Tracing ‘Titanic’ Genealogy: Survivor Passenger Lists & More

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena searches old newspapers to find out more about the tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic—and shows how helpful those articles can be with your own family history research.

The Titanic was fast sinking. After she went down the cries were horrible. This was at 2:20 a.m. by a man’s watch who stood next to me. At this time three other boats and ours kept together by being tied to each other. The cries continued to come over the water. Some of the women implored Officer Lowe, of No.14, to divide his passengers among the three other boats and go back to rescue. His first answer to those requests was, “You ought to be damn glad you are here and have got your own life.” —Affidavit of Titanic first-class passenger Daisy Minahan*

photo of the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912

Photo: the Titanic departing Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912. Credit: F. G. O. Stuart; Wikipedia.

Quite often, in the frantic rush to get the story of a disaster out to the public, the initial news reports are not correct. Today we know only too well what happened on that frigidly cold night in April 1912 when the Titanic hit an iceberg and subsequently sank. At the beginning of its doomed voyage on April 10th there were 2,224 passengers and crew aboard the Titanic when it sailed from England, but in the earliest hours of April 15th there were only 700 survivors.**

Few details about the Titanic sinking existed for the newspapers to report on the morning of April 15th. In an era before more modern technologies, the wireless and its brief messages via Morse code were all that the newspapers had to go on. In this example from a South Carolina newspaper, the first paragraph reports that the Titanic sent out a distress call reporting they were sinking and “women were being put off in the life boats.”

Readers may notice that this news article reports the distress call Titanic sent out was “CQD,” not the more familiar “SOS.” CQD was a distress call used prior to SOS that indicated “All Stations Distress.” Although this newspaper article indicated CQD was sent out by the Titanic wireless operators, they actually used both distress signals in their radio pleas for help.***

Queen of Ocean (Titanic) May Be Sinking, State newspaper article 15 April 1912

State (Columbia, South Carolina), 15 April 1912, page 1

Enter Last Name










Some of these very early newspaper reports about the sinking of the Titanic had few correct facts. In this example from a California newspaper, not only does the article report that all Titanic passengers are safe—it says that the “Disabled Ship Is Proceeding under Own Steam.”

All People on the Steamship Titanic Are Safe, Evening News newspaper article 15 April 1912

Evening News (San Jose, California), 15 April 1912, page 1

As time went on, first-hand accounts of Titanic survivors who were rescued by the steamship Carpathia began to appear in the newspapers. These published Titanic survivor stories were important in helping the public on both sides of the ocean better understand the tragedy. For example, in this article from a Pennsylvania newspaper, an unnamed Carpathia passenger tells of witnessing the Titanic lifeboats approach the Carpathia. Describing the survivors as they came aboard the rescue ship, this witness stated:

There were husbands without wives, wives without husbands, parents without children and children without parents. But there was no demonstration. No sobs, scarcely a spoken word. They seemed to be stunned.

Lifeboats Leave Titanic as the Ship's Band Plays, Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper article 19 April 1912

Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 April 1912, page 4

Little by little, lists of names of those rescued Titanic passengers and those who had perished were printed in the newspapers. This list from a North Dakota newspaper shows the third-class passengers rescued and taken aboard the Carpathia.

List of Third Class Passengers Taken from Titanic, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 18 April 1912

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 18 April 1912, page 2

For those awaiting news of loved ones, these piecemeal Titanic survivor lists that appeared must have made the pain unbearable—unless your family member or friend’s name appeared on one of the early lists, in which case the relief was surely overwhelming.

List of Titanic Survivors Rescued from the Sea, Idaho Statesman newspaper article 18 April 1912

Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 18 April 1912, page 2

Because these lists of names from the Titanic were printed as soon as they were acquired, mistakes were made and later corrections had to be published. In this Titanic victims list from the ship MacKay Bennett, names of shipwreck victims according to their “class” are accounted. Those deceased passengers whose names were previously misspelled are now corrected.

Titanic Dead List Revised, Belleville News Democrat newspaper article 24 April 1912

Belleville News Democrat (Belleville, Illinois), 24 April 1912, page 2

Enter Last Name










This California newspaper article names 27 bodies that were recovered from the icy waters of the North Atlantic. In some cases the names didn’t appear on the passenger list, so it was assumed they were the bodies of Titanic crew members. Obviously, identifying all of the shipwreck victims was not easy since many of them were “clad only in sleeping garments.”

Cable Ship Sends List of Bodies Identified (from the Titanic), San Diego Union newspaper article 23 April 1912

San Diego Union (San Diego, California), 23 April 1912, page 1

What happened to the victims of the Titanic? The steamship MacKay Bennett, charted by the White Star Line, recovered over 300 bodies. Some bodies were placed in coffins and transported back to Halifax where they were either released to family for burial, or buried in three Titanic cemeteries in Halifax. Those that were too damaged or decomposed were reburied at sea.****

For a list of victims and their burial sites, including lists for each Titanic cemetery, see the Encyclopedia Titanica, http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-victims-list/.

While some may believe that the Titanic’s 700 survivors were lucky, not all went on to live happily ever after. Daisy Minahan, whose testimony was shared above, was admitted to a sanitarium for pneumonia shortly after the disaster and then died of tuberculosis seven years later at the young age of 40.*****

Eight former Titanic passengers committed suicide later in their lives. One of the Titanic crew, Violet Jessop, survived the Titanic sinking and then survived the sinking of her sister ship, the HMHS Britannic, four years later.

Thankfully, after the sinking of the Titanic inquiries in England and the United States resulted in additional passenger ship safety measures such as lifeboat drills and the inclusion of enough lifeboats for all passengers, iceberg monitoring, and changes to ship design. While too late for those who lost their lives on the once-deemed unsinkable ship, it did help prevent tragedies of the same magnitude.

Please share in the comments section any Titanic stories you’ve run across in your own family history research.

Related Titanic articles:

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* United States Inquiry Day 16. Affidavit of Daisy Minahan. Titanic Inquiry Project. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.titanicinquiry.org/USInq/AmInq16Minahan01.php.
** About RMS Titanic. Encyclopedia Titanica. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/.
*** Rescue at Sea. CQD and SOS. American Experience. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/rescue/peopleevents/pandeAMEX88.html.
**** Titanic victims buried at sea shown in unique photograph by Philip Hind. Encyclopedia Titanic. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-news/titanic-victims-buried-at-sea-shown-in-unique-photograph.html.
***** Miss Daisy E. Minahan. Encyclopedia Titanica. Accessed 4 April 2014 http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/daisy-minahan.html.

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Eating on the Titanic: Massive Quantities of Food on the Menu

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this guest blog post, Gena writes about a lunch menu from the Titanic on the day the ship struck the fateful iceberg—April 14, 1912—and talks about the massive quantities of food carried and served on that immense ship.

Mention to anyone that you are going on a cruise and most likely one of the first topics of discussion will be about food. Cruises are synonymous with large quantities of food. Whether it’s a buffet or a more formal meal in one of the cruise ship’s restaurants, the quantity and variety of food seems limitless.

The abundance of food on a passenger ship is not a modern phenomenon; consider the Titanic, that infamous passenger ship that sank in the early morning hours of 15 April 1912.

Carpathia Will Dock with (Titanic) Survivors Tonight; Facts of Tragedy Being Withheld from World, Evansville Courier and Press newspaper article 18 April 1912

Evansville Courier and Press (Evansville, Indiana), 18 April 1912, page 1

The RMS Titanic rang in a new era in ship travel because even the third class passengers had access to a variety of food—though not the same foods or amounts as the first class passengers.

It amazes me to think about how much food had to be secured, purchased, and stored before a cross-Atlantic voyage on a ship as large as the Titanic. With 2,224 ship passengers and crew there had to be large quantities of everything from fresh water, to produce and meat, to alcohol. Practically every need of the passengers was anticipated down to the availability of kosher food.* The website Titanic Facts has a page entitled Food on the Titanic which provides an idea of the massive quantities of food needed to cater for such a voyage, including: 11,000 pounds of fresh fish, 40 tons of potatoes and 40,000 fresh eggs!

Obviously the type of food served to a passenger on the Titanic corresponded to how much they paid to sail. However, unlike earlier ship voyages that required steerage passengers to bring their own food, Titanic’s third class passengers were fed food similar to second class passengers with a few exceptions, such as being served high tea in place of dinner. First class Titanic passengers paid up to 25 times more for their passage and the food they were offered reflected that price difference.**

photo of the first class reception room on the Titanic

Photo: First Class Reception Room on the Titanic. Credit: National Maritime Museum, Flickr: The Commons.

Photo:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/nationalmaritimemuseum/2843687676/ Accessed 4 April 2013.

A first class lunch menu from the fateful day the Titanic struck an iceberg, April 14, 1912, is now on display at Titanic Belfast. The Titanic menu gives us a glimpse of some of the foods that were served to the millionaires sailing on the vessel. A large selection of meat dishes could be sampled, including: corned ox tongue, bologna sausage, grilled mutton chops, roast beef, veal & ham pie, corned beef, chicken a la Maryland, and spiced beef. Seafood offerings included: potted shrimps, salmon mayonnaise, Norwegian anchovies, and soused herrings. Vegetables and cheeses were also offered for lunch. Probably one of the more unfamiliar dishes served was Cockie Leekie, a soup whose ingredients include young fowl and leeks.

You may wonder how a paper menu from the day of the iceberg collision might have survived all these years. It seems that some paper items did survive; they were ensconced in the pockets of the coats, or in the case of the above menu in the purse, of those who made it safely to a lifeboat. This particular old Titanic menu now on display at Belfast is not the only copy of that day’s menu. Several years ago, a copy of that same ship luncheon menu was appraised on the PBS show Antiques Roadshow. You can watch that Titanic menu appraisal on the PBS website.

Because of the tragedy of the Titanic, most newspaper and magazine food articles concentrate on the last meal served on the Titanic the evening of April 14, 1912 (the ship struck the iceberg 11:40 that night, sinking less than three hours later). In fact there’s even a book on the subject, entitled Last Dinner on the Titanic: Menus and Recipes from the Great Liner by Rick Archbold & Dana McCauley.

* “Availability of kosher food aboard Titanic sheds light on immigration via England.” Accessed 27 March 2013.

** “Food and Menus on the RMS Titanic 1912.” From: About.com British & Irish Food. Accessed 2 April 2013.