The Gerald C. Metzler Great Lakes Vessel Database is an index of Great Lakes ships built before 1900. While several excellent online databases of Great Lakes vessels currently exist, few online resources contain information on the earliest vessels built on the lakes. The Metzler Vessel Database is expected to become the most comprehensive online index of early Great Lakes vessels built in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Originally a shipwreck diver, Gerald Metzler became interested in vessel history and spent over 50 years compiling this index based on exhaustive research of vessel enrollments, newspapers, and other primary resource materials from archives and libraries across the Great Lakes region. His data includes not only standard specifications like builder, rig and date of build, but also names of some of the owners and captains of the vessels. It is anticipated that the information will be of use to maritime historians, shipwreck hunters, and genealogists alike.
The database is still a work in progress as the vessel index is digitized from a collection of over 30,000 handwritten catalog cards, each card representing a ship. Before any piece of data is incorporated into a vessel record, Jerry Metzler has verified it against several other sources, all of which are cited within each record. However, errors may still exist and we welcome people to submit corrections through our Contact page.
Please use the basic search below. For additional fields, go to the advanced search page.
Use the advanced search below to narrow your search results.
Here are some tips to help you get better results when searching the vessel database. Please note that the information in the vessel records has been double-checked against other sources for accuracy as much as possible. However, spelling and numerical mistakes may have been made in the original sources. If you do find any errors or omissions, please contact us.
- Searching Proper Names
- The names of owners and masters were entered as they recorded in their original sources and may contain spelling variations. If searching for the last name “Williams”, also try doing a search for just “William.” Or if looking up an “Olson,” also try “Olsen.”
Also, try searching for just the last name, since many of the first names in the database are listed as initials.
- Searching vessel names
- There are often variations in the spelling of vessel names, especially those named after a person. For example, the schooner Emma L. Nielsen was also listed in various documents as Emma L. Nielson, Emma L. Neilsen, and Emma L. Neilson. If a search for a vessel doesn’t produce what you were looking for, try searching slightly different spelling variations. Also, the names of vessels were sometimes abbreviated, like E. L. Nielsen. To get around this, try searching just the last name of a vessel. It may bring up more vessels with the same last name, but it will also increase the likelihood of finding the right vessel.
Have a question about the vessel database? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions. If your question isn’t answered below, you can submit your question to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum through our contact page.
- Where do I find information on vessels built after 1900?
- Currently the Gerald C. Metzler Great Lakes Vessel Database only includes vessels built before 1900. Since fewer online resources currently exist to research 18th and 19th century vessels, Jerry Metzler decided to focus his efforts on those ships first. The database will eventually expand to include post-1900 vessels. In the meantime, other resources for later vessels are available online, like the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Maritime Database.
- What if I can’t find the vessel I’m looking for in the database?
- The vessel may have been built after 1900 and therefore not included in this database. Or the vessel may be listed under a different spelling or abbreviation. See our Search Tips page for a guide on how to search vessel names more effectively. It’s also possible that the vessel has not been added to the database yet, which is still a work in progress. Check back as new data is added!
- Why can’t I find vessel photographs in the database?
- The Gerald C. Metzler Great Lakes Vessel Database was created to provide a source of extensive information on early Great Lakes vessels, many of which predated photography or were just never photographed. As the database grows, we intend to include historic photographs when possible and also modern photographs of the wrecks of these vessels. In the meantime, here are other resources available for later vessel photographs.
The Captain Edward Carus Collection at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum is composed of hundreds of maritime photographs compiled by Captain Carus, mainly between the 1870s and the 1930s.
The Historical Collections of the Great Lakes at Bowling Green State University maintains a vast Great Lakes Vessel Index, mainly focused on commercial vessels built after 1900.
The Great Lakes Maritime Database was established through a collaboration between Alpena County Library and the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, based on the photograph collection of C. Patrick Labadie. It is strongest on late 19th century commercial vessels.