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26 September 2016

Whales, Crazy Ladies & Microfilm

My great-grandmother, Margaret Chadwick, was born on a whaling ship in Taioha'e, Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands in 1883.

Margaret's mother was the wife of a whaling ship captain. Back then it was perfectly acceptable to hunt whales. Nowadays, not so much. 

Whaling wasn't for the meek. Imagine trying to harpoon one of these massive creatures. I don't read German, but I think this whale is saying, "Don't mess with me. I'll smash your ship to smithereens." Sadly, the whalers often won the battle.


This whale looks scary until you notice the pom-pom sticking out of its blow hole. I think the artist meant for this to look like a water spout, but all I can picture are whales waving their pom-poms around and yelling out cheers. "Give me a W! Give me a H! Give me an A! Give me an L! Give me an E! What does it spell? WHALE!! Go WHALES!"


When the whaling ships left New Bedford, Massachusetts, they would be gone for years. I guess Margaret's mother had a choice - stay behind and wait or join her husband on the whaling ship. She, like many other whaling captains' wives at the time, chose the crazy option - she went with him. Can you imagine being the only woman on a boat full of whalers, giving birth to your children on board and praying you would survive storms at sea?

Was she crazy or adventurous? Maybe a little of both. 

My mom assigned me a task to track down Margaret's birth certificate. I'm not sure why I got this particular task. Maybe because I can read a little bit of French. Although my French is pretty limited to saying things like pain au chocolat and haricots verts. Useful words if you want to eat lots of gooey chocolate pastries and then feel better about your gluttony by polishing off a plate of green beans, but perhaps not as useful for reading historical records.
 
I headed down to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Palm City on Saturday to visit their Family History Center. Mormons are really into genealogy and have done a phenomenal job compiling all sorts of historical documents. 

I had a look at some of the Tahitian records on microfilm which have been digitized online. Isn't the handwriting amazing? I wonder if they even teach cursive and penmanship in school anymore.


The microfilm that I need hasn't been digitized yet, so they're sending it from Salt Lake City. Then I'll get to spend a few hours huddled over a microfilm reader trying to find Margaret and her sister's birth certificates and imagining what life must have been for two small girls and their mother living on a whaling ship.
 
Are you into genealogy? Would you have wanted to live on a whaling ship back in the 1800s?

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Images courtesy of The Graphics Fairy. 

24 comments:

  1. I don't think they were eating pain au chocolate on a whaling ship, so, I don't think it would be for me!

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    1. I have a feeling that the food on board wasn't quite up to Parisian standards. I wonder what they did eat?

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  2. Sorry, cursive is no longer taught in schools.
    Great, now all I can see is a pom-pom waving whale.
    That was a rough way to start out life.

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    1. I wondered if they taught it given that kids nowadays know how to use a keyboard by the time they're three.

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  3. I'm not into genealogy. I would not have wanted to live on a whaling ship. Yikes. I love boat, but pleasure boats please.

    I hope you share the birth certificates when you find them. Way cool.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. I know - it sounds like a crazy way of life. It wouldn't be my cup of tea either.

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  4. Despite all those cursive writing exercises in school, my handwriting is atrocious. My husband pretty much prints everything other than his official signature.

    I read a book ages ago called THE SEA CAPTAIN'S WIFE by Beth Powning where the wife and child join the husband at sea. Not quite the same as a whaling ship, etc. It was a great read. :)

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    1. That books sounds really interesting - I'll have to check it out. Thanks!

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  5. That sounds like an interesting assignment! And, so amazing if you manage to locate the birth certificates... I didn't think women were allowed on board whaling ships, especially not back then. Pretty cool to have Tahitian roots! You'll definitely have to go to Nuku Hiva one day... by sailboat. :-) Do you think Margaret might have been on Melville's whaling ship?

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    1. I'm not into genealogy, but I am pretty proud that I am the only Liesbet Collaert in this world, though. :-)

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    2. Now that is a real accomplishment to be the only Liesbet Collaert in the world :-)

      It would be so neat to see Nuku Hiva one day by boat. I sometimes see other people's pictures of there on cruising blogs.

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    3. It's not my favorite island in the Marquesas, but it is attractive nevertheless - if you find a comfortable bay to anchor. :-)

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    4. Fairly sure I'm the only Anabel Marsh, though I've found the name with other spellings. It's nice to be unique!

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    5. I like how you spell Anabel. Is it a family spelling?

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  6. Your great-grandmother would win my contest of coolest ancestors!

    My own great grandmother with no missing "greats" was actually born in the 1880's and my age begins with an 4 so I don't consider myself that old. I'm into genealogy and have found one cement barge captain in my family tree so far - definitely not as cool as being born on a whaling ship but still, it's a maritime profession!

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    1. Hmmm...maybe I've got it wrong and there aren't that many greats missing. If your age begins with a 4, then you're definitely not old :-)

      I think a cement barge captain sounds really interesting! I'm just starting to pay more attention to all of the genealogy my mom has been working on and its quite interesting.

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  7. Yes, I know where my ancestors came from. We have old photos of the first immigrants to America. The original family farm is still being worked by family. My parents didn't want to farm, so they came to Alaska in 1949 over the newly opened ALCAN (Alaska - Canada) highway. Previously the road was for military transport only. I have a fabulous photo of them, 1/2 ton Dodge flatbed truck, loaded to the hilt, (think Grapes of Wrath), towing an Airstream trailer, Mom is perched on the hood, with Dad standing next to it. The photo was taken with a Leica Lens, so it is as crisp and clear as if it was taken yesterday. I have a framed copy on the boat, so that I can remind myself of the courageous, adventurous people I came from.

    You also have adventurous folk in your family, that's pretty impressive to live on a whaling ship. I'm very sure that I would not choose to do that. I don't even watch those kinds of movies.

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    1. You've got a really interesting family history with your roots in Alaska. You should post that photo on your blog.

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    2. Hmmm, I feel a blog post coming on.... thanks for the idea!

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  8. Awesome! I love genealogy. When my son Seth was born I traced his family tree back as far as I could on both mine and my ex husbands side with the help of some family members. There is a website called Tribal Pages where you can map your family tree online. It's really good and has free or paid versions with extra benefits.
    I'm sure I've got a book about Nuku Hiva somewhere. If I can find it I'll let you know and will post it to you. :)

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  9. So you have seafaring in your blood! Women and children went off to war with their husbands too at one time. Thank goodness things have changed!

    My great-grandmother was born in 1864 and my age still begins with a 5 (just) so 1880s is maybe not unreasonable.

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    1. It looks like I got that totally wrong. Oops. I've deleted that confusing paragraph now :-)

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  10. I have looked back into my mother's roots a little and did find it fascinating. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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