One of the best parts about my job is how often I come in contact with historic locations. Most of these places I never dreamed I’d be fortunate enough to see outside the pages of a history book. Twice, in the last five years, I have had the opportunity to work with artifacts and locations that were directly linked to the Titanic. My first experience with this infamous ship came when I was brought in to work with artifacts that were recovered from the wreck. These pieces, collected from the ocean floor, were believed to be haunted by those who died in the disaster. I will be the first to say that I nerded out a bit over the opportunity. My second encounter with the Titanic came when I was sent to a little seaport town called Cove for work.
In November of 2010, I had found myself in southern Ireland boarding a small fishing boat. We were headed out to work for the night on an island just off the coast of Cove. Once aboard, I noticed this old, rotting pier that jetted out into the water in front of a yellow, weather-beaten building. This building displayed a sign that read, “Titanic Bar Restaurant” and sat adjacent to our pier. After asking one of the locals with us, I learned that Cove, once known as Queenstown, was the last port of call for the Titanic.
On April 11, 1912, 123 passengers used that old, rotting pier to board the Titanic before it headed out for its ill-fated, maiden voyage. Three days later, just before midnight on April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Within a few hours, in the early morning of April 15, this enormous ship sank, taking with it 1,517 out of the 2,228 lives on board. Out of the 123 passengers who boarded in Cove, only 44 would survive.
A century later, the Titanic is still considered one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. We all know about the disaster and the number of people who died, but who were the men, women and children that made up those figures? With help from the new Titanic Collection on Ancestry.com, we are now able to get a better look at who these passengers and crewmembers were. Through this collection of scanned original passenger lists, crew records, fatality reports and coroner’s records the passengers become more then just a number. Becoming aware of the passengers personal details makes this event less about cold statistics. It makes us turn our attention to what made the Titanic such a historic tragedy; the large loss of life.
I will never forget the sadness I felt while looking at that timeworn pier in Cove. I could imagine the people waiting, excited to board the enormous luxury liner that was believed to be unsinkable. The whole town must have turned out; thrilled to welcome this massive history making ship to their seaport. I also found it difficult to shake the eerie feeling I got as we set out on our little boat. For some, on April 11, 1912, this same colorful seaport skyline would be the last town they’d set their feet and eyes on.
By Kris Williams
On last night’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? award-winning actress Helen Hunt uncovered the stories in her dad’s family tree. She knew little about his family; her dad’s mother died when he was just five years old. But Helen’s goal to unlock the past and share it with her own daughter persevered. First stop – census records that directed her to California and ultimately the Gold Rush, where Helen’s great-grandfather staked his claim. But the gold he found was a little more green as he built the foundation of a financial institution that still stands today.
And the inspiration kept coming. Next Helen traveled across the country to Maine to learn more about a great-great-grandmother. Following her through historical records, Helen discovered this powerful woman paved the way for women’s suffrage – even casting a ballot herself.
Ancestry.com is a sponsor of Who Do You Think You Are? airing Fridays at 8/7c on NBC. Watch Helen’s episode online here.
Every family tree is full of inspiration, yours included, even if your own family’s story never made it into a history book. You can rest assured that the sacrifices they made and the struggles they endured helped forge a more welcoming path for each of us. And the best part? Now you get to follow their trail, uncover their journeys and come face to face with history all over again.