Marine museum receives grant to open its collections to the public

Posted Dec. 19, 2011, at 7:32 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2012, at 2:10 p.m.

BATH, Maine — Maine Maritime Museum’s efforts to make its vast resources available to the public received a major boost recently with the receipt of a $125,000 grant.

The museum was one of 19 institutions nationwide to receive a 2011 Cataloguing Hidden Special Collections and Archives Grant from a group called the Council of Library and Information Resources.

According to museum spokesman Dave Garrison, the money will be used for an estimated 18-month process of increasing the amount of information that is available digitally on historic Maine ships and their crews. Basic information on hundreds of ships, such as the captain’s name, is easy to find. Researching the rest of the crew, however, would take months or years of digging through handwritten records and ships’ logs and success is by no means guaranteed, according to a press release.

The project will uncover information about thousands of Maine sailors from the late 18th century through the early 20th century. That information exists in 44 separate manuscript collections which occupy more than 130 linear feet of library shelving. Those papers include sea captains’ business papers, crew lists, voyage accounts and records from ship owners, agents and customs houses. The collection also includes correspondence between captains and owners, letters to families, ship construction details and documentation of port visits, cargo and insurance information.

The first step of the $125,000 project will be for archivists to catalog the 44 collections and enter them into a database that will be available on Maine Maritime Museum’s website. Staff and volunteers then will build a second database, called the Merchant Mariners Muster, that includes information about individual sailors. That database will also be on the museum’s website. The records include information about a range of major and minor commercial and military expeditions to ports all over the world.

The Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant program, which targets collections of high scholarly value that are difficult or impossible to locate, was created in 2008 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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