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This is a continuation of the story of my family history related trip to Hawaii. We hadn’t done much research on the past two days, so this day was back to work day! We had another 10 AM appointment for a guided tour at Iolani Palace. It is necessary to make reservations for guided tours ahead of time, but my cousin and her nine year old grandson were able to secure tickets to join us. Self guided tours are available during the open hours at the palace (check the website).

Of course, since we were pressed for time, we arrived at 9 AM to see the orientation video and check out the book shop. I ordered several heavy history books and other assorted gifts, and had the Palace Shop ship them home for me. We had a 50 pound weight limit for our suitcases with American Airlines, and some of those history books were heavy! It turns out that the same books were much more expensive at the local Borders bookstore, and purchasing them at the Iolani Palace was helpful towards their fundraising efforts.

The Hawaiian people are somber and serious about the history of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the monarchy, and the docents giving the tour of Iolani Palace instilled that thought in my mind right at the beginning of the tour. Since the palace had been confiscated government property, turned into an office building and then abandoned, the restoration over the past dozen years has been lovingly and carefully taking place. Auctioned and discarded furnishings are slowly being recovered and returned to the Palace, and their provenance carefully recorded and documented.

I don’t have enough space to tell you here all about the tour, but let me related one small detail. We saw the throne room, music room, King Kalakua’s office and bedroom, but the most emotional part was visiting the “Imprisonment Room” where Queen Lili’uokalani was kept under house arrest. After the opulence of the other bedrooms, her spare white, metal bed is heart breaking. However, the quilt she made whilst passing her sentence is also here on display, and my cousin and I searched it over for her grandfather’s name. It was a special moment to see the Queen’s own famous quilt and to read the names of her supporters, including someone’s own grandfather embroidered on it! I had been looking forward to seeing the Queen’s quilt as a highlight of my Iolani palace visit, but seeing with Sheri made it extra special!

After saying goodbyes to our cousins, we went to the Hawaii State Archives which are located right behind Iolani Palace. We spent over four hours digitally photographing hundreds of letters to Mary Dominis and Governor John Owen Dominis. We ran out of time, but the finding aid listing the Lili’uokalani collection listed many, many pages of boxes of folders, diaries, and photo albums of personal and family papers, not including her official state and governmental documents. We ended up with over 560 digital images.

At this point I’ve decided that another trip to Hawaii will have to be made to see all these documents. The volume of items is too big to request copies through the mail, especially since I need to sift through for family information. Of the letters we photographed, most were ones sent to Honolulu from Boston, Cambridge, Dorchester and other places in Massachusetts or New England that I suspected were family members. Many of the letters from San Francisco were from Holt descendants. A more thorough reading of other letters might prove they were from family members, too.

I decided to stop photographing when I realized that it will take me months and months just to read and transcribe the letters we did find in only two boxes from the archives! This is enough juicy detective work to keep me busy this year! Hopefully I can fill in more names and missing cousins from the family tree, and the few letters that I have read already are full of pathos and intrigue. Imagine how precious those letters were when they were written in the 1830s and delivered by whaling ships and china trade clippers leaving Boston and bound for Auntie Mary Dominis and Cousin John in the Sandwich Islands!

Please note that in our excitement we walked into the Hawaii State Archives and forgot we were both wearing leis. However, this didn’t faze the staff at all, and we allowed full access to letters dating back to the 1830s, some in quite fragile condition. I remember the brouhaha that developed after Sarah Jessica Parker was seen not using gloves on the TV series “Who do You Think You Are?” When I finally realized (an hour later) that I still had on a flower lei, I giggled out loud!

Stay tuned for transcriptions of these letters and updates on any new information on this blog.

----------------------- the official website for Iolani Palace, with visitor and historical information

The Queen’s Quilt, by Rhoda E. A. Hackler and Loretta G. H. Woodard, published by the Friends of Iolani Palace, 2004. This 32 book is available at the Palace Shop online. There are photos of each quilt square, noting the embroidered names and secret symbols. the website for the Hawaii State Archives, including the email address for inquiries.


Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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