Project History and Aims

Launched in April 2013, Liverpool as a Trading Port ( is a prototype public access relational database developed using MySQL that 'marries' eighteenth and nineteenth century Liverpool genealogy and maritime history. Funding from the Royal Society of New Zealand, 2010-2013 (Marsden Fund) enabled the prototype to be built. Further funding from Victoria University of Wellington's University Research Fund and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences enabled enhancements to the project, 2014-2018.

'Marrying' genealogy and maritime history required assembling principal genealogical records (i.e., baptisms, marriages and burials) and information on Liverpool sailing vessels and voyages. The prototype allows searches against the 1,351,788 life-event records on Liverpool residents, 1704-1860 and against the 32,917 sailing voyages from and/or to Liverpool currently digitised and databased, 1759-1809. Some probate and education (e.g., surgeons' training) data have been uploaded to demonstrate the site's future functionality.

The project developed as a fully relational database project with three primary design goals:

From the home page's standard genealogical search page we provide the example of Lewis Robinson:

Lewis Robinson
10 July 1799 - Married Margaret Harrocks
3 December 1804 - Sailed As Master on a Slaving Voyage to West Indies Aboard the Vessel Retrieve
25 May 1806 - Buried at the Age of 28 Years in the Parish of St Nicholas, Liverpool, Lancashire, England

Here we have included his marriage and burial record, bookending his 1804 sailing voyage as master of the Liverpool slaving ship Retrieve.

Clicking on 1804 - Sailed as Master on a Voyage returns information about Captain Robinson's time on Retrieve's voyage; clicking on Voyage Details, hyperlinked in blue, returns information about the voyage (a slaving voyage to the Congo River and Trinidad) and some of its crew members, all rendered in blue font, and hence related to a table that details their voyage experience.

For surgeon Thomas Ellis, who died on the voyage, we added his related probate information. Clicking on Thomas Ellis returns his voyage experience; clicking on Died returns information about his probate; clicking on father Edward Ellis tells users that surgeon Thomas Ellis's father was a yeoman (farmer).

Thus, the project has created a fully relational online database, here relating information from three database tables: 1) Voyages table; 2) Sailors table; 3) Probate table.

Additional data collected but not fully digitized and databased, includes information from Liverpool muster rolls (crew lists), Liverpool newspaper (cargo imports), Liverpool street directories, and Lancashire probates. When new data from these four sources are uploaded, an entry for Lewis Robinson would return the following potted history:

Lewis Robinson
9 February 1777 - Born in Liverpool
16 February 1777 - Baptised by His Parents John Robinson (Porter) and Mary
30 August 1798 - Sailed on a Slaving Voyage Aboard the Vessel Hannah
10 July 1799 - Married Margaret Harrocks
30 July 1799 - Sailed on a Slaving Voyage Aboard the Vessel Hannah
19 October 1800 - Sailed on a Slaving Voyage Aboard the Vessel Sarah
1 August 1801 - Sailed on a Slaving Voyage Aboard the Vessel Sarah
12 February 1803 - Sailed as 1st Mate on a Slaving Voyage Aboard the Vessel Kate
1804 - Resided at 33 Ormond Street
11 February 1804 - Sailed as Captain on a Slaving Voyage Aboard the Vessel Retrieve
3 December 1804 - Sailed as Master on a Slaving Voyage to West Indies Aboard the Vessel Retrieve
1805 - Resided at 17 Duncan Street
22 May 1806 - Died in Liverpool
25 May 1806 - Buried at the Age of 28 Years in the Parish of St Nicholas, Liverpool
27 May 1806 - Probate Granted (Original Will), Personal Effects less than £600

In 2014-2018 funding from Victoria University of Wellington's University Research enabled maintenance to the site, updated coding and new search criteria (including * wildcards). Those research funds produced a Filemaker Pro database of 30,000 Cheshire and Lancashire probate valuations, 1780-1810, including 7,500 records from Liverpool individuals. We are currently processing these valuations before uploading them to, although small samples of probates are visualised on the site via Treemaps.

Almost all current genealogical websites (,, findmypast) have limited functionality for scholars. One cannot, for example, search on occupations or undertake group studies (prosopography). It is also very difficult to retrieve batches of results from these sites and download them in Excel or text file format.

By contrast, features occupations as a key search criterion, and has created a series of new 'imputed' occupations to group occupations into larger sets. For example, Surgeon, Apothecary, Druggist, Physician group as Medical Practitioners and then Medical Practitioners group with others as Skilled Workers. Users then could search for all skilled workers in Liverpool in any year or any range or years.

We mostly have followed the standard occupation codes created by HISCO (Historical International Standard Classification of Occupations) to enable other scholars to benefit from the data contained in

Future enhancements to will further highlight occupation data; all searches on individuals will return their principal occupation, as in:

Lewis Robinson, master mariner
Charles Wharton, ropemaker
Sarah Lemon, linen and woolen draper

All occupations will also be hyperlinked wherever possible, so that clicking on mariner queues the user to search on all mariners in the database for a set range of years.

Continued work on street directories will identify individuals as sole proprietors or as partners in firms. Liverpool street directories functioned mainly as business directories, with most entries featuring occupations or firms' principal businesses. The 1800 Liverpool directory, for example, includes these example 'A' entries:

Abbot Edward, Pocket Book Maker, 10, John Street
Affleck Thos and Co. Brewers, 10 Harrington Street
Ainsworth Lawrence, Grocer, 6, Christian Street
Alison Jas. and Rd. Corn Merchants, Office, Cornhill Salthouse Dock
Alsop and Stannanought, Wheelwrights Shop, Greenland Street

Databasing these and similar entries will require the creation of Firm, House and Street tables. The Firm table will relate to the Individual Table via an Individual per Firm join table, and there will be similar bridging tables to enable analysis of residence and business patterns over time.

Users would be able to return, for example, all the inhabitants of 10 John Street, Liverpool, over time (We plan to database the twenty-seven extant Liverpool directories from 1766 to 1829). Or one could search for the residency patterns of specific Liverpool individuals or firms over time. A map-data interface is planned for residency searches.

Given public and scholarly interest on ethnicity, we plan to add a Race/Nationality field so that users can retrieve individuals of, for example, African or Irish descent.

Half of the funding for the initial Liverpool as a Trading Port project supported data collection and half supported data entry in Filemaker Pro (database software) and coding in SQL and PHP to build the online database Currently (February 2018) only a fraction of the maritime history information collected has been digitised, databased, and uploaded.

Larger project aims

Liverpool as a Trading Port ( will eventually develop into a broader Lancashire study that will investigate whether Lancashire's maritime wealth and human capital contributed to the region's industrialization, 1700-1850. Is it a coincidence that Liverpool, the centre of Atlantic slaving, lies only fifty kilometres from Manchester, the centre of the Industrial Revolution?

The larger Lancashire project proposes to research the transformative period of the Industrial Revolution by analysing a trove of historical and genealogical information about Lancashire's past, including the history of Manchester and the numerous 'cottage industry' towns throughout the region. Most pre-1850 historical records are parish register entries, street directories, probates, and newspapers - all well documented for Lancashire.

Users will be able to retrieve information on individuals or businesses, and sort results by name, residence, occupation, age, or wealth, revealing layers of local history and identifying residential and occupational patterns. Disseminating results online in a public-access database will ensure the broadest outreach and will also open a new vista for historical analysis.