As a child, I loved to rummage our attic through family heirlooms that whispered previous lives and untold stories. But there was one item that stands out in my memory more than the others: a mother-of-pearl inlay picture of the Titanic.

I loved to pull out the picture from its dusty attic box, mesmerized by the shimmer of pink and white stones under the light. And yet, even as a child, I felt the ghostliness of the picture: the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic and ultimate death of over 1,500 souls.

In the early hours of April 15, 1912, the ship that was heralded as unsinkable, dropped to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a story that continues to captivate us, 100 years later. And those of us who love history, are chilled each time the story is retold.

But what does the tragic sinking of the Titanic have to do with genealogy? The ship, though opulent for its time, not only carried wealthy passengers for leisure travel; it held immigrants from Europe eager for a new life in America.

The Titanic was divided by three classes and among other things, distinguishable by their toilets. First class held the affluent such as John Jacob Aster lV and Macy's owner Isidor Straus and his wife. The wealthiest enjoyed beautiful suites with bathrooms fitted of marble toilets.

The second class was reserved mostly for the middle income passengers and employees of the ship; their toilets made of porcelain. And the 700 passengers in third class--mostly immigrant families--sat on toilets made of iron.

I never thought of the Titanic as an immigrant ship. Pictures of her lavish interior and Grand Staircase conjure visions of only the well heeled. But shipping lines like Cunard and White Star, thrived from the profits of third class passengers.

I have always wondered how and why the mother-of-pearl picture of the Titanic found its way to my family's attic. And unfortunately, I failed to ask. Did I have an ancestor traveling aboard, wide-eyed and hopeful for a new life? Or, simply, was the picture purchased for its mere  beauty; a symbol of splendor and ultimate doom.

The Library of Virginia offers a complete list of all who were on board the Titanic and offers a new search engine dedicated to researching records of the ship. The passenger's list can be utilized as a tool for genealogy, searching for immigrant ancestors. And though many of the immigrants did not survive, your direct ancestors may have had relatives on board. is a good resource for the facts of the sinking of the Titanic but my favorite website is Eyewitness to History. The chilling passenger story by Elizabeth Shutes provides a heart wrenching first hand story from the moment the 'bump' was felt to the ship's ultimate, final sinking.

The sinking of the Titanic: a shimmering, yet ghostly story with genealogical value.

It just can't get better than that.

Keep searching for answers,