103rd Anniversary of the Sinking of the Titanic

Today is the 103rd anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, a maritime disaster that horrified people when they first got the news in 1912 – and has fascinated the public ever since. The immediate horror was the grim news that more than 1,500 people died when the Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m. on 15 April 1912 after hitting an iceberg on her maiden voyage. The shock was that this supposedly unsinkable, absolutely huge ship (at more than 882 feet long, the Titanic was the largest ship in the world when it was launched) was entirely sinkable after all.

Illustration of the RMS Titanic

Illustration: RMS Titanic. Credit: Boris Lux, Lux’s Type Collection, ocean liners; Wikimedia Commons.

The fascination with the infamous shipwreck ever since has been in trying to imagine what the Titanic’s crew and passengers went through that awful night, with some of the survivors telling stories of incredible heroism – and acute suffering. The Titanic’s hold on the public was cemented by the overwhelming achievement of James Cameron’s film Titanic in 1997 – a runaway success that won 11 Oscars at the Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and earned a staggering $2.18 billion at the box office.

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Here are four articles we’ve published on the GenealogyBank blog, providing some interesting stories, insights and information about the Titanic disaster.

1) Amazing Survival Stories of Last Moments on the ‘Titanic’ Ship

survivors' stories after the sinking of the Titanic, Charlotte Observer newspaper article 19 April 1912

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 19 April 1912, page 1

2) Tracing ‘Titanic’ Genealogy: Survivor Passenger Lists & More

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.

3) Eating on the ‘Titanic’: Massive Quantities of Food on the Menu

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.

4) Elizabeth Gladys Dean (1912-2009) Last Titanic Survivor Dies

photo of Elizabeth Gladys Dean signing autographs at the British Titanic Society Titanic Convention, Hilton Hotel, Southampton, U.K., 1999

Photo: Elizabeth Gladys Dean signing autographs at the British Titanic Society Titanic Convention, Hilton Hotel, Southampton, U.K., 1999. Credit: Stephen Daniels; Wikimedia Commons.

Did you have any ancestors aboard the Titanic? Please share your family stories with us in the comments.

The Nelson Shipwreck & Captain Hagney: Name Research Tips

Introduction: Duncan Kuehn is a professional genealogist with over eight years of client experience. She has worked on several well-known projects, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and researching President Barack Obama’s ancestry. In this blog post, Duncan searches old newspapers to learn more about Captain Hagney and the sinking of the schooner “Nelson” on Lake Superior in 1899, using various search tips to get good results.

Searching newspapers for an ancestor’s name that doesn’t seem to have a standard spelling can be a challenge for family historians. Here is an interesting case study about the captain of a sunken ship that may help you research those difficult ancestor names. Recently this ship, the schooner Nelson, was found under more than 200 feet of water in Lake Superior. There were several newspaper articles about the shipwreck discovery, but they had various spellings of the captain’s name – including “Haganey” and “Hagginey.”

The Story of the Sinking of the Nelson

The shipwreck story goes like this. On 15 May 1899, the schooner Nelson was overloaded with coal, in addition to the 10 people on board. There was a terrific storm on Lake Superior and ice accumulated on the ship, causing it to sit even lower in the water. The waves began to crash over the edges of the ship. The Nelson was being towed by the steamer A Folsom along with the Mary B Mitchell. At some point the towing line either broke or was cut. Shortly after, the Nelson tilted and the stern popped up out of the water as the entire vessel almost immediately went under. The captain placed his crew, his wife, and his toddler son into the lifeboat. Then he dove into the water to join them. Unfortunately, the lifeboat was still tethered to the Nelson and it was dragged down to the bottom of the lake by the sinking ship. The captain, who never reached the lifeboat, watched helplessly as his ship and family were lost. He clung to a piece of the wreckage and was found unconscious along the shore. The storm’s violent 50 mile-per-hour winds prevented any rescue efforts by the other two ships. Nine lives were lost; only the captain survived.

My Search for the Captain

This is a compelling story of a heroic effort by the captain of the Nelson that just wasn’t enough to save his family or crew, and I wanted to learn more details.

As always, I searched for contemporary records to find out more. I started by looking into GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. I ran this search:

screenshot of GenealogyBank's search box showing a search for the schooner "Nelson"

I entered the name of the ship in quotation marks as a keyword. You do not necessarily need to use a person’s name to search on GenealogyBank – a keyword search is often effective. I also entered a date range from the date of the accident to several months after the event. When the search results came back I sorted the results with the oldest article first, as I prefer to read articles in chronological order.

I found many newspaper articles from all over the United States telling the story of the accident. Here are three of those articles.

This article refers to Captain “Haganney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Elkhart Weekly Review newspaper article 17 May 1899

Elkhart Weekly Review (Elkhart, Indiana), 17 May 1899, page 1

This historical newspaper article refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Anaconda Standard newspaper article 15 May 1899

Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), 15 May 1899, page 1

This old news article also refers to Captain “Hagney.”

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Bay City Times newspaper article 15 May 1899

Bay City Times (Bay City, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 3

Using these old newspaper articles, I discovered that much of the information in the present-day articles about the discovery of the shipwreck reflected the information given in those 1899 articles. However, I found some inconsistencies as well. Perhaps most importantly, the old articles make no mention of the captain’s heroic effort to save his family and crew. A typical comment from those 1899 articles is that “The Nelson disappeared as suddenly as one could snuff a candle,” suggesting that the captain did not have time to do anything. I also find that Captain Haganey/Hagginey (as spelled in the modern newspaper articles) is spelled differently in the 1899 articles:  “Haganney” and “Hagney.”

After learning about the shipwreck, I now wanted to know more about the captain himself – but there were so many spellings of his name I wasn’t sure which was correct. A quick search of census records on FamilySearch.org told me that he was the son of John and Mary Hagney from Oswego, New York. He also had siblings: Ellen, Thomas, William, and Mary.

Going back to GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, I narrowed my search using the name as it appeared in the census: “Hagney.” This search turned up several articles that told me a great deal about the captain.

One of the first I found was this very sad newspaper article. It appears that on the same day the Nelson when down with Captain Hagney’s entire family, his friends from New York were frantically trying to reach him with the sad news that his mother had just died. The unfortunate man lost his one remaining parent and his wife and child.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 15 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 15 May 1899, page 6

The Captain Searches for His Family

Immediately after the Nelson accident, Captain Hagney refused to give up hope. As this old news article explains, he wasn’t willing to give up on his family – and spent hours and days combing the beach for any sign of his loved ones:

Capt. Hagney is now engaged in patrolling the beach with the help of the crews of life saving stations here and at Deer Park. The broken yawl, some parts of the cabin, a lady’s hat, a man’s cap and a mattress are all that have yet been found.

article about the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 May 1899, page 10

Hagney was understandably distraught, as reported in these next two newspaper articles. This Ohio newspaper article’s headline, “Capt. Hagney in Bad Shape,” says it all, and reports that he had been hospitalized:

The doctors class his trouble as nervousness and insomnia.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Plain Dealer newspaper article 24 May 1899

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 24 May 1899, page 8

This Michigan newspaper article reports that Hagney’s condition is serious.

article about Captain Hagney's trauma after the shipwreck of the schooner "Nelson," Saginaw News newspaper article 24 May 1899

Saginaw News (Saginaw, Michigan), 24 May 1899, page 2

The Previous Life of Captain Hagney

The 1900 census shows him safely ensconced at the home of a family member in Toledo, Ohio, where he was working as an agent for the seamen’s union.* As tragic as all of this was, I still wanted to know more about Hagney. He had a life before the shipwreck of the Nelson and one after, so I ran some more searches. I started with changing the spelling from Hagney to Hageny. I figured this would be a common misspelling even though I hadn’t seen it in any of the records so far. This search did produce results, and I found a series of articles about his life back in New York a decade before the accident.

Ten years previously, in 1889, Andrew got into some difficulty with the law. As this New York newspaper reports, there was a trial after some union trouble involving strikes, “scabs” and violence:

Andrew Hageny, William Putman, and Michael Donovan were charged with a murderous assault upon Jesse Josephs, mate of the schooner John Scheutte of Toledo, at the dock in this port…Josephs was dragged a mile into the suburbs, pounded with belaying pins and thrown into the cellar of a burned house; he managed to crawl to an adjoin house.

They were all found guilty of assault in the second degree, with a second, upcoming trial for coercion and conspiracy in forcing some “scabs” to leave another ship.

article about Andrew Hagney being convicted for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 20 July 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 20 July 1889, page 5

This “Andrew Hageny” seems to be the same man as the later Captain Andrew Hagney of the Nelson, based on location, occupation, and name, but more evidence is always wanted – so I kept searching the archives. I found this earlier newspaper article about the assault on sailor Jesse Josephs, and learned that Andrew Hageny’s brother Thomas was also involved. This lends credence to the belief that this Andrew Hageny is the same as the later Captain Andrew Hagney, since I knew from my earlier research on the census that Andrew Hagney had a brother named Thomas.

article about Thomas Hagney being charged for assault, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 17 May 1889

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 17 May 1889, page 3

But how did Andrew become a ship’s captain with this background of conviction for assault, especially when we find that he had been sentenced to four years in prison?

Intrigued, I kept searching for answers – and found this newspaper article two years into Andrew’s prison sentence, indicating that Governor Hill had promised to pardon him.

article about Andrew Hagney being pardoned by Governor Hill, Watertown Daily Times newspaper article 25 November 1891

Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), 25 November 1891, page 8

And that was indeed what happened – Governor Hill pardoned him. So that was how he got out of prison early, and presumably set about setting his affairs in order. I was unable to find any newspaper articles reporting Andrew getting in trouble with the law again. He must have worked hard and stayed out of trouble, because in a few years he was entrusted as a ship’s captain.

The Post-Shipwreck Life of Captain Hagney

But what happened to Captain Andrew Hagney after the shipwreck of the Nelson? Was he able to recover from the trauma? It took some searching to find a newspaper article to answer this question. I had to go back to the other spellings of his name, and eventually found his obituary by searching under the spelling “Haganey.”

obituary for Andrew Hagney, Cleveland Leader newspaper article 23 February 1912

Cleveland Leader (Cleveland, Ohio), 23 February 1912, page 10

Captain Andrew Hagney appears to have remained in Toledo for the rest of his short life. He remarried and fathered three more children. He died at age 52 in 1912, while visiting his in-laws in New Mexico.

Captain Hagney’s life was full of tragic and challenging experiences. While it must have been difficult to live, searching for his life story provides an opportunity for us to learn about ancestor name search tips, and demonstrates how much we can learn about the lives of our ancestors simply by continuing to dig in the archives..

Genealogy Tips:

Many of us have ancestors with unusual names, or names that appear in records with different spellings. When searching on GenealogyBank, the search engine will look for exactly what you type. Therefore, if you know of an alternative spelling of your ancestor’s name – or if you can guess at one – you may end up finding even more articles. And if you stumble across an article that seems to be about your ancestor, but the name was spelled differently than you thought, it could still be them. Keep searching for additional information to help you determine if that record or article is the right person.

Another thing you might notice is the location of these articles. They appear from places all over the United States: Cleveland, Ohio; Saginaw, Michigan; Watertown, New York; Elkhart, Indiana; Anaconda, Montana; and Bay City, Michigan. While some of these locations make sense because Andrew had a connection with them, some do not – such as Montana and Indiana. Keep in mind that news travels, and reports about the ancestor you are looking for could be in any newspaper in the country. If you don’t find what you are looking for in your ancestor’s local area, don’t hesitate to search nationwide. This is always a good approach to take, even if your initial searches do find articles in your ancestor’s hometown, because many more articles might be out there. Best of luck in your family history searches!


* “United States Census, 1900,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MMD2-KFQ: accessed Dec. 2014), Andrew Hagney in household of Robert V. French, Port Lawrence Township, Precinct F Toledo city Ward 10, Lucas, Ohio, United States; citing sheet 8A, family 159, NARA microfilm publication T623, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; FHL microfilm 1241298.

Related Articles:

‘It Is Well with My Soul’: the Story of Horatio Spafford

Introduction: Gena Philibert-Ortega is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.” In this blog article, Gena tells the moving story of how Horatio Gates Spafford wrote the famous hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” after undergoing severe hardships and tragedy.

Like many songs, the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” was born out of personal experience.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Its composer, Horatio Gates Spafford, was a Chicago lawyer who – although previously successful – had suffered setbacks when his considerable real estate investments were lost during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. His finances took another hit during the Panic of 1873 financial crisis. After two rough years, he decided to alleviate some of his family’s stress by giving them a change of scenery.

photo of Horatio Gates Spafford

Photo: Horatio Gates Spafford. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Spafford Family Vacation

Plans were made for the family (including Horatio, his wife Anna, and their four daughters) to journey to Europe in November 1873 via the French iron steamship Ville du Havre. Horatio accompanied them to New York, but at the last minute had to change his plans because of a business obligation. He sent his family on ahead, promising to join them in time. Wife Anna and daughters Annie (b. 1862), Margaret Lee (b. 1864), Elizabeth (b. 1868), and Tanetta (b. 1871) set sail on November 15th.

His family never reached their destination – and he never saw his four daughters again.

Disaster at Sea

Ironically, the Ville du Havre’s captain – acting as confident as a familiar future captain on another “unsinkable” ship 39 years later – assured Anna Spafford and other passengers that his ship was very safe and the voyage would be an easy one. A week into the voyage, on 22 November 1873, the liner collided with the British clipper Loch Earn. Even as the ship was struck, sounding like an explosion according to passengers, the captain told everyone “it’s nothing, nothing.” As the ship began to take on water, the crew assured passengers that the ship was too safe to sink.*

But they were wrong; the Ville du Havre sank in just 12 minutes, killing an estimated 226 people – including all four of the Spafford daughters. Anna survived the shipwreck by clinging to a floating plank.

Illustration: “The Sinking of the Steamship Ville du Havre” by Currier & Ives, c.1873

Illustration: “The Sinking of the Steamship Ville du Havre” by Currier & Ives, c.1873. Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As anyone can imagine, the accounts of the Ville du Havre sinking are terrifying. Heartbreakingly, in the last moments of daughter Annie Spafford’s life she is recorded as proclaiming: “Don’t be afraid. The Sea is His and He made it.” As Anna was thrown into the sea, she felt her baby Tanetta pulled out of her arms by the rough waves.** All four daughters drowned. When Anna was finally rescued she was unconscious, floating on a piece of debris.

This New York newspaper reported the tragedy.

article about the shipwreck of the Ville du Havre, Daily Graphic newspaper article 1 December 1873

Daily Graphic (New York, New York), 1 December 1873, page 6

The old news article included an eyewitness account of the shipwreck.

eyewitness account of the shipwreck of the Ville du Havre, Daily Graphic newspaper article 1 December 1873

Daily Graphic (New York, New York), 1 December 1873, page 6

The historical newspaper article also reported the names of those saved, including Anna Spafford.

The rescue ship Tremountain took the survivors to Cardiff. During this voyage Anna said few words. A friend who had also survived the sinking, clergymen Thoeophile Lorriaux, was with her when she finally uttered the words: “God gave me four daughters. They have been taken. One day I shall understand why. I will understand why.”***

Once Anna arrived in Cardiff she sent a telegram to her husband in Chicago that must have devastated him:

Saved, but saved alone. What shall I do?

Inspiration and Solace: the Hymn

Horatio left Chicago to meet Anna, who was staying with friends in France. At one point during the voyage, the ship’s captain summoned Horatio to his cabin and explained that he had determined the exact spot where the Ville du Havre had gone down. He let Horatio know that they were at that moment passing that very spot. Horatio then returned to his own cabin and, leaning for strength on his tremendous faith in God, wrote his famous hymn.

article about Horatio Spafford writing the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul," Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 6 November 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 6 November 1902, page 5

The article included this description.

article about Horatio Spafford writing the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul," Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 6 November 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 6 November 1902, page 5

The Aftermath

That tragedy for both Anna and Horatio changed their lives. It had a profound impact on their belief in what they were to do with their lives, and also impacted their theology. Understandably, it also had an impact on those who heard the hymn and the story behind it. The above news article concluded with a story of a gentleman, who had lost much in the Panic of 1893, hearing the background of Spafford’s hymn during a church service. Moved by both the story and the words of the hymn, the gentleman declared:

I will never again complain of my lot. If Spafford could write such a beautiful resignation hymn when he had lost all his children, and everything else save his wife and character, I ought surely to be thankful that my losses have been so light.

article about Horatio Spafford writing the hymn "It Is Well with My Soul," Worcester Daily Spy newspaper article 6 November 1902

Worcester Daily Spy (Worcester, Massachusetts), 6 November 1902, page 5

Horatio Gates Spafford died of malaria in 1888 in Jerusalem. His wife Anna followed his death in 1923, survived by the two daughters who were born after the shipwreck tragedy that changed their lives.

Related Articles:


* Geniessee, Jane Fletcher. American Priestess. The Extraordinary Story of Anna Spafford and the American Colony in Jerusalem. New York: Doubleday. p. 55.
** Ibid, p. 56.
*** Ibid, p. 60.

New Discovery about Mayflower Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins

Did you know Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins vacationed in Bermuda before he came over on the Mayflower? I didn’t know that!

Original Mayflower Voyager (Stephen Hopkins) Previously Shipwrecked at St. George's, Bermuda, Boston Herald newspaper article 16 June 1957

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 June 1957, page 61

Well, it wasn’t exactly a vacation—but Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins lived on the island of Bermuda for over a year, from 1609 to 1610.

Eleven years before he left England headed for America in 1620 on board the Mayflower, Hopkins left 2 June 1609 on the ship Sea Venture headed for Jamestown with supplies and a new governor for the colony. The Sea Venture hit a storm on 24 July 1609 and was shipwrecked off of Bermuda. Hopkins and others on board survived and remained for over a year on Bermuda while building a new seaworthy boat that they could use to complete their trip to Jamestown. Soon after he arrived in Jamestown, the colony was evacuated back to England.

Key Skills Learned, Critical for the Mayflower Voyage

Stephen Hopkins picked up critical skills and experience on that ill-fated 1609 voyage. He was one of the few Mayflower Pilgrims with experience at sea. He had survived a shipwreck, and knew what it took to be resourceful in extreme conditions in order to build a seaworthy ship to continue the voyage to America.

Perhaps the most critical skill he learned in 1609-1610 was to speak multiple Native American languages. He gained invaluable experience in getting to know and work with Native Americans. This experience would be pivotal 10 years later when the Pilgrims worked with Squanto and the local Native Americans in Plymouth Colony.

Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins liked his experience in Bermuda and Jamestown so much that he really wanted to go back to America.

So in 1620 he left along with 130 +/- other passengers and crew on the Mayflower to make the 66-day trip to America. It is estimated that today there are as many as 30 million Americans who are Mayflower descendants, although most are unaware of their ancestral tie to the founding of the country.

No Historical Coincidence?

They say there are no accidents or coincidences in life—that somehow seeming coincidences actually were critical to the way history turned out. One of those fortuitous coincidences was that Squanto and other members of his tribe were brought to England where they were trained in English to become interpreters. His language skills and life experience in England were critical to the success of the Pilgrim Colony, and helped frame the 50 years that followed of relative peace between the colonists and the Native Americans. Not many people have such a critical impact on the life and history of other people during their own lifetimes, let alone an impact that we revere to this day.

Newspapers Contain Our Long-Lost Family Stories

You can learn so much about your family in GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives.

Historical newspapers contain the stories and details of the lives of every one of our ancestors, many of them lost for generations.

Dig in and find your family’s stories—don’t let them remain lost to the family.

Related Mayflower Articles & Resources:

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

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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:


* 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.

American Immigrant Story: 1837 Shipwreck Ruins the Trip

Our ancestors have made the long trip to America starting with the days of the Pilgrims. These were not easy journeys and some ended in disaster. Here is a riveting newspaper account from an article written in 1837 showing just how brutal the trip to America could be.

Disastrous Shipwreck, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper article 5 January 1837

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 5 January 1837, page 2

The barque Mexico left Liverpool, England, in October 1836 with a 12-man crew and 104 passengers on board. Two-thirds of the passengers were women and children.

Two months after departing, the ship made it to the coast of New Jersey on Saturday, December 31, 1836. But, like an airplane waiting for the designated gate to open, the Mexico had to sit offshore with another “thirty or more square rigged vessels” waiting for a guide ship to pilot them in to the docks.

The sea was rough that day, and a gale-force wind blew them fifty miles from the port. It was now January 1837, the weather was not cooperating, and half the crew “were badly frost-bitten.” They could only remain above deck for 30 minutes at a time.

Soundings were taken but were not accurate. As the newspaper article explains: “The event has shewn that the information given by the mate as to the depth of water was incorrect; his error probably arose from the lead line being frozen stiff at the time it was cast.”

The captain, thinking that the water was deep enough for him to remain in place, dropped anchor. But as the tides shifted the ship “struck the bottom, 26 miles east of Sandy Hook at Hempstead beach, and not more than a cable’s length from the shore.”

A bad situation for the ship out at sea was growing worse… “The scene that ensued on board, we leave to the reader’s imagination.”

The Mexico’s life boats were deployed, but they were quickly smashed by the pounding waves. Finally a rescue boat came out from the shore to help the stricken ship and eight men—including Captain Winslow—jumped in and headed back to shore, escaping the Mexico.

What? The captain was one of the first to desert the ship?

The remaining ship passengers and crew, despite the fierce cold, gathered on the deck—watching the shore to see if more rescue boats would come out to save them.

None did.

“When they perceived that no further help came from the land their piercing shrieks were distinctly heard at a considerable distance, and continued through the night until they one by one perished.”

Their remains were found in the morning “lashed to different parts of the wreck embedded in ice.”

“None, it is believed, were drowned, but all frozen to death.”

The Newark Daily Advertiser published the Mexico’s sad shipwreck story, including a list of the passengers who died.

GenealogyBank gives you the news as your ancestors’ lived it.

list of dead passengers from shipwreck, Newark Daily Advertiser newspaper article 5 January 1837

Newark Daily Advertiser (Newark, New Jersey), 5 January 1837, page 2

Amazing Survival Stories of Last Moments on the ‘Titanic’ Ship

This week, the world is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the British passenger liner RMS Titanic. The massive ship went down at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic shortly before midnight. There weren’t enough lifeboats for everyone on board, and 1,517 passengers and crew lost their lives.

Another passenger ship, the Carpathia, picked up the Titanic survivors and brought them to New York City, docking on April 18. It was then that the world began to learn details of the disaster from some of the survivors, whose stories were published in the newspapers.

Here’s a newspaper article with some amazing survival stories from the last moments on the Titanic. This copyrighted news article was published by the Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 19 April 1912, page 1:

Graphic Stories of Real Heroism charlotte observer newspaper article April 19 1912

Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, North Carolina), 19 April 1912, page 1

Graphic Stories of Real Heroism

Many of the Survivors Tell of Last Moment on Titanic

Skippers Were Told

Conduct of John Jacob Astor Deserves Highest Praise as He Gave His Life for His Wife

New York, April 18.—E. Z. Taylor of Philadelphia, one of the survivors, jumped into the sea just three minutes before the boat sank. He told a graphic story as he came from the Carpathia.

“I was eating when the Titanic struck the iceberg,” he said. “There was an awful shock that made the boat tremble from stem to stern. I did not realize for some time what had happened. No one seemed to know the extent of the accident. We were told that an iceberg had been struck by the ship. I felt the boat rise and it seemed to me that she was riding over the ice. I ran out on deck and then I could see ice. It was a veritable sea of ice and the boat was rocking over it. I should say that parts of the iceberg were 80 feet high, but it had been broken into sections probably by our ship.

“I jumped into the ocean and was picked up by one of the boats. I never expected to see land again. I waited on board the boat until the lights went out. It seemed to me that the discipline on board was wonderful.”

Saved at Last Moment

Colonel Archibald Gracie, U.S.A., the last man saved, went down with the vessel but was picked up. He was met tonight by his daughter, who had arrived from Washington, and his son-in-law, Paul H. Fabricius. Colonel Gracie told a remarkable story of personal hardship and denied emphatically the reports that there had been any panic on board. He praised in the highest terms the behavior of both the passengers and crew and paid a high tribute to the heroism of the women passengers.

“Mrs. Isidor Straus,” he said, “went to her death because she would not desert her husband. Although he pleaded with her to take her place in the boat she steadfastly refused, and when the ship settled at the head the two were engulfed in the wave that swept her.”

Colonel Gracie told of how he was driven to the topmost deck when the ship settled and was the sole survivor after the wave that swept her just before her final plunge had passed.

“I jumped with the wave,” said he, “just as I often have jumped with the breakers at the seashore. By great good fortune I managed to grasp the brass railing on the deck above and I hung on by might and main. When the ship plunged down I was forced to let go and I was swirled around and around for what seemed to be an interminable time. Eventually I came to the surface, to find the sea a mass of tangled wreckage.

“Luckily I was unhurt and casting about managed to seize a wooden grating floating nearby. When I had recovered my breath I discovered a larger canvas and cork life raft which had floated up. A man, whose name I did not learn, was struggling toward it from some wreckage to which he had clung. I cast off and helped him to get onto the raft and we then began the work of rescuing those who had jumped into the sea and were floundering in the water.

At Break of Dawn

“When dawn broke there were thirty of us on the raft, standing knee deep in the icy water and afraid to move lest the creaky craft be overturned. Several unfortunates, benumbed and half dead, besought us to save them and one or two made an effort to reach us but we had to warn them away. Had we made any effort to save them we all might have perished.

“The hours that elapsed before we were picked up by the Carpathia were the longest and most terrible that I ever spent. Practically without any sensation of feeling, because of the icy water, we were almost dropping from fatigue. We were afraid to turn around to look to see whether we were seen by passing craft and when someone who was facing astern passed the word that something that looked like a steamer was coming up one of the men became hysterical under the strain. The rest of us, too, were nearing the breaking point.”

Col. Gracie denied with emphasis that any men were fired upon and declared that only once was a revolver discharged.

“This was for the purpose of intimidating some steerage passengers,” he said, “who had tumbled into a boat before it was prepared for launching. This shot was fired in the air, and when the foreigners were told the next would be directed at them they promptly returned to the deck. There was no confusion and no panic.”

Contrary to the general expectation, there was no jarring impact when the vessel struck, according to the army officer. He was in his berth when the vessel smashed into the submerged portion of the berg and was aroused by the jar. He looked at this watch, he said, and found it was just midnight. The ship sank with him at 2:22 a.m., for his watch stopped at that hour.

“Before I retired,” said Colonel Gracie, “I had a long chat with Charles H. Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Railroad. One of the last things Mr. Hays said was this: ‘The White Star, the Cunard and the Hamburg-American lines are devoting their attention and ingenuity in vying with them to obtain supremacy in luxurious ships and in making speed records. The time will soon come when this will be checked by some appalling disaster.’ Poor fellow; a few hours later, he was dead.”

Conduct of Colonel Astor

“The conduct of Colonel John Jacob Astor was deserving of the highest praise,” declared Colonel Gracie. “The millionaire New Yorker,” he said, “devoted all his energies to saving his young bride, nee Miss Force of New York who was in delicate health. Colonel Astor helped us in our efforts to get her in the boat,” said Colonel Gracie. “I lifted her into the boat and as she took her place Colonel Astor requested permission of the second officer to go with her for her own protection.

“‘No, sir,’ replied the officer, ‘Not a man shall go on a boat until the women are all off.’ Colonel Astor then inquired the number of the boat, which was being lowered away and turned to the work of clearing the other boats and in reassuring the frightened and nervous women.

“By this time the ship began to list frightfully to port. This became so dangerous that the second officer ordered everyone to rush to starboard. This we did and we found the crew trying to get a boat off in that quarter. Here I saw the last of John B. Thayer, second vice president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and George B. Widener, a capitalist of Philadelphia.”

Colonel Gracie said that despite the warnings of icebergs, no slowing down of speed was ordered by the commander of the Titanic. There were other warnings, too, he said. “In the 24 hours’ run ending the 14th,” he said, “the ship’s run was 546 miles, and we were told that the next 24 hours would see even a better record posted. No diminution of speed was indicated in the run and the engines kept up their steady running. When Sunday evening came we all noticed the increased cold, which gave plain warning that the ship was in close proximity to icebergs or ice fields. The officers, I am credibly informed, had been advised by wireless from other ships of the presence of icebergs and dangerous floes in that vicinity. The sea was as smooth as glass, and the weather clear, so that it seems that there was no occasion for fear.

No Indication of Panic

“When the vessel struck,” he continued, “the passengers were so little alarmed that they joked over the matter. The few that were on deck early had taken their time to dress properly and there was not the slightest indication of panic. Some of the fragments of ice had fallen on the deck and these were picked up and passed around by some of the facetious ones who offered them as mementoes of the occasion. On the port side a glance over the side failed to show any evidence of damage and the vessel seemed to be on an even keel. James Clinch Smith and I, however, soon found the vessel was listing heavily. A few minutes later the officers ordered men and women to don life preservers.”

One of the last women seen by Colonel Gracie, he said, was Miss Evans of New York, who virtually refused to be rescued, because, according to the army officer, “she had been told by a fortune teller in London that she would meet her death on the water.”

A young English woman, who requested that her name be omitted, told a thrilling story of her experience in one of the collapsible boats which had been manned by eight of the crew from the Titanic. The boat was in command of the fifth officer, H. Lowe, whose actions she described as saving the lives of many people. Before the lifeboat was launched, he passed along the port deck of the steamer, commanding the people not to jump in the boats and otherwise restraining them from swamping the craft. When the collapsible was launched, Officer Lowe succeeded in putting up a mast and a small sail. He collected the other boats together; in some cases the boats were short of adequate crews and he directed an exchange by which each was adequately manned. He threw lines connecting the boats together two by two, and all thus moved together. Later on he went back to the wreck with the crew of one of the boats and succeeded in picking up some of those who had jumped overboard and were swimming about. On his way back to the Carpathia he passed one of the collapsible boats which was on the point of sinking with thirty passengers aboard, most of them in scant night clothing. They were rescued just in the nick of time.

Whether you had ancestors directly involved with the Titanic disaster or simply want to learn more for your own interest, historical newspapers provide stories and details you cannot find anywhere else. GenealogyBank’s online archive of more than 5,850 newspapers is full of interesting survival stories, family history facts and more!

Key Historical Newspapers Online at GenealogyBank.com

With over 3,500 newspapers on GenealogyBank it might be difficult to be familiar with all of them.

GenealogyBank is packed with obituaries, birth records and marriage announcements – but here are some quick facts you might not know about some of our historical newspapers.

Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Maryland)
Although this prominent paper published some of Edgar Allen Poe’s earliest poetry, Poe was unable to secure a job on its staff as he had hoped. Includes 3,619 issues published between 1826 and 1838.

Blackfoot Register (Idaho)
The Register covers the Idaho mining boom and the run up to statehood. Publisher William Wheeler used his persuasive writing skills to bolster the population of the then-struggling Idaho Territory. Includes 255 issues published between 1880 and 1886.

Boston Journal (Massachusetts)
One of the first newspapers to conduct a census of its readers, the well-known Journal offered a balance of businessnews and general interest stories, especially those that focused on life in New England. Includes 14,438 issues published between 1870 and 1917.

Daily Alaska Dispatch (Juneau)
The Dispatch offers detailed coverage of shipwrecks, volcano eruptions and other dangers that settlers faced in the harsh northern lands. Includes 5,724 issues published between 1900 and 1919.

Frankfort Argus (Kentucky)
One of the first newspapers west of the Appalachians. Includes 283 issues published between 1808 and 1821. Alternate Title: Argus of the Western World.

Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York)
Including its predecessor the North Star, this powerful anti-slavery newspaper had a circulation of 4,000 readers worldwide. Includes 136 issues published between 1847 and 1860.

Hobart Republican (Oklahoma)
Founded the year Oklahoma achieved statehood, the Republican reflects conservative middle-American views on World War I and the Russian Revolution. Includes 7,438 issues published between 1907 and 1920.

Hokubei Jiji or The North American Times (Seattle, Washington)
This was the first Japanese newspaper in the Pacific Northwest. Includes 57 issues published between 1916 and 1918.

Jeffersonian (Thomson, Georgia)
The Jeffersonian was the official mouthpiece of Georgia’s controversial fire-brand Populist and former presidential candidate, Thomas E. Watson. Will include issues published between 1909 and 1914.

Milwaukee Sentinel (Wisconsin)
The Sentinel provides national and international coverage as well as a glimpse into the northern fur trade. Includes 5,929 issues published between 1837 and 1866.

New-Bedford Courier (Massachusetts)
This important weekly newspaper from the U.S. whaling capital covers the industry at its height. Includes 181 issues published between 1827 and 1833.

New York Tribune (New York City)
For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Horace Greeley’s newspaper was one of the most powerful and successful in America. Will include issues published between 1856 and 1922.

Prescott Daily Courier (Arizona)
This early daily covered Arizona in the years before statehood, after the Desert Land Act significantly increased the territory’s population. Includes 2,173 issues published between 1891 and 1908.

Steamer Pacific News (San Francisco, California)
One of the most popular California newspapers, the Pacific News was shipped east during the height of the Gold Rush. Will include issues published between 1849 and 1851.

St. Louis Republic (Missouri)
This respected daily provided firsthand coverage of Midwestern events such as the Great Tornado of 1896 and the death of Sitting Bull. Includes 3,955 issues published between 1888 and 1900.

Territorial Enterprise (Virginia City, Nevada)
Nevada’s most important early newspaper featured articles written by young staffer Samuel Clemens, later known as Mark Twain. Will include issues published between 1874 and 1881. It will be loaded soon.

Texas Gazette (Austin)
The first English-language newspaper in the state, this important but short-lived title set the standard for frontier journalism. Will include issues published between 1829 and 1832. It will be loaded soon.

Die Washingtoner Post (Washington, Missouri)
This German-language title portrayed the lives of immigrants along the Mississippi River in the 1870s. Will include issues published between 1870 and 1878. It will be loaded soon.

Click here to see the complete list of newspapers on Genealogy Bank.

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