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  • Of Shoes and Ships And Sealing Wax

    Rev. Robert J. Goode

    Published Date : June 1986
     How many times have you explored the more spindly branches of your family tree only to find a notation like “lost at sea” or “Gold Rush” or “to Australia”?  Those of us who search for lost branches in hopes of populating a family reunion or padding the mailing list of a family association might consider a few other possibilities.  Some of the ‘49ers did not stop at California and many Australia-bound pioneers never got there.  Some of those lost at sea were not lost at all.  They just never came back from Hawaii.

    All those sea captains in the China and sandalwood trade related to you through Cape Cod and Nantucket lines may have left part of their story here in these lovely islands.  The same goes for your mariner and whaler ancestors.  The whales still come to sport off Maui though the whalers are long gone.  Lahaina, once the royal capital of Hawaii, still slumbers in the tropic sun and remembers the time when gangs of New England seamen alternately cavorted with and terrorized the local population.  Some of the more rowdy ones even spent time in the royal calaboose of Kamehameha III.  Where there are kings there are chamberlains and secretaries and where these are found there are records.

    And what a charming setting for a record repository we have!  The Archives of Hawaii neighbor the only royal residence in America. Iolani Palace. Hawaii enjoys along with Vermont and Texas the distinction of being a state which was once an independent country.  Its story is the story of Kamehameha V, King Lunalilo, and Queen Emma Naea Rooke, but it is also the story of Hiram Bingham and of families like the Judds, Doles, and Emersons.  Whenever I drive down the highway named after Princess Likelike I remember that her husband was a Scot named Cleghorn whose American cousins I believe populated 17th century Barnstable, Massachusetts.  Their daughter, the late Princess Kaiulani Cleghorn, was our last official heir to the throne.

    Every week a tourist arrives here for a vacation and becomes so intoxicated by the lifestyle, the racial and cultural mix, and the fumes of our plumeria that he sends for his possessions and stays.  The genealogical implications are obvious.  My baptismal register is full of names like Leilani Wong Judd or Kekaulike Yamamoto Bunker, and we mustn’t forget my favorite - Sean O’Casey Matsumom.  Those careful record keepers, the Mormons, also have a temple here at Lai’e.

    Frequently, New England seamen came to this melting pot and found a local bride who would have had a hard time in the drawing rooms of nineteenth-century Boston.  So they stayed and sold shoes and sealing wax and the material for all those muumuu's and holokus our visitors love.  Their children sometimes brought brides from the mainland, sometimes not; but for many years commercial and other ties to New England remained.  Displaced Yankees sometimes served in the cabinets of Hawaiian kings and to this day the state soup is corn chowder.

    A case in point of how far people wandered is that of artist James Gay Sawkins who was painting miniatures in Boston in 1831.  In 1837 he was working in Central America and in 1840 he was showing work in New York.  By 1851 he had a studio in Honolulu.  The Privy Council of the Kingdom of Hawaii paid him $100 for a portrait of Kamehameha the Great before his wanderlust took him off to Australia.

    I have at least one lady friend who despaired of ever getting her husband to travel until she got him hooked on genealogy.  Now he sits in the record repositories of London while she shops at Harrods.  In Hawaii we have the prestigious Bishop Museum and a local DAR library for researchers and the Ala Moana Shopping Center, so a similar vacation is possible here also.

    The point of all this is that you may very well have an ancestor or cousin who did not get lost in Ohio in the first two decades of the last century.  He or she may be resting in a grave which looks out over the Pacific towards Tahiti.  If you go to the Royal Mausoleum in the lush Nuuanu Valley, you will see the epitaph of His Royal Highness John O. Dominis, Prince Consort of Hawaii, husband to the last queen and owner of the house which is now the Governor’s Mansion.  The American flag is not allowed to fly here for this tiny bit of soil is still ruled by the ghosts of our kings and it is their flag which waves in the trade winds. Good Prince John left progeny though not of the legitimate kind.  His forgiving and under standing wife, Queen Liliuokalani, adopted them and provided for them.  When you hear her song Aloha O’e, remember her, and when you scurry across Copley Square on your way to NEHGS look up at the sign over Chauncy Hall.  It was her husband’s school.

    By Rev. Robert J. Goode
New England Historic Genealogical Society
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Boston, Massachusetts 02116, USA
888-296-3447

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