Monday, November 22, 2010

Amanuensis Monday + One letter = Dozens of New Cousins!

Boston July 24. 1867

Dear Aunt,

I received your letter dated May 22/67 and
It was gladly received day before yesterday.
We are having pretty warm weather here now
although it Is not quite as warm today as it usually
is. Sara has been married just one year ago last
Thursday, her husband’s name is William Pierce.
Grandma was very much opposed to the match.
Sara left home & went up to my Father’s brother to
Live Henry Moore’s & I left home last Wednesday
I am now living here with him, I was sorry to do so
but Grandma used to find fault with me so much
that I could not stand it & Aunt Caroline
lives there, too, it was too many together. I concluded
it would be best in the end although I was very sorry indeed.

to leave Grandma and should have stayed and done all
I could for her, but things didn’t go on right.
Greenwood is getting along, pretty well. It is a year next
month since he fell & he goes now with a cane, he has got a
beautiful boy, it is quite large now. Sara has no little ones
as yet. Has John got any little ones yet? I am still writing
at the office and I get tired when night comes. One of
Uncle Henry’s girls work at the same place, so it makes it
quite nice for me, we live but a short distance from Aunt Agnes’s.
I intend to go up there soon and see her it is now quite a
long time since she was at our house. Grandma never did
feel very pleasant lately toward her.
Frank, Christopher’s Son the one what went to
Sea got home this Spring, he is quite a man now he did
not know of Grandpa’s death until he landed on the
wharf here he was much surprised to hear that it was

I believe you used to be acquainted with Rachel
Kendall or Nicols her name was before she was
married. I think she said you stood up with her
or she with you when you were married, her Mother
is dead she died 4th of July morning at 7 o’clock
Mrs. Rachel Kendall sent her love to you.
We had a very dull fourth this year we had our 4th
on the 24th of June that was a great day, the great
Masonic Temple was dedicated the President was
here and the City was so full they had to pitch tents
on the Common for folks to sleep in, every place was so
full, I had the pleasure of seeing Pres. Johnson.
When you answer this please direct to 1679
Washington St. that is where I live, at present.
Don’t be long before you answer this, do as soon as you
can conveniently.
I must now close hoping this will find you well,
answer soon. I shall send you a picture of myself
just as soon as I have some good ones taken which will
be in about a month.

Good Bye With Love.
From your Affectionate Niece,

This letter was found amongst Mary Dominis’s papers in the Hawaii Archives. Mary removed to Hawaii from Boston with her husband, sea captain John Dominis, in the 1830s. Her son, John Owen Dominis, married Lili'uokalani, who was Hawaii's last monarch. Mary is my 4x great grandmother's sister. The letter was simply signed, “your Affectionate Niece, Helen”. I had no Helen in the family tree, and I was stumped. So I started at the top and worked my way down.

1. The letter is dated 1867. She mentions a Sara marrying a William Pierce one year earlier. I searched the Massachusetts Vital Records for 1866 marriages with a William Pierce. There were a surprising number of William Pierces, including several who married Sarahs. One was a Sarah Moore, daughter of Augustus and Sarah. I noted this one since a few sentences later Helen mentions “Sara left home and went up to my Father’s brother to live Henry Moore’s…”

2. There is a mention of an Aunt Caroline. The only Caroline in this branch of the family was Caroline Lincoln (1818-1909) who married Enoch Howes Snelling (1816-1877) in 1845. Enoch was Mary Dominis’s nephew; the son of her sister Sarah Dargue Jones (abt 1794 – 1875) and Enoch Howes Snelling, Sr. (abt 1790 – 1866),

3. There is mention of a person named “Greenwood” with a new baby. Enoch, Sr. had a son named Nathaniel G. (1823 – 1902) who had a baby George born about 1867.

4. Another person mentioned was Frank. Well, Enoch, Sr., had another son named Christopher H. (1820- 1863), who had a son named Christopher Frances (1846-1911). Could Frank be the nickname of Christopher, Jr.- slightly different to distinguish himself from his father?

5. Frank was surprised to hear of Grandpa’s death. Enoch, Sr. died in 1866. He would have been Christopher Frances’s and also Helen’s grandfather.

Armed with these clues, I began to search further. The 1860 Federal Census in Boston lists the household of Enoch H. Snelling, age 69, and the following family members (unfortunately the 1860 census doesn’t list descriptive relationship names like sister, niece, cousin): Sarah D , age 65; Nathaniel G, age 47; Christopher, age 14; Sarah A. Moore, age 17; Helen A. Moore, age 11; Angeline Brigham, age 40; Malvina Brigham, age 40; and Ellen Houghton, age 20 labeled as a servant from Cork, Ireland.

There was a marriage in the Massachusetts Vital Records for Helen A. Moore, age 20, in 1869 (just two years later) to Stephen E. Ellis, age 21. She lists her parents as Augustine and Sarah. Since her sister listed her parents as Augustine and Sarah I decided to search for a death for a “Sarah Moore” to see what was listed as her maiden name. I found a death record in Boston for Sarah Anne Moore, 4 December 1849 (very close to the time Helen was born), daughter of Enoch and Sarah D. Snelling, Mrs. Augustus D. Moore, of typhus fever. Two of Sarah Moore’s little brothers, ages 9 and 13 also died of typhus in September 1849.


Sarah Dargue (Jones) Snelling and Mary Lambert (Jones) Dominis were sisters. Helen was Mary’s grand niece, daughter of Sarah’s daughter, Sarah D. Snelling who married Augustus Moore. This is a letter from a motherless teenager to her great aunt thousands of miles away, complaining of her family situation. I can only imagine how helpless both aunt and niece felt about being unable to communicate often or ever visit each other. I know that there are photographs from the Dominis family in the Hawaii Archives, and on my next visit I’ll see if Helen ever sent a portrait to her great aunt.

I’ll be spending lots of time researching the Moore family in vital records, censuses, city directories and other resources. Already, there are dozens of new names to attach to the family tree. And more Snellings, too!

Unresolved questions:
Who is Greenwood?
Who are Angeline and Malvina Brigham, both aged 40 in the 1860 census?
Who was Rachel Nicols Kendall?

Source for the letter: Hawaii State Archives, Queen Liliuokalani Collection, M-93, Box 11, Folder 91, Letter from Helen Moore to Mary Dominis, July 1867.

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. You certainly were able to get a lot of information from that letter. Why did the family move to Hawaii and why was grandma so critical of her relatives? Was this a common trait in families of this time?

  2. Claudia, you can read about the Dominis family by clicking on the DOMINIS link in the right column. Mary and her sister married sea captains, and they removed to Honolulu in the 1830s. The sister, Ann Marie, died soon after or before arriving. My 3xgreat grandmother was another sister, as well as sister Sarah, who married into the Snelling family mentioned in the letter. Mary made one trip back to Boston around 1842, and no other family members went to Honolulu. Mary became the mother-in-law to Queen Lili'uokalani in 1862 when her son, John, married her in Honolulu (John is mentioned in this letter). PS I have no idea why grandma was "critical" perhaps this was just gossip in the letter?

  3. Wow! I really enjoyed reading along as you decoded the genealogical trail to your new-found cousins. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  4. What a treasure trove! Loved following along as you worked through this.

    It's reassuring to see that Helen's extended family was able to help her when the situation with her grandmother became untenable. It may have been nothing more than teenage angst and frustration with a much older guardian, but still, cheers for uncle Henry.

  5. I love reading other people's mail! This was an interesting letter (poor Helen!) and even better was seeing how you went after the family information it contained and then researched it.

    I noticed that you used line breaks in the transcription of the letter. I assume that's because you kept the lines just as they were written?

    It will be interesting to read what you learn about Greenwood and the others.

  6. Nancy, I tried to use the original spelling, original punctuation, line breaks and page breaks. I've found nothing new researching since I wrote up this post, but I still have about seventy or more letters to transcribe from the Hawaiian Archives!