Nathan Lipfert scans one of the ship’s logs from which information will be gathered regarding crewmen of Maine vessels. The yellow lighting in the Museum’s library storage area helps protect the documents preserved there.

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Maine Maritime Museum

243 Washington Street
Bath, Maine 04530