February 7, 2022
I’m spending this week in Hawaii, one of my favorite places. I fell in love with the islands when I took my first airplane trip in 1970 and arrived in what I thought was paradise. I haven’t changed my mind since, so it’s no surprise that my husband and I are taking our first post-Covid trip back to Hawaii.
There’s only one thing that would make this trip even better – an ancestor with roots in the islands. I’m an avid traveler, and one of the best parts of travel is getting the chance to visit the places where my ancestors, or relatives of nearly any variety, once lived. Even if the homes and farms are long gone, the archives and libraries often hold records of them. Finding these connections to family make a good trip into a great one.
Sad to say, even after dozens of visits to Hawaii, I still haven’t found a link to ancestors in the islands. The closest I’ve been able to come is a stopover my great grandmother and her family took in Hawaii in 1877. James and Fannie Burnett and their children were on their way from the South Island of New Zealand to Utah in May of 1877. They converted to the LDS Church in New Zealand and were immigrating to join other members in Utah.
The City of Sydney arrived at Honolulu at 5:00 am on May 23. The Burnett’s had already been traveling for nearly three weeks by that point. Undoubtedly, they were glad to be able to get off the ship and take a walk into the town of Honolulu. My great grandmother Jane Ann was nearly ten years old that day, so I’m sure that she was wide-eyed at everything. Having lived near a Maori Reserve in New Zealand, the native Hawaiians were probably not too strange to her, if they even saw many of them. By 1877, the native population had been decimated by introduced diseases like measles and small pox.
Honolulu was much more tropical than the South Island of New Zealand, so the coconuts, bananas, oranges and limes that were for sale must have seemed exotic and delicious to the children. According to a biography written by Jane Ann’s brother, corals and shells were also on offer, and he mentioned that they were new and strange to the children. I’m sure that Jane Ann and her siblings begged for souvenirs as they wandered along the port.
At the end of the day in the harbor, the king’s brass band and choir came down to the wharf and serenaded the passengers. At that point King Kalakaua, the last king of Hawaii, boarded the ship with his sister Princess Liliuokaluni. At least some members of the Burnett party shook his hand as he bid them “Good morning, sir.”
As the ship prepared to sail at 10 p.m., the King bid his sister farewell as she was sailing to San Francisco. Although the Burnett’s were cabin passengers, it’s doubtful if they saw the Princess again during the voyage as she was in first class.
Princess Liliuokalani became the Queen of Hawaii when her brother died in 1891. She was the last queen of Hawaii since the islands were taken over by the United States only two years later. The famous song “Aloha Oe” was written by Queen Liliuokalani as a love song to her people, hoping that they would meet again someday. Nearly every tourist who visits the islands today hears the song.
For most of them it’s merely a reminder of a beautiful vacation. For me, it’s that, but it’s also a reminder of my family’s brief connection to Hawaii. Not exactly a deep ancestral connection, but we genealogists take what we can get.