Researching your ancestors from R.M.S. Titanic
WERE YOUR ANCESTORS ON BOARD THE TITANIC?
Of the 2207 passengers and crew on board the ‘Titanic’ when it left Queenstown on 11th April 1912, only 712 survivors arrived in New York on board the ‘Carpathia’ 7 days later (Source: Encyclopedia Titanica).
Were any of your ancestors on board and what was their fate?
The National Archives in Kew, London, holds documentation relating to the Titanic and its sinking, which is available to view in person, and copies of entries obtained. They also offer a postal and email service, please see their site for further information - The National Archives of the United Kingdom.
They hold the Board of Trade passenger lists outwards from Southampton and Queenstown under references BT 27/780B and BT 27/776/2 respectively. No lists are held for the passengers who embarked from Cherbourg, as these were not required by the Board of Trade because they were travelling between foreign ports.
The marine correspondence and papers, MT 9/920/C, lists all of those passengers and crew who lost their lives and, in the case of passengers, it shows the port of embarkation. A further list of passengers who died can be found in the ‘Register of Deceased Passengers’ 1912-1913 (BT334/52).
Furthermore, a card index of passengers’ names is available in the Research Enquires Room, which has been compiled from the above sources.
In respect of the crew, lists and agreements are held under references BT 100/259 and BT 100/260, with details of age, previous ship, address (often omitted) and whether or not they survived. These are arranged by rank and occupation, however BT 100/259 lists them alphabetically. The register recording those crew members who lost their lives can be found under BT 334/53.
For more information about the items held by the National Archives, please go to National Archives Research Guides. However most, but not all, of this information is now available online.
Probably the best place to start your search is on the web site Encyclopedia Titanica which is literally packed full of information about the Titanic, with a thriving community where you can ask questions and exchange information on any aspect relating to the ship.
The site has transcribed the passenger and crew lists, as well as the lists of the survivors and the victims. By the click of your mouse on a specific person, you are directed to their own individual page, which has details about them and whether they survived the disaster. The amount of information does vary; in some cases the information held is very limited and in others can be quite detailed and may even include a photograph.
The website www.findmypast.com marked the 95th anniversary of the disaster by releasing the passenger lists through their site. You will however need to register and subscribe to view the actual page of the list. Please see the site for further information.
A list of the surviving passengers and crew on board the 'SS Carpathia' taken by the US Immigration Department on its arrival in New York, is available from the United States National Archives and Records Administration.
Only 337 bodies of the approximately 1500 people lost in the disaster were actually recovered.
Of these, 209 were taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for identification. Some relatives, such as those of John Jacob Astor IV, took the body away to be buried closer to home. The remaining 150, including those not identified, were buried in Fairview Lawn, Mount Olivet and Baron de Hirsch cemeteries in Halifax.
However, 128 of those bodies recovered never made it back to dry land. Once possible identification was ascertained through the victim’s clothing and possessions, a description of them and the items found on them was recorded for future reference. The body was then placed in a canvas bag, weighted down and buried at sea.
Death certificates were issued for those identified. The cause of death was recorded as “accidental drowning, SS Titanic, at sea”, which was technically incorrect as most of the victims actually died from hypothermia.
It was the Provincial Secretary’s office of the Government of Nova Scotia who had the responsibility to administer the recovery of the bodies, and their records are now held in the public archives of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Archives & Records Management.
The ‘RMS Titanic: List of Bodies and Disposition of Same’ is available to view online using this link Public Archives of Nova Scotia RMS Titanic.
Copies of the death certificates can be obtained through the Public Archives of Nova Scotia.
The vast majority of the victims were never found and were lost to the sea. As death certificates were only issued for those who were recovered and identified, this caused problems to those survivors and relatives wishing to claim their inheritance and to receive the proceeds of life assurance policies. Their only option was to prove through a court of law that the person was lost in the disaster.
In respect of the crew, certificates confirming their supposed death were issued if required. You can see an example using this link Death of a Seaman: 22 June 1912.
There are many memorials in Britain, America, and Northern and Southern Ireland commemorating the disaster. The photograph is of one in Cobh (previously Queenstown) Southern Ireland, the last port of call for the ‘Titanic’.
© Velma Dinkley 2008
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