Friday, 26 November 2010

All the nice girls love a sailor - 2

In Part 1 of this post I wrote about my husband's great great grandfather, Captain John Winn, a master mariner who disappeared in "North America" sometime between 1830 and 1848.

In trying to crack this major brick wall I have pursued many different lines of research. I began by reading this book, published by the Society of Genealogists:

My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman

I then explored the following sources:


I cannot find John Winn in the 1841 or 1851 British censuses, the 1840 or 1850 US Federal censuses or the 1851 Canadian census.

Lloyds Registers of Shipping

These annual lists can be fully viewed on Google Books. I have extracted the names of all merchant ships with a captain or owner called Winn between 1807 and 1865. I have eliminated those vessels where I have been able to discover the captain's first name and it is not John. I've also eliminated those still sailing from British ports after 1848.

This leaves me with six captains & vessels:

  • 1811-12, Thirsk, J Winn, Hull coaster
  • 1822, Holland, Winn, Exeter coaster
  • 1830-33, Legatus, Winn, Sunderland, Bristol, Montreal
  • 1832-33, Kate, Winn, New Brunswick, London, Halifax
  • 1836-40, George Canning, Winn, Newcastle, Halifax, Bombay
  • 1841-44, Rainbow, Winn, London, Cape of Good Hope

Passenger Lists

There are three masters called Winn on the Ship's List website but, from the names of their ships, I have eliminated all three as being different people. The captain of the Legatus is also mentioned there, spelled Wynn. Using One-Step Webpages I turned up a John Winn, ship master, aged 35 years & 4 months, who arrived in New York from the Turks on board the schooner "Deposit" on 23 August 1836. However, he is described as US born & resident.

John Winn 1836 passenger list


I can find no will, and no action by the family to have him declared dead.

Records of Merchant Seamen

There are no records of merchant navy officers in the UK before 1845. I spent a day trawling through seamen's records and crew lists at the National Archives. There were many John Winns, all ordinary seamen, but nothing to identify my man.


I can find no reference to him (such as a missing person advert) in the British Library's 19th century newspaper collection.

Genealogy Bank turns up various references in US newspapers in the 1830s to John D Winn, captain of the Eliza from Salem, Massachusetts.


I can't find him listed as the captain of a ship that went down at any of the websites devoted to wrecks.

Where should I go next? Please leave your suggestions in the comments. I'll use them to draw up a future research strategy for Part 3 of this post.


  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "Back to the Homeplace"
    and "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories"

  2. Thank you so much for the welcome, Dr Bill. How kind of you to stop by. I'm really enjoying blogging and the Daily Blogging Prompts from Geneabloggers are a fantastic source of inspiration. I'm now following your blog as well.

  3. regarding: 'I spent a day trawling through seamen's records and crew lists...' I've researched there & 'Trawling' is the correct word alright! I would follow up on the John D. Winn of the Eliza to either definately rule him out...or get lucky and find your man. The time period, career and name match up.
    Good luck and welcome to the geneabloggers family!

  4. From National Archives. Is this of interest?


    SP 78/154
    Pontchartrain to St. John. Accepts Bolingbroke's denial of rumour that privateers from Guernsey and Jersey are deliberately ignoring suspension of arms. Requires no more English passports, suggests that merchant vessels of both nations should pass freelyacross the channel without need of passports. Is attending to the case of John Winn whose vessel the Flying Horse from Bristol was captured by the French.
    f.380 French.
    Date: 1712 Sept. 28, Versailles

    Held by:

    The National Archives, Kew

    Legal status:

    Public Record

  5. Sadly it is a century too early but it would be wonderful if he turned out to be our John Winn's great grandfather! I have recently found one new clue which I shall write about soon.