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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Digging for gold at the library: Coast Seaman's Journal

Mirrored from Full Fathom Five:

(by Gina Bardi, Reference Librarian)

Sometimes when you come to the library, you know exactly what material will be the most useful for your research. Other times, the library seems to be laid out before you as a vast and uncharted landscape of great unknowns. Like a prospector, you must dig a little here and there with hopes of striking it rich. In this regular feature we will mine the collection for veins of information and see if we can make our research fortune.

Today we are digging for treasure in the Coast Seaman's Journal, a periodical started in 1875 by the Coast Seamen's Union. Our library has a run from 1875 to 1918 as the Coast Seaman's Journal and then from 1918 to 1929 in its second incarnation as the Seaman's Journal. We also have a few convention issues from the 1930's. I pulled volume 22 which covers September 23rd, 1908 to September 13th, 1909.

What does the Coast Seaman's Journal have to offer? Shall we grab the pick axe of our curiosity and begin to dig?

Someone who was working on maritime labor history would absolutely want to include this publication in their research (and if they didn't know it existed, a helpful reference librarian would point it out). Each issue is devoted to labor causes on both coasts and the Great Lakes. World events are discussed through the lens of labor. This journal provides startling clear insight into the mind of unions during the turbulent early years of their formation. There are also general news sections, sometimes maritime: "Mexico's first attempt to fortify her harbors with modern rifles will be undertaken at Santa Cruz" ("News from Abroad" 12). Sometimes not: "The Grand Parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West, a California organization, has decided hereafter that no malt or spirituous liquors shall be used at the entertainments given by the order." ("Home News" 13). The good news is each volume is indexed at its start. The bad, or perhaps more amusing than bad, is the style in which they are indexed, which is by title of article and not by subject. One has to wonder what this refers to:

"Story, Strange, Hinted at"

And I defy you to read the entry:

"Sea-Coffins Doomed"

and not linger for a moment on its promisingly macabre content.

A boon for genealogists would be the "Information Wanted" section of each issue. Here, worried friends, family and lovers leave ads hoping to find what has become of their missing loved ones. A typical one from reads:

"John Widell, who has been on the Pacific Coast and in Alaska for about 18 years, is inquired for by his nephew, Bernt Valdemar Blomquist, Box 65, Seattle Wash. "

Or this heartbreaker with a $50 reward for information:

"Albert Dietrich, bluish eyes and prominent upper teeth, fair complexion, dark blonde hair, 13 years of age, 4 feet 8 inches tall, missing from his home, 1539 9th Avenue, Sunset, San Francisco, since November 27th, 1907, is inquired for by his parents."

Another feature is that of the "Letters List". Family and friends could send letters to sailors at sea care of the union offices and they would be held there until the sailor returned from their voyage. Each week a list of lucky sailors who have letters waiting for them would be printed. There are also regular inclusions of sea shanties, With the Wits (a joke section of dubious nature) and some wonderful advertisements.

I've only scratched the surface, so to speak, of what this journal offers. Please come by and peruse our collection of the Coast Seamen's Journal and see what you can dig up.


"Home News." Coast Seamen's Journal 22.33 (1909): 13. Print.

"Index". Coast Seamen's Journal 22 (1909). Print.

"Information Wanted." Coast Seamen's Journal 22.26 (1909): 12. Print.

"News from Abroad." Coast Seamen's Journal 22.24 (1909): 12. Print.

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