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This Map Is Changing How We Think About Naval History and the Battle of Jutland

John is a historian and researcher interested in the relation between war and society.

The Grand Fleet sailing in parallel columns during the First World War

The Grand Fleet sailing in parallel columns during the First World War

A fresh look at the Battle of Jutland

The battle of Jutland, was fought over a 36-hour period in May 1916 between the Imperial German Navy and the British Royal Navy in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark. It was the largest sea battle of the First World War with some 250 ships involved.

The outcome of the battle and its effects on the war are still being debated by historians today. Who really won the battle? Was the battle a tactical loss for the British, but a strategic defeat for the Germans?

In the aftermath of the battle, more than 8,000 British and German servicemen had been killed and 25 ships had been sunk.

But, putting aside the maneuvers of big fleets of ships and the leadership of the Admirals, the stories of the ordinary people - the sailors - are sometimes lost. Now, a new method of engaging with the past, in a more personal way, is available to anyone with a computer or mobile device.

What is the Jutland interactive map?

The Jutland interactive map is an interactive learning tool that was created for an exhibition about the battle of Jutland at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, UK.

Visitors can visit the map on web page, do a search for a known ancestor or relative who may have served in the battle. They can then read the information available, and if desired add more details or upload photos and documents. Each entry is moderated by the museum.

Alternatively, a person can enter their last name or surname into the search box and see what if they can get a match to their friends or family.

To date, the map has provided a unique visual understanding of the impact of the battle of Jutland. In its present form, visitors to the site can see the locations and homeports of the all the ships involved, and the homes of record for those who participated.

As of this date, most of the British sailors who were killed in action have been added to the map, but many more names of the surviving participants are still being added over time.

Each participant record added to the map includes basic biographical information, but this also the means that visitors can add photos and additional narratives in order to provide further details about the person.

The Jutland Interactive Map

Landing page for the Jutland interactive map

Landing page for the Jutland interactive map

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The project so far

The following provides some statistical and amplifying data about the content of the map. The site maps details of some 7,850 British and German sailors. Each is mapped according to their place of birth or next of kin address. Over 1677 of these have been added by the public and volunteers since the site inception in February 2016. The site also maps:

  • 17 Submarines
  • 259 ships (British and German)
  • 30 schools related to sailors
  • 11 Zeppelins
  • 13 Homeports
  • 46 Memorials

Where possible, ships, memorials and home ports are linked to the sailors concerned on the map. On average, a sailor is within 8.5km of any location in the UK.

One of the arresting visual effects of the map is its ability to draw attention to geographic areas which saw numerous participants, and losses, at the battle. These appear as “hot spots” on the map, indicating an area particularly impacted by the battle. The top ten areas represented on the map by sailor density are:

  • Plymouth (697)
  • Hampshire (683)
  • Portsmouth (609)
  • Devon (205)
  • Cornwall (141)
  • Kent (134)
  • Westminster (121)
  • Liverpool (117)
  • West Sussex (116)
  • Medway (109)

There are over (4016) unique surnames in the data. The top twenty are:

  • Smith (96)
  • Brown (53)
  • Williams (50)
  • Jones (50)
  • Taylor (41)
  • White (36)
  • Wilson (32)
  • Wood (31)
  • Hill (31)
  • Thomas (27)
  • Harris (26)
  • Cooper (24)
  • Johnson (23)
  • Thompson (22)
  • Evans (22)
  • Mitchell (21)
  • Baker (21)
  • Moore (20)
  • Green (20)
  • Roberts (20)

A view of the Jutland map and 'hot spots' where sailors lived

A look at the map on the web, featuring 'hot spots' where sailors lived and the search features on the left

A look at the map on the web, featuring 'hot spots' where sailors lived and the search features on the left

What does this data mean for genealogists and family history research?

With literally tens of thousands of participants in this battle from 250 ships, there are many more descendants and relations living today of those men who fought this battle.

At present, surnames entered on the site to date will match with 45 million individuals in the UK and worldwide, meaning there is an estimated 69% of someone in the UK population alone find a surname match and potentially a family connection when entering their surname in the database. Based on that match, a person interested in establishing their own unique Further research by that person would be required to establish if a family member had in fact served at Jutland.

Since 2017, a provision to include German sailors was included. Presently, input of German sailors has been slower than that of British sailors and other commonwealth sailors, but the major memorials in Germany are being accounted for.

Project impact to date

The interactive map to date has provided value in the following ways:

  • A powerful, visual delivery of the impact of this climactic naval battle had in the war and the story of the human participants, beyond the names of ships and the key leadership figures.
  • Interaction for all members of the public in an accessible, virtual platform available almost anywhere.
  • An opportunity for members of the public to connect a family story with this significant event from the past in a personal way.
  • A method for the public to research a historical event, which may promote or enhance further interest - such as genealogy, historical, or family research.
  • A means to continue to relate the story of the most significant naval battle for the Royal Navy of the 20th Century beyond the museum gallery.

While historians will continue to debate the battle and its impact, members of the public will continue to be interested on a personal level in finding out about their ancestors and family, and contributing their own stories.

Do you have an ancestor who fought at Jutland?

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