Deck Logs

As a Navy veteran I have a particular fondness for U.S. Navy records, especially deck logs. From my first days here at the National Archives when I discovered that we had the actual deck logs from the US S Constitution including her service during the War of 1812 to the day I was handed a deck log of the USS Sanctuary, AH-17 , covering my time aboard that hospital ship in Viet Nam I have been hooked on this record series!

So, it was a real treat to learn that NOAA had approached us in April of 2011 with the idea of digitally imaging the logs of Navy and Coast Guard Revenue Cutter vessels as part of their work with to document weather conditions in the North Pacific Arctic region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a wonderful crowd sourcing venture, volunteers working with transcribe handwritten weather observations as well as log entries on vessel movement and activities. It is a win-win cross agency collaboration—NOAA gets the weather data and NARA gets the digital images for posting.

Scanning began in July 2012 and so far the logbooks of ten vessels have been completed and 65,000 images posted to our Archival Research Catalog.

Pressed flowers were found in the USRC Corwin log entry for 14 January 1891 from Port Townsend, Washington with the entry.

USRC Corwin log entry with pressed flowers

We knew we would come across mentions in the records of flora and fauna from various Pacific expeditions, but did not expect to have actual flora in the volumes. We are working with the American Horticultural Society and the Department of Agriculture to identify the flowers.

USRC Corwin pressed flowers, 1891

The USS Jeannette log documents that vessel’s entrapment in ice for 21 months.

USS Jeannette deck logs

And the log of the USRC Bear records the Overland Relief Expedition of the winter of 1897-98 to save the lives of 245 whalers trapped in the Arctic Ocean by ice around their ships near Point Barrow, Alaska.

USRC Bear deck logs

Another creative endeavor to get all 12 billion pages in our custody available digitally!

Find out more about the historic Navy Deck Log digitization partnership at

6 thoughts on “Deck Logs

  1. As Archivist of the USA and former Navy vet you should also be interested in the fact that the records related to the assassination of President Kennedy of the Director of the Office of Naval Intelligence Admiral Rufus Taylor are missing, and should be located and the US Navy officer who attempted to locate them was threatened with court martial for trying. In addition, the NARA JFK Collection on line database should be updated listing those records still being withheld and the most frequently requested JFK assassination records should be posted on line so students and researchers don’t have to keep requesting them. There is more interest in the JFK Assassination records than any other subject, yet the NARA refuses to enforce the JFK Act and determine why there are so many records destroyed, missing and being wrongfully withheld. Thank you for your interest.

  2. It is wonderful that the NARA is saving the flora and having the items pressed. I look forward to seeing the identified species in later posts.

  3. This is exciting and sad at the same time. While it’s great that NARA partners with so many non-governmental organizations, it’s sad that they don’t support their own highly trained and efficient digital conversion units.

    In a less than 3 year time span, NARA has trained and released no less than 40 temporary employees and student interns in digital imaging and document indexing, such a huge loss of skill and talent, not to mention shortsightedness on NARA’s part.

    Maybe in another 200 years NARA will catch on…

  4. I am a Old Weather volunteer, and this is one of the most interesting things I have ever done. I have such respect for the men who served on these ships and those Royal Navy ships that were a part of our first two phases. Not only did these men record the world around them – battles, ice, rescues, companions lost at sea – but they also regularly and accurately recorded the weather conditions in which these events occurred.
    As far as Mr. Smith’s comments are concerned, no matter how highly trained (in my day job, I do document indexing), a staff of 40 or 100 would not be able to transcribe this material in a timely fashion. There are literally thousands of pages to transcribe and as its Quality Assurance check, Old Weather has three transcribers index each page. It takes thousands of people to get through the material.
    I highly recommend this project – I help add to the sum of human knowledge, and add to my own personal pool as well.

  5. The National Archives also has an ongoing project to digitize Vietnam War era Navy Deck Logs.

    Over 2,500 log books are available in the Archival Research Catalog at To browse the available digital copies of the logs click the link in the description that reads “2523 file units described in ARC.” To search for a specific ship, click “Search within this Series” and enter the name of the ship in the search box.

    The project is ongoing so we will be adding more logs to the online catalog as they are digitized.

  6. It is really amazing that the NARA is saving the flora and having the items pressed. I would like to do comment on the next post.. Thank You Very Much.

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