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The Titanic

The sinking of the Titanic is one of the most researched and written about disasters in modern time. Because of this, descendants of Titanic victims and survivors have numerous options to writing the life story of their Titanic ancestor.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Gena Philibert-Ortega
Word Count: 1069 (approx.)
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The Titanic must have been an exciting ship. With its new technologies and the promise of being unsinkable, you can imagine how it exciting that must have been to board the ship on the beginning of its maiden voyage. The excitement of the promise of a ship like Titanic colored the judgment of those in charge. This lack of judgment is partially to blame for the disaster that ultimately took so many lives. In the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, the indestructible Titanic did what it was built not to do, sink. Only 711 of the 2,224 passengers survived the disaster. As with many disasters, a paper trail exists that helps the genealogist learn more about their Titanic ancestor and their experience aboard this ship.

I think one of the most important resources for learning more about those who were on the Titanic, is Encyclopedia Titanica. This website has biographies of the passengers and crew aboard the liner, including documentation, pictures, and family histories. Message boards cover a host of Titanic-related topics . Some of the message boards include minute details such the sleeping arrangements of the crew and whether any cabin keys are still in existence. You could spend hours on this website just learning about the people associated with the Titanic and their voyage.

Reading contemporary newspaper accounts can give you a sense of what it may have been like to have been alive at that time and learning of the disaster. The Maryland State Archives includes digitized newspaper accounts of the Titanic disaster as reported in Maryland newspapers of the time. One of the digitized images is of a newspaper page that included pictures of the prominent people who were aboard Titanic.

You can also find a scanned copy of the1912 book, Sinking of the Titanic: Thrilling Stories Told By Survivors, by John Henry Mowbray. Now let me just say upfront, don't be turned off by this website's "look." The night sky backdrop and over the top font colors makes it look a little hokey, but I think its being a scanned copy of the book makes weeding through all of that worthwhile. I will also add that, like other books of its time, Sinking of the Titanic might verge a little on melodrama and misrepresent some facts. But, I believe the value in this book lies in some of its information and the pictures it presents.

Included in this book is information about the search for survivors and the recovery and later burial of the bodies. One of the last chapters speaks to the recovery effort and how decisions were made about who would be buried on land and who would be buried at sea. The ship, MacKay-Bennett, had the job of picking up the dead and either committing their bodies to sea or bringing them on to Halifax.

Because of the enormity of this recovery effort, it was decided that the crew would be buried at sea, " the man who lives by the sea ought to be satisfied to be buried at sea." (Sinking 262). Interestingly enough, celebrity seems to have been a factor in who was elected for burial, "No prominent men were recommitted to the deep." (261). In cases where inheritance and large life insurance sums might be involved, the body was preserved. Pictures of crew members and prominent men are featured in this book but there are also a few pictures of the everyday people aboard Titanic such as one in the section entitled, "In Memoriam of the Steamship Titanic's Dead," which shows the pictures of two French children who were rescued. The children's father had perished and they were being taken care of on the ship Carpathia by a Miss Hays, who also survived Titanic's sinking. By looking up a Miss Hays on the Encyclopedia Titanica's website, we find that "Miss Hays" was Miss Margaret Bechstein Hays. Miss Hays, although an American, spoke French and volunteered to take care of the two little boys who spoke no English. Those two boys were Michel and Edmond Navratil whose father, Michel Sr. had kidnapped them from their mother and planned to take them to America. Miss Hays took care of the children in her home in America until Children's Aid Society was able to locate their mother and bring her to America to claim them. You can read more about the Orphans of Titanic on the Encyclopedia Titanica website.

The website, the Titanic Graves of Halifax, provides you with information about the recovery effort and links to two cemeteries in Halifax where Titanic victims lay. Pictures of the gravestones allow you to visit a loved one's gravesite without leaving your home. Although some of the graves include names, there are also graves for the unknown. On the site for the Mt. Olivet Roman Catholic Cemetery at Halifax, one gravestone, simply reads "Died April, 15, 1912; 5." The "5" on her gravestone signifies that she was the fifth person to be recovered. More importantly, many of the links for the gravestone pictures includes information about the effects that were on the person at the time of their recovery.

One interesting Titanic website would be that of the Dalbeattie Town History. This website has information on Titanic crewmember, Lt. William McMaster Murdoch, a native son of Dalbeattie. He is the crewmember that has been accused of shooting people on board during the confusion of escaping the ship and finally killing himself. These accusations were highlighted in the James Cameron film, Titanic. Evidence to the contrary by surviving crewmembers and other Titanic information is available on this site. The website includes a letter from Murdoch to his family and a timeline of what Murdoch was doing prior to the Titanic hitting the iceberg.

For those who want to connect with other descendents or just conduct research on the Titanic, peruse the messages on the Titanic message board at Rootsweb. To find this message board go to http://www.rootsweb.com/, under the heading "Message Boards"; then select "Disasters; United Kingdom," and finally the "Titanic." Although it does not appear to be a really active message board, there are only 23 messages (to date), it does have some links that may be of use in your research.

The sinking of the Titanic is one of the most researched and written about disasters in modern time. Because of this, descendants of Titanic victims and survivors have numerous options to writing the life story of their Titanic ancestor.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2006.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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