Monday, July 27, 2009

Hawaii- the Boston connection to a royal lineage

Mrs. John Owen Dominis
AKA Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii

My search for the Hawaii/Boston link started back when I took the AP American History class in high school. When our teacher told our class we could all write a final paper on any topic (with her approval, of course) I knew that I was going to write about Queen Liliuokalani and how she lost the Hawaiian throne. I was the first student to ask to have my topic approved, and the teacher looked puzzled. It was a topic we barely covered in class, and there was nothing on the subject in our school or town library. I told her I would drive all the way to Boston to find out more....

I wanted to do some research on Queen Liluokalani because my maternal grandfather's family always told a tale of "Auntie Lydia" coming to Boston to meet the relatives. No one living in 1977 was alive 100 years earlier when the Queen came to Boston, and on one living could tell me how we were related. Nor could I find out why we called her "Auntie." I did my research paper and got an "A-" for the class, but my research told me nothing about the Queen's extended family. All I knew was that her husband, Governor John Owen Dominis, had a mother from Boston. I still wanted to know more about the Queen's connection to Massachusetts.

Queen Liliuokalani was known as Lydia, and in her autobiography I found only a few clues. She mentioned two visits to Boston to visit her husband's family. The families mentioned were Emerson, Jones and a few other unfamiliar names. The only name that matched our family tree was Emerson, which is surprisingly common in Boston. Little did I know that this would be a 30 year challenge!

Searching my family tree brought me back 500 years, eleven Mayflower passengers, several links to presidents and military heros, authors, ministers, inventors, and other interesting New England characters, but no Hawaiian clues. In the published Emerson genealogy I found a clue, my great great grandmother was known as Mary Esther Harris, but she had been adopted by an aunt, and her real name was Mary Esther Younger. She married George Emerson in 1845. A search of the Younger family found that her parents were Levi Younger of Gloucester and Catherine Plummer Jones of Boston. Catherine died young, so Levi's sister, Mary (who had married David Harris of Boston) had adopted her. But the records gave no clues to Catherine Plummer Jones. Of course, a Jones could be a brick wall - there were many thousands of Jones records now to pick through.

And that strange name Dominis? Not common at all in Boston, and when I searched I found several strange names with Dominis as middle names.... hmmmm, Dominis as a clue?? The Queen's husband was John Owen Dominis... a painstaking search through the Boston records started to reveal a few links here and there. An Agnes Jones married William Hart in 1837 and had sons named Owen Jones Hart and John Dominis Hart. And in the Hawaiian record books, a mysterious Hawaiian relative of Prince John Owen Dominis had sons named Owen Jones Holt and John Dominis Holt.

Agnes's parents turned out to be Owen Jones and Mary Lambert. Holt's first wife turned out to be an Ann Marie Jones of Boston, sister to Prince Dominis's mother, Mary Lambert (Jones) Dominis. Records proved Agnes, Ann Marie and Mary were sisters. A further search found that the publisher of the Queen's autobiography was William Lee, of the famous Lee & Shepard's company in Boston- and his mother was Laura William's Jones, another daugher to Owen and Mary Jones of Boston.

Several times over the years I had written to officials in Hawaii, begging for family letters that might help me prove some sort of kinship to the Prince's maternal ancestry. Many curators and archivists told me that the letters mentioned no names. I was saving my pennies to travel from New England to Hawaii to take a look at the archives myself when suddenly there was a reply from the curator in Honolulu's Washington Place, the home of Captain John Dominis and his Boston wife, Mary Lambert Jones- and later the home of Queen Liliuokalani. She had a letter written by publisher William Lee to the widowed Mrs. Dominis, mentioning the Queen's visit and all the relatives who came out to see her- including "Aunt Esther Emerson" the daughter of Catherine Jones.

And the curator also wanted to know the connection to Sarah Dargue Jones, who married Enoch Howes Snelling. Snelling was a Boston glazier who designed and sent the windows, doors and sidelights to the grand entrance at Washington Place. Now I could place my 5x great grandparents as Owen Jones and Elizabeth Lambert, married on 11 May 1793 at the 2nd Baptist Church in Boston and their children as:
1. Sarah Dargue Jones b. abt 1794 d. 27 Sep 1875 in Boston m. Enoch Howes Snelling
2. Catherine Plummer Jones b. abt 1799 d. 2 May 1828 in Boston m. Levi Younger
3. Mary Lambert Jones b. 3 Aug 1803 d. 25 Apr 1889 in Honolulu, m. Capt John Dominis of Slovenia
4. Owen Jones, jr. b. abt 1808 d. 1846 on a voyage to Shanghai, China
5. Laura Williams Jones b. bef 14 Jul 1809, d. 10 Dec 1887 Brockton, Mass m. John Lee
6. Ann Marie S. Jones b. abt 1811 d. 15 Aug 1832 in Boston, m. Robert William Holt as his first wife
7. John Eliot Jones b. Jan 1814 d. bef 5 Jul 1814 Boston
8. Agnes Jones b. 12 Nov 1816 Boston, d. 26 feb 1890 m. William N. Hart

Robert William Holt remarried in Hawaii, taking his two Boston born daughters with him. His second wife, Caroline Tawati Robinson, gave him four sons: Robert Lawrence Holt, James Robinson Holt, Owen Jones Holt and John Domins Holt. The Holt family is HUGE, and the names Owen, Jones, Dominis, etc. have been repeated through the generations- even down to girls being named Owena in my generation!

The Holt family, has been wonderful in sending me tons of information on the Holt family, and what little they know about the two daughters from Boston. I'm piecing together a GIANT family tree that is now stored at the manuscript room at NEHGS.

The Queen and her husband, Governor John Owen Dominis did not have any children. However, Dominis left a child from a relationship with one of the Queen's honor attendants. The Queen graciously accepted this son as her heir upon her husband's death. There is a line of descendants from this side, who are my true blood cousins. My new Hawaiian cousins from the Holt family say I'm a "Calabash cousin" and I'm grateful for their kindness in helping me to untangle this web. One calabash cousin has put me in contact with the great grand daughter of Governor Dominis, and we are meeting for dinner in Massachusetts next week!

So the saga continues with proving all these links with vital records, church records, letters, deeds and wills. I hope that my dinner next week brings along the names of many, many more cousins. Hopefully I'll have some photos to post from this adventure soon!

UPDATE ~ click on the keywords "DOMINIS" or "HAWAII" or "LILIUOKALANI" to see all the stories I have written on this blog about the extended family in Hawaii since this first blog post in 2009.

Copyright 2009, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. I have a round about connection to the Holt family. Yes, it's a huge family, but I've only contacted one member of the family who knows very little.

  2. My understanding is that Queen Liliuokalani (Lydia) married John Dominis Holt. Google it.

  3. Dear Anonymous,
    Don't believe everything on the internet. Please contact Washington Place, Iolani Palace or the State Archives for the correct information.

  4. Waiting for the next installment on your fascinating story, Heather! How exciting to get some more details at your dinner this coming week. Fingers crossed.

  5. Such an amazing story!!! One day Iʻll confirm my Honolulu ties to Plymouth. A much needed trip to Plymouth and some research there.

  6. George Johnson is a descendant of Tho Holt family the Malicoat, Cooper,Lierley, Troxell, Cogburn,La Nita(Kay)Holt ,Beddo Norman, Gillespie, Newman Stigler, Bowie, Carolyn Sue Fitzgerald Bowles, Anders Hopkins Des Moines Kruse Home Hicks Pepper Along, Mid Kiff Rostron Harper and my family the Hutton I was born February 18th 1976 in Honolulu Hawaii at Trippler Army Hospital my mother is Elizabeth Irence Malicoat and father George Edward Hutton my dad family is huge because his father remarried a Dozen times that is a another story the are my mother descendants family isf my mother never left England she would be Queen Elizabeth the 3d but she passed away her name was MARY Elizabeth the Grand Dutches