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Ships and Ship Registers: Sources of Information

While the primary focus of this guide is on individual ships and their specifications (such as dimensions, weight, and tonnage), ship registers are also useful for genealogical research, as well as the study of the shipping industry and its history.


Launching of 10,000 ton ships. The first of 90 sister ships to be built for the Maritime Commission slides off the dock into the Atlantic. Launched just one year from the time construction work started on the shipyards, this 10,000 ton vessel is of the "Virginia Dare" type. 1941. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

People look for information on ships for many reasons. Some may need to know the background and specifications on individual ships, others may be doing genealogical research and the information on ships provides a fuller picture of their ancestors.

This guide mostly contains sources that provide information on the specifics of ships—from dimensions, weight, tonnage, when and where it was built, who owned it etc. While this guide is for ship/vessel specific information and not general shipping and shipping history information, a few titles are included that look at shipping and shipping history in order to provide context that may help in understanding how things work now and how they have worked in the past.

While this guide is more focused on ships and sources on ships from the United States it includes some international sources because ownership history changes and ship ownership crosses national boundaries. However, not all registers from all individual countries are included. Lastly, some trade literature titles covering shipping and ship building for both commercial and military purposes have been included because they often report on specific vessels and include images as well as report sailing schedules (cargo, mails, passenger).

About the Business Section

Part of the Science & Business Reading Room at the Library of Congress, the Business Section is the starting point for conducting research at the Library of Congress in the subject areas of business and economics. Here, reference specialists in specific subject areas of business assist patrons in formulating search strategies and gaining access to the information and materials contained in the Library's rich collections of business and economics materials.