Odds are, if you had an ancestor who served as enlisted personnel aboard a U.S. Navy vessel in WWII, you’ll most likely find him—or her—in the U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938–1949, database that recently went live on Ancestry.com. You’ll also find some civilian passengers and a few officers here and there among the records.
But don’t stop there. If you’re lucky, your Navy ancestor will pop up among the pages in the U.S. Navy Cruise Books Index, 1918–2009, collection. Navy cruise books—think yearbooks at sea—are unofficial publications put together by crewmembers aboard ship. This means they can have an informal, candid feel, but it also means that not every ship created one. The Navy Library holds the largest collection of cruise books in the U.S.—about 3,500 volumes—and these make up the bulk of our database, with the oldest going back to 1918 and the newest printed in 2009.
You can find plenty of historical figures in their pages, whether it’s Hall of Famer Bob Feller at bat for the U.S.S. Alabama’s baseball team (they won the fleet championship that year—go figure):
Or Lieutenant Junior Grade (now Senator) John McCain looking shipshape as a Navy pilot:
Celebrities like Tom Cruise filiming the movie Top Gun:
Or Oprah Winfrey dropping by for a visit on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt while she was vacationing in the Mediterranean:
And, with a little luck, a photo of your ancestor and his or her shipmates:
There’s another tale you can trace via muster rolls and cruise books, as well. Like the sailors on them, each of these ships has a story. The Anne Arundel had been the liner MS Mormacyork, until the Navy turned her into a transport that landed troops at Normandy and evacuated Marines from Iwo Jima. The U.S.S. Otus, a tender whose story “is not the type of story that feature writers use for copy” according to its cruise book’s introduction, was in the war almost from day one after being damaged in a 10 December 1941 attack in the Philippines and even made it into the movies: she’s the ship being launched at the beginning of the 1964 Don Knotts film The Incredible Mister Limpet.