Call for Volunteers for Zooniverse Project to Transcribe Civil War Muster Rolls of U.S. Vessels

Damian Shiels's picture
Call for Volunteers
September 7, 2022 to September 7, 2023
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, American History / Studies, Immigration & Migration History / Studies, Maritime History / Studies, Military History

Hi All,

I wanted to alert members to the launch of a new Zooniverse project, that is seeking volunteers to help transcribe all the Muster Rolls from U.S. Naval vessels that served during the American Civil War. Entitled "Civil War Bluejackets", the project has a number of public, digital and academic history aims, including making available a database of the details of all these men, linking their data to other historial sources/resources, and further developing machine-reading technology for 19th century handwriting. We will also be producing a number of academic outputs relating to what these records can tell us about ordinary sailors during the conflict. Our main priority at present is to get the word out about out call for volunteers to contribute towards the transcriptions at - please feel free to spread the word, and if members have any suggestions as to who/where we should send details we would love to hear them! Our press release for the Zooniverse Launch is below:



A major new research project involving historians and computer scientists will help tell the stories of ordinary United Sailors in the American Civil War in ways never before possible. TheCivil War BluejacketsProject—so named because of the distinctive uniform worn by U.S. Civil War sailors—is a collaboration between historians at the Northumbria University, computer scientists at the University of Sheffield and the University of Koblenz-Landau, and partners including the United States Naval Academy. Funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, the project launches on 6 September 2022 with a call for citizen volunteers to help transcribe tens of thousands of Civil War “Muster Rolls”, documents that were carried on board U.S. ships and which capture the personal details of the c.118,000 men who fought on water for the Union between 1861 and 1865. The project team are making use of the online Zooniverse platform to share tens of thousands of these Muster Rolls, and are asking the public to help in revealing their contents. Principal Investigator Professor David Gleeson of Northumbria University said:

“We are calling on “people-power” to help us tell the story of common sailors in the Civil War in a way never before possible. We estimate that over 30 percent of these men were British or Irish immigrantsanother 15 percent were African American. With your help, we aim to create a new freely available database of these men, and use the information generated by citizen scientists to explore the social and military experiences of these ordinary people in a way never before possible.”

As well as using public transcriptions to decipher the Muster Rolls, the team also hope to develop new software to allow computers to “read” 19th century hand-writing. Co-Investigator Dr Morgan Harvey of the University of Sheffield commented:

“By comparing the public’s transcriptions with the original 19th century hand-writing, we hope to “train” computers to assist in the reading and deciphering of historic documents, thereby creating a major new tool in the armoury of anyone interested in uncovering the past.”

Included among the stories the team hope to reveal are those of the thousands of African Americans, many of whom had been recently enslaved, who helped the U.S. battle the Confederacy on water. It will also examine the large numbers of recent immigrants who donned the U.S. Navy’s famous bluejacket during the conflict. Among the information the project aims to reveal are answers to questions such as where U.S. Civil War sailors came from, their background and what they did before they enlisted, how they lived and interacted on board, and what became of some of them in the years after the conflict.

Those interested in finding out more about the project can visit the website, or go direct to the Zooniverse Civil War Bluejackets page at