Monday, December 6, 2010

A New Clue! For Madness Monday

William Lee (1826 - 1906)
Boston Publisher
Last month as I was reading some of my favorite blogs I made a potentially great discovery.  One blog I read every week is Past is Present, written by the staff at the American Antiquarian Society.  This is a large archive and library located in Worcester, Massachusetts.  Not by coincidence, I am a big fan of this library because it was where I started my genealogical research 30 years ago.  This private library collects documents on American history up through the Civil War period, and it has an amazing collection of newspapers, family manuscripts, ephemera, broadsides, pamplets and books.

On November 12th the AAS posted a blog story "Lee and Shepard and the Great Fire".  It seems that this Boston publishing house donated their business correspondence to the AAS.  I almost fell off my chair because William Lee of the Lee and Shepard publishers was my first cousin several generations removed.  His mother, Laura Williams Jones Lee, was a sister to not only my ancestor but to Mary Jones Dominis, Queen Lili'uokalani's mother-in-law.  In researching the Jones sisters, I read several letters to and from William Lee concerning his business in Boston, and his publishing of the Queen's autobiography.  When the Queen came to Boston, she took up residence near the Lee's home in Brookline.  It was one of these letters that broke my brickwall about the Jones connection.  Here was a collecton of more letters!

Queen Lili'uokalani's stay in Boston was my clue to this side of the family tree.  My great grandmother and her relatives remembered "Auntie Lydia" coming to Boston, and passed this story along to succeeding generations.  I was intrigued by the story, and wanted to know how we possibly could be related to anyone in Hawaii.  In researching her story over the years I not only found out how she married my distant cousin, but broke through a few brick walls on my 4 x great grandmother's family.  You can read more about this by clicking HAWAII or DOMINIS in the right hand column of this blog to see posts on this research.

I quickly wrote an email query to the AAS, asking them if any of the correspondence in the 12 boxes of material from Lee and Shepard contained business letters concerning Lili'uokalani and other Dominis or Jones family members.  I was hoping for more breakthrough letters on the family.  After a while I received an answer:

"After looking through our card index for the Lee and Shepard Papers, I did not see any of your family names listed as correspondents to the firm. Unfortunately this was expected, however, because our collection is comprised of business correspondence only, therefore there aren't any personal or family letters within the collection. So sorry to disappoint, but I wish you the best of luck with your research!"

Well, no luck with the AAS collection, but it got me to thinking that perhaps William Lee donated his personal papers somewhere.  He was a famous publisher, and met some fascinating people of his time.  He published not only Queen Lili'uokalani, but works by Horace Mann, Rev. Charles Beecher, and popular children's authors. He must have donated his personal papers somewhere.  I know he was a letter writer, many of his letters to Mary and John Dominis are in the Hawaii State Archives and at the Bishop Museum.   William Lee survived his partner, Charles Shepard, and he retired in 1898.  The business was sold to Lothrop Publishing Company in 1904, and became Lothrop, Lee and Shepard.   William Lee died in Hampton, New Hampshire in 1906.

Here is the second email I received from AAS: "In terms of searching out where other William Lee collections may be, there are two databases that may help you in your search. Archive Grid and Archive Finder are two databases that search other repositories' collections. AAS unfortunately does not have subscriptions to either of these databases, but many public and university libraries do. I would recommend taking a look at your local libraries' electronic resources to see if these databases are available."   Today is Monday, and I plan on asking at my public library about these databases.  I might need to find a university library (UNH?) but at least now I have a place to start.  The search is on for William Lee's papers!

For more information:
click at for the AAS blog post which inspired this blog post!

The engraving of William Lee, above, was taken from the magazine The Bay State Monthly, Volume 2, No. 6, page 309, March 1885.


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "A New Clue!  For Madness Monday", Nutfield Genealogy, posted December 6, 2010, ( accessed [access date]).


  1. Try Melinda McIntosh at UMass Dubois Library. She is amazing!
    I can get into the system if you need me to.

  2. Heather, I had wonderful luck with Rice University's Library, as they had a collection I was interested in. Will post the blog maybe tomorrow, as it is done. Good luck in finding the papers.

  3. Another place to hunt, always exciting, good work there Heather, can't wait to hear what you find. Gotta know 'WHERE' to look to find goodies, and you have another 'WHERE'.

  4. Fingers crossed you track them down. Great tip on the databases. I've put them on my to-do list.

  5. A hint on a tip - hope you find something! And thanks for passing on the databases; I hadn't heard of them.

  6. Hi Heather,
    I searched SU's database collection. They had ArchiveGrid which only has the AAS collections for him. There are a lot of "hidden collections" which would be impossible to find on a database. You might want to email institutions where he was from, died, or went to school, as those are the ones that tend to get a persons papers. Good luck!

  7. Hello and Thanks to everyone who commented and left suggestions. Thanks to Amanda who used the ArchiveGrid for me, too! William Lee didn't go to college, but Boston has over 50 colleges so it will take a while to figure out where his papers went. I already checked Harvard, the Mass. Historical Society and NEHGS. His wife was one of the first woman members at NEHGS so I took a chance it was there- Darn, I have NO results yet!

  8. Heather, good luck with your search for Lee's works. Hopefully you will hit the jackpot. It's frustrating to know something is out there just close enough to touch,but not sure which direction to go. I'm sure you will find it!