What?The Crew List Index Project (CLIP) started as a project to improve access to the records of British merchant seamen for the last part of the nineteenth century - mainly by indexing records at local record offices throughout the UK.
Who?CLIP is run as an independent voluntary project by Pete and Jan Owens. The original transcription was carried out by a team of volunteers throughout Britain - these heroes are listed on our acknowledgements page.
Why ?The project started from trying to trace the seafaring career of Pete's great-grandfather, who was one of the hundreds of thousands of ordinary seafarers who lived hard lives but never made a name for themselves. They were a vital part of the merchant fleets and the history of every maritime country. We are fortunate to have in the crew lists of the 19th century an excellent record of the lives of individuals, sometimes on a day-by-day basis. It's a rich resource if only we can get at it!
Anyone who has tried to trace the records of an individual seafarer of that period will know the frustration presented by the hundreds of thousands of scattered documents. The information you want is there somewhere but there’s no easy way in! To use the phrase “needle in a haystack” would be an irritating cliché, but too barmily optimistic anyway. The records obviously need to be indexed, but the deterrents are this alarming volume of documents and the many different places they’re stored.
A full index is clearly highly unlikely, but CLIP was based on the idea that something is usually better than nothing. Also, in the case of these records, a sample may be more useful than it would otherwise be. A seafarer who was at sea for a number of years would usually serve on several ships and appear on many crew lists. We reckoned that the chances of finding at least one record of a seafarer were increased several times because of this. Further, each list shows (fairly reliably) the seafarer’s previous vessel so you only have to be lucky once.
So we set out to index a sample of the records we could get at most easily - those in the local record offices in the UK.
How?We contacted local record offices to find out which archives held which lists. Then we recruited transcribers and checkers to extract the data - eventually we collected at least some data from 15 of these 40+ record offices. CLIP relied heavily on the work of these volunteers and we are extremely grateful for their hard graft and commitment. They are listed on our acknowledgements page.
Each crew list was transcribed onto a standard form and checked by a second person. We set up an Access database on which the data was entered and checked. In some cases the data was transcribed and checked directly onto a subset of the database and then transferred.
What was the outcome?The CLIP data collection ran from 1999 to the end of 2001. We had a target of 100,000 entries and ended the project with 260,000, including data from other indexes. For some ports and some record offices we achieved 100% coverage of the records they hold. Even so, we only scratched the surface - we estimate we covered about 2% of the entries in all the crew lists for the period.
NEW! We're pleased to say that the CLIP crew names index is once more available. It's online at findmypast.
During the course of the project we gathered a good deal of other information related to merchant seafarer’s records, most of which is on this site.
As we had other things to do, we brought CLIP to anchor (for good, we thought) at the end of 2001. We still hadn't found out any more about Pete's great-grandfather!
CLIP sails on!After working in Africa for two years, we have raised CLIP's anchor again. We have set up this site, and carried out several medium-sized transcription projects to do with ships rather than crew. Please see the page What next? for more detail. We are also planning our future projects - we’ve set out our present thoughts, but we’d welcome comments and suggestions.
AcknowledgementsCLIP would not have been possible without the hard work of many individuals and help and advice from many archivists and volunteers working in record offices. Our acknowledgements page records the debt of gratitude we owe them.
Thank you all.