Many of us have ancestors who made their livelihoods in the sea. Whether they were involved in the merchant trade, whaling, coastal packets, or a myriad other maritime occupations, the sea has played an important role in our families’ lives for centuries. The industry was particularly important in New England. Because of this, there are a large number of museums from small to large, dotted around the region dedicated to the sea and the people who earned their living from it. And they often have materials that go wide beyond New England, so they are worth checking out, no matter where your ancestors lived. Each of the following museums operates a library filled with valuable resources for finding information about your maritime ancestors and how they lived.
Maine Maritime Museum
The Maine Maritime Museum started life as the Bath Marine Museum more than 50 years ago. The Percy & Small Shipyard was donated in 1975, and the name was changed to Maine Maritime Museum. It is the only intact shipyard in the U.S. that once built large wooden sailing ships. The library’s collections include information from around the world, including 14,000 published volumes, 53,000 issues of nautical periodicals, 2,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 1,000 maps and charts, 42,000 sheets fo ship plans, and a variety of miscellaneous ephemera. There are also hundreds of videotapes an oral history tapes.
Penobscot Marine Museum
This is a perfect example of a small museum with a wide variety of resources that extend far beyond what one might expect. The research center collections focus primarily on the area around Belfast and Searsport, Maine. They include ships logs, business and merchants’ records, and family papers of seafaring families. Because the maritime industry is so intrinsically linked to this area, the library also has a variety of materials specifically for genealogists, including vital records, newspapers, cemetery inscriptions. Most importantly, the library is the repository is the custodian of the records of the Congregational churches in Searsport and Belfast dating back to the seventeenth century
This is perhaps the largest and most well-known maritime museum in the entire country. Founded in 1929, the museum has an incredible variety of materials in the collection, including more than 500 historic watercraft of many sizes. Among them in the Charles W. Morgan, and 1841 whaling ship that is the oldest commercial ship still in existence. There are also books, photographs, charts, maps, plans, films, and videos. The manuscript collection includes countless ships’ logs, journals, diaries, ledgers, and miscellaneous documents.New Bedford Whaling Museum
The longest painting in the world, in the collections of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
New Bedford Whaling Museum
The Old Dartmouth Historical Society is dedicated to the history of the original area of Dartmouth and surrounding towns, including what is today the towns of Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, and Westport, and the city of New Bedford. Four years later the organization started the New Bedford Whaling Museum. While the library collections focus on the maritime industry in general, there is a major focus on those involved in the whaling industry, a major part of the 19th-century American economy. In addition to logbooks, journals, maps, charts, ships and personal papers, and the like, there are a number of items specific to the whaling industry, including tools of the trade, whaling prints, and an extensive collection of scrimshaw. It also owns and 1848 painting, Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Around the World. It is 8.5 feet tall and at 1,275 feet long, it is said to be the longest painting in the world.
Peabody Essex Museum
In 1799 a group of ship captains and supercargoes from Salem, Massachusetts, founded the East India Marine Society for those who had traveled around either the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn. In 1992 its descendant organization, the Peabody Museum of Salem merged with the Essex Institute to become the Peabody Essex Museum. The Phillips Library has one of the most extensive collections of maritime history anywhere. Holdings include printed books, correspondence, logbooks, nautical charts, maps, merchant account books, shipbuilders’ records, and customhouse records from Marblehead, Newburyport, and Salem. There are also many ship registers, shipping lists, and paintings of ships.