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The Search for More about the Incredible Mary Ann Patten

Remember Mary Ann Brown Patten? In my last post, Mary Ann Patten: A Case Study I told you a little but about her amazing life and the beginning of my research into her life. I started with an online survey to see what information I could find. Next, I wanted to explore books and periodicals that could assist me in telling her story. Remember, these aren’t necessarily resources that will provide me genealogical data but instead provide me context for her life.

I’m going to begin by using WorldCat. WorldCat is a worldwide library catalog with over two billion items (books, periodicals, theses, archival collections). While not every library participates in WorldCat, it’s a great place to start my search. Best of all, I can enter my zip code or city to see what libraries “nearest to me” have the item I need.

My goal for using WorldCat is to see what books might help me learn more about Mary Ann’s life on a clipper ship. I want to also explore books that will help me learn more about where she lived, her family (her birth family but also the family she married in and created), maritime history, and 19th century Massachusetts women.

WorldCat Search


I know that the ship Mary Ann navigated was the Neptune’s Car so I’m going to search and see if I can find a history of that ship. The search for “Neptune’s Car” resulted in 64 results. A few of those results are children’s books and historical fiction accounts about the ship and Mary Ann, however, I did see one interesting result that I thought initially would be useful.


As I looked at this result I thought it might be a broadside celebrating Mary Ann’s historic voyage. Unfortunately, since it’s impossible for me to get to a library that has this item it may seem like I should not pursue it. However, I noticed that the website listed as having an online version is Newsbank. Newsbank owns GenealogyBank. Taking a chance I could find it there, I look and I do find it. However, although there isn’t a clear year when this item was printed, the month (April) listed on the item does not match when Mary Ann docked in San Francisco (December 1856). While it is an item I could use to tell the history of the ship it doesn’t directly deal with the time period that Mary Ann was on it.


My search of WorldCat does uncover some other archival items I’m interested in and not surprisingly one is located in San Francisco at the Maritime Research Library located at the Maritime Historical Center. It appears that this item is in the periodical American History (Feb 2005) which means I can look for it somewhere else. However, it’s a good reminder that since Mary Ann docked in San Francisco, I may want to look at manuscript collections in maritime museums and archives in San Francisco.


One other item that I am interested in is located at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts and is called [Material relating to the clipper ship Neptune's Car and Mary Ann Patten who assumed command of the ship when her husband, Captain Joshua Adams Patten became ill on a voyage from New York to San Francisco in 1856]. I’m not really sure what that is. It’s listed as a biography/book with 12 pages. But I’m unsure who wrote it or when or if it can shed anymore light on Mary Ann. After exploring the Peabody Essex Museum website, I decide that I’ll contact them and see what more I can learn about this items and other items that might help tell this story.

I want to momentarily go back to the historical fiction book about Mary Ann that I found on WorldCat. I don’t want to discount it as a possible help to my research. My experience is that most historical fiction authors conduct a lot of research into their subject. They visit libraries, archives, and interview historians. So I will read the book I found (The Captain’s Wife by Douglas Kelly) and see what insight and what sources were used in the compiling of this narrative. I also need to access the history I found on Neptune’s Car written by Paul W Simpson.

Now there’s much more I need to do in WorldCat including identifying other books about clipper ship history, the time period, the place where Mary Ann and Joshua lived, and even possible family histories. But for now, let’s move on to JSTOR.


If you haven’t used JSTOR, please do yourself a favor and explore it. JSTOR’s About page explains that it “provides access to more than 12 million academic journal articles, books, and primary sources in 75 disciplines.” You can sign up for a free account that allows you to save three articles at a time on a virtual bookshelf. You can also pay for a subscription or use it at a subscribing library (the Family History Library in Salt Lake City has a subscription).

Image5It seems obvious to me that I should have some luck finding articles written by historians about Neptune’s Car. I do a search on JSTOR and only receive 21 results. I have to admit this is disappointing but I realize I may need to do more searches using other keywords to find what I need. A few of my results deal with clipper ships but nothing that looks really promising.


So I play around with search terms. I use Mary Ann’s name and nothing relevant matches. I try a search on maritime women and receive some promising results that would help me better understand what it was like to be a woman on a ship. I then find one hit that looks promising.


I used Google Books to learn more about this book and read that

In 1852 Hannah Rebecca Crowell married sea captain William Burgess and set sail. Within three years, Rebecca Burgess had crossed the equator eleven times and learned to navigate a vessel. In 1856, 22-year-old Rebecca saved the ship Challenger as her husband lay dying from dysentery. The widow returned to her family’s home in Sandwich, Massachusetts, where she refused all marriage proposals and died wealthy in 1917.

Another woman who did almost exactly what Mary Ann did! The author of this book used Hannah’s writings that she donated to a historical society. I know I need this book to get ideas of sources and context for Mary Ann’s life.


Now do you remember in Part one I wrote about Eleanor Creesy? I had found her when I did a Google search and she had also navigated a clipper ship, the Flying Cloud. As I did more searching for her story I realized that I owned a book about her life appropriately titled Flying Cloud by David W Shaw. I pulled that book from my shelf and went searching for any relevant bibliography and sources. Now unfortunately there are no source citations in the book , however, he does say that the Flying Cloud’s log is at the Peabody Essex Museum (there’s that museum again, so it’s quickly becoming a must-visit for me). The author also talks about other sources consulted such as crew diaries, vital records, and archival collections. I’m going to use these sources as a guide for what I need to be searching. These collections he found were in varied places including Massachusetts and California reminding me that multiple locations could hold what I need and that our ancestors are found in the personal papers of others (remember the FAN club)?

Now What?

I still have a lot to do. I’m not done identifying all of the genealogical and archival materials I need. I have some books to read by authors who’ve done similar research. I also want to plan a trip to Boston and Salem to take advantage of various historical societies, maritime museum, and library collections. I’m feeling fairly confident at this point that I could find enough materials to describe what it was like for Mary Ann on Neptune’s Car and what she did with a combination of genealogy, local history, maritime history, and social history sources.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.


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This is very interesting. You have given me food for thought to look for more resources for my family story.

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