The Shipping News
I’m a knitter and I love one scene written by Annie Proulx. It cracks me up every time. "I can tell you about the time buddy was ripping along down the Trans-Canada knitting about as fast as the truck was going when this Mountie spies him. Starts to chase after him, doing a hundred and forty km per. Finally gets alongside, signs the transport feller to stop, but he's so deep in his knitting he never notices... Mountie flashes his light, finally has to shout out the window, 'Pull over! Pull over! So the great transport knitter looks at the Mountie, shakes his head a bit and says, "Why no sir, 'tis a cardigan.' " The book is of course, The Shipping News.
Reading the shipping news in the newspaper might not be quite as giggle-inducing, but could provide some wonderful details to include when writing your family story. Do you have ancestors who sailed from Europe to the New World or perhaps from Boston or New York, bound for California? If you’ve got a date and a ship’s name for such an adventure you may find some specifics about the voyage.
I knew from my great-grandmothers application to Native Daughters of the Golden West, a California lineage society, that she arrived in San Francisco in May 1867 aboard the vessels Ocean Queen and Sacramento. With the month and year and ship names, I scoured the newspaper looking for either of those ships arriving in San Francisco, and on page 3 of the Daily Alta California of May 25, 1867 in the Shipping Intelligence column, “Arrived, May 24, Stmr Sacramento, Cavarly, 14 days 2 hrs from Panama.”  But wait, there’s more! (Oh, yes… always read the entire paper!) On page 1 I found “From Panama: Arrival of the Steamer ‘Sacramento,’” a 1000+ word article providing details of the Sacramento’s latest round-trip San Francisco-Panama voyage. She “left Panama May 10th at 3:56 p.m. with 590 passengers” and assorted freight, mail and baggage. She stopped at Acapulco, Manzanillo, and Cape St. Lucas on her northward journey, and “experienced fine pleasant weather the entire voyage. Passengers and crew all well.” Among those 590 passengers were “Miss M. Hearn and bro,” my great-grandmother, Mary Agnes Ahern and her brother, Henry.
Further details from the account told me that the Sacramento was carrying freight from the Ocean Queen from New York, and in a “Passengers Sailed” column in the New York Times on page 8 of the May 2nd issue, I found two exciting names – “Miss Mary Hearn and brother.” OK 1 ½ exciting names – poor Henry! memorialized in two newspapers as “brother.”
I was lucky that my great-grandmother traveled first class on these ships so her name was listed in the newspaper, but even if she’d been in the nameless hundreds in steerage,, the shipping news columns could tell me much about her journey. Read The Shipping News (book) and the shipping news in the paper. Search for “Passengers Sailed,” “Arrivals,” “Marine Intelligence,” and more. It’ll help to fill out more stories of your ancestors’ lives.
 The Shipping News: A Novel, Annie Proulx, Simon and Schuster, 2008
 Daily Alta California, Volume 19, Number 6280, 25 May 1867, page 3, accessed 19 April 2016 from the California Digital Newspaper
 Daily Alta California, Volume 19, Number 6280, 25 May 1867, page 1, accessed 19 April 2016 from the California Digital Newspaper
 “Passengers Sailed” New York Times 02 May 1867, page 9, accessed 19 April 2016
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Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.