Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the infamous RMS Titanic, one of the worst disasters in maritime history. Genealogist Simon Pearce journeys through Titanic’s fateful voyage from Southampton to New York and explores the collections which can help bring the Titanic’s backstory to life.
Through historical documents, you can discover remarkable details about passengers and crew who sailed aboard the ship. From occupations, names, and ages of those who bought tickets, to death records and fatality reports of those who died, our collections may help you to discover more untold stories of the people aboard.
RMS Titanic sailed from Southampton on 10 April, stopping at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, before heading to New York. The Times newspaper exclaimed the following day: ‘The Largest Vessel Afloat – Maiden Voyage of the Titanic’. Passenger lists for the Titanic’s fateful voyage can be viewed in the UK and Ireland, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 collection, or within the UK, RMS Titanic, Outward Passenger List, 1912 collection.
The ship struck an iceberg late on 14th April 1912 and sank in the early hours of the following day, 15th April. Of approximately 2,228 passengers and crew on board,1,517 tragically lost their lives, as reported in The Manchester Guardian on the 16th.
Hearing the Titanic’s distress calls, RMS Carpathia made its way to the Titanic’s last known position, rescuing over 700 survivors before making its way back to New York. The list of survivors aboard the Carpathia can be searched on Ancestry.
There is an interesting, small selection of photographs relating to the Titanic within the UK, Historical Photographs and Prints, 1704-1989 collection, including photos of survivors. Some survivors were brought to Plymouth, Devon aboard the SS Lapland in late April 1912, such as the men photographed here. Fundraising efforts were widespread following the Titanic’s sinking, supporting survivors and the families of those who lost loved ones. This photo, dated April 1912, shows a soldier collecting money at a Titanic Fund Service in Southampton.
The collection also contains a photo of Devon-born Alice Frances Louisa Phillips: contrary to the image caption claiming she was lost when the Titanic sank, Alice was in fact a survivor. Her father Escott Robert Phillips however did not survive. Alice can be seen here on the Carpathia passenger list (number 19 on the list): note that she was joining her grandmother Mrs. E. Knight of New Brighton, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Daily Post reported on 18 April 1912 that Alice’s uncle, William Phillips, whom she had never met, had left New Brighton to meet Alice in New York. The article states that: ‘Mr Phillips does not know what his niece looks like and will have to depend on the officers of the White Star line to assist him in finding the girl.’ Alice returned to England and married Henry Leslie Mead in Cheetham Hill, near Manchester in 1916. Alice died in 1923 at the age of 31.
Browsing records on Ancestry, it is interesting to see a small selection of people born in 1912 who were given the middle name ‘Titanic’, such as Maurice Titanic Hardcastle, who was born on 15 April 1912. Perhaps some of these individuals born on 14-15 April 1912 had connections to those on board the Titanic, or their parents named them after the ship as a mark of respect or memorial.
Crew lists and agreements are useful sources for family historians researching ancestors who served at sea. Here we have the Titanic’s crew records, which can be searched for information relating to the crew serving aboard the Titanic in April 1915. The pages relating to the crew who failed to join the Titanic having signed on for the voyage, or who deserted or were discharged, make for fascinating reading. Browsing the names makes you wonder what happened to these individuals and what their thoughts and emotions were when they heard the news of the Titanic’s fate. Number 15 on the aforesaid list, a man by the name of P. Kilford, ‘left by consent’ at Southampton on the 10th April. Further searching of the collection revealed that Kilford, who joined as a Steward, left the ship due to sickness.
Take a look here for additional collections and information relating to the Titanic.