Sunbeam crew heaving a line, photo by Clifford W. Ashley
Through the efforts of 31 volunteers working with Advisory Curator Judith Lund the Whaling Museum has been able to augment a project begun many years ago by New Bedford Free Public Library (NBFPL). Using records kept by the chaplains of the New Bedford Port Society and currently stored in the Museum's Research Library, the volunteers entered the names and physical descriptions of men leaving New Bedford on whaling voyages from 1850 to the end of whaling in 1927. These individual records were then combined into a database containing 58,752 names that was then combined with the earlier work completed at the Free Public Library. The completed database includes 123,598 records and spans the years 1809 to 1927.

These records will be useful to family members wishing to learn about the whaling careers of their ancestors. They will also be useful to scholars of the arts of the whaling industry. They will provide raw data which can be studied by sociologists and anthropologists researching the whaling industry as well as immigration patterns of the residents of the city.

This list represents only men who left New Bedford on whaling voyages. It does not include whatever happened after the ship left New Bedford. Occasionally there is added information about desertions or deaths, but these are hit or miss records the chaplain probably read in the newspaper and added to his files. It does not include men who signed on in the Azores or Cape Verde. Their names only appear if they later left New Bedford on another voyage. The list shows what Melville picturesquely noted, that persons from all around the world passed through New Bedford. In all, there were men from 33 states and two territories in the United States represented, as well as men from more than 100 nations or islands worldwide.

The original Customs documents were handwritten. The Port Society records were handwritten transcriptions of the Customs documents. The valiant volunteers who entered the data were reading and interpreting second-generation handwritten records.The original records were written down by Customs officers who were not particularly familiar with the spelling of names, and often the seamen themselves, were not certain how to spell their names. The Customs agent wrote down what he heard. Therefore, the records present a need for creative interpretation in their use. One can assume that Cape de Birds is yet one more variation in the 8 or 9 ways of spelling of the Cape Verde Islands. The city of Poughkeepsie, on the Hudson River, a whaling port in its own right for a short while, appears in about as many spelled versions as there are letters in that city's name. Because of these difficulties in recording and writing names, a person's name may appear with a spelling that is different from the family's spelling today, or may appear with more than one spelling on successive voyages.

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