Mary Jane Doak (1849-1937), Born at Sea

My husband’s great-great-grandparents, Hugh Doak (1816-1888) and Jane (Gibson) Doak (1827-1907) and their eldest child, toddler Margaret Doak (1846-1924), embarked for New York from Belfast, Northern Ireland, on the ship Margaret in 1849. In the midst of famine and economic troubles, the young family from County Down were in search of a better life in America.

There were 133 passengers from Belfast listed on the manifest when the Margaret arrived in New York on November 16, 1849. The record only shows when they arrived, not when they departed, so I can’t tell how long they were at sea. The Atlantic crossing at this time could take anywhere from three weeks to three months, depending on weather conditions. I haven’t been able to find any more information on the ship they sailed on, except that there was a ship called the S/S Margaret that served for the Cunard Line between 1840 and 1859.

The remarkable part of the voyage of the Doaks, however, is that a second child, daughter Mary Jane, is listed on the ship’s manifest as “born at sea.” So great-great-grandmother Jane gave birth  on the Atlantic, in the late fall, in steerage.

Jane (Gibson) Doak, who gave birth to her second child aboard the ship Margaret in 1849
Jane (Gibson) Doak, who gave birth to her second child aboard the ship Margaret in 1849. From the Lyttle Family Archive

The conditions on board an immigrant ship were neither hygienic nor comfortable. Steerage was crowded, cramped and airless, and passengers even had to cook their own food in a tiny shared kitchen. One doctor reported that competition for cooking facilities were sometimes so fierce that a woman could only manage to prepare one meal a day for her family.

Here is one description of the conditions, which “varied from ship to ship, but steerage was normally crowded, dark, and damp. Limited sanitation and stormy seas often combined to make it dirty and foul-smelling, too. Rats, insects, and disease were common problems” (Smithsonian).

Even more remarkable, eight other children besides Mary Jane were listed on the manifest as “born at sea” during the ship’s passage.

Hugh and Jane went on to have eight more children of their own after they settled in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. And Mary Jane (Doak) McCombe (1849-1937), the child born at sea, lived to the ripe old age of 88.

Hardy folks, these.

How we’re related to Mary Jane (Doak) McCombe:

Her parents, Hugh Doak (1816-1888) and Jane (Gibson) Doak (1827-1907)

Their daughter, Mary Jane’s sister, Selena (Doak) Lyttle (1861-1946) and her husband James Lyttle (1858-1925)

Their son Richard Gibson Lyttle (1901-1988) and his wife Jessie Margaret (Gillis) Lyttle (1899-1969)

Their son, my husband’s father

My husband


Sources: Passengers arriving in New York 16 November 1849 on the ship Margaret.

Smithsonian Institution. “Enterprise on the Water.” , accessed 19 July 2014.

Dobie, William Currie. “Sailing Across the Atlantic Sixty Years Ago.” The Thunder Bay Historical Society Fifth Annual Report; Papers of 1914. pp 35-38. Transcribed by Charles Dobie. , accessed 19 July 2014.

Irish American “Irish Ships To America.” , accessed 19 July 2014.

Norway S/S Margaret, Cunard Line. , accessed 19 July 2014.

John Andrew Burke (1887-1971), The “Uncle Jack” I Never Knew

William Michael Burke (left) and John Andrew Burke in 1889
William Michael Burke (left) and John Andrew Burke in 1889. From the author’s collection

Families are funny things, and their dynamics are complicated. Even though I was 18 when he died, I never met my Grandpa Bill’s (William Michael Burke [1888-1956]) older brother or any of his family.

Jack and Bill were the sons of Michael Burke (1854-1889) and Agnes (McCormick) Burke (1863-1918), my great-grandparents. The boys were barely toddlers when their father died, aged 35, in an industrial accident in Peoria, Illinois. Their mother took them back home to White County, Indiana, where both she and Michael had been born.

William Michael Burke (left) and John Andrew Burke (right)
William Michael Burke (left) and John Andrew Burke (right). From the author’s collection

On 31 January 1893, Agnes married her second husband Franklin Riggs in White County. They lived in West Point Township, White County, Indiana, until they moved to Arcada Township in Gratiot County, Michigan sometime between 1910 and 1920. Arcada Township is where Grandpa Bill’s farm was, but I don’t yet know where Agnes and Frank lived in the township.

Frank and Agnes had eight more children, in addition to the boys from her marriage to Michael. It’s easy to imagine that Jack and Bill might have felt marginalized in this big, new family. There’s no way to know at this point what kind of stepfather Frank was, but I remember my father occasionally mentioning his name in a not-very-nice tone of voice, perhaps passing on his father’s attitude. I don’t know. Frank died 9 January 1952, six months before I was born.

But back to Jack and Bill. Jack lost his right arm in a hunting accident when he was young. According to his granddaughter, Carole Grimes, Grandpa Bill accidentally shot him – yikes.

On 10 February 1915, Jack married Dorthea Belle Miksell (1890-1965). The 1920 Federal Census shows them farming in Arcada Township, Gratiot County, Michigan. By 1927, though, they were living in Michigan City, Indiana, where they remained for the rest of their lives, living at 1515 W. 10th St. Jack worked for the Pullman railway car manufacturing company, painting rail cars.

John and Dorothea Burke
John and Dorthea Burke. Courtesy of Carole Grimes, used with permission


It’s a shame when close family members don’t know each other, but I’m very happy that 21st Century technology has allowed me to connect with cousin Carole, Jack’s granddaughter. And I’m grateful that she’s given permission for me to share these great pictures of her grandparents.

Dorthea and John Burke
Dorthea and John Burke. Courtesy of Carole Grimes, used with permission

How I’m related to Jack:

Michael Burke (1854-1889) and his wife Agnes (McCormick) Burke (1863-1918)

Their sons, John Andrew Burke (1887-1971) and William Michael Burke (1888-1956)

William Michael Burke is my father’s father; John Andrew Burke is my great-uncle

Sources:, U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-Current (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2011., Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc, 2005),, White County, Indiana; Index to Marriage Record 1850 – 1920 Volume I Lett, W. P. A. Original Record Located: County Clerk’s O; Book: C-12; Page: 285. Record for John Burke., Indiana, Marriage Collection, 1800-1941 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc, 2005),, White County, Indiana; Index to Marriage Record 1830 – 1920 Volume II Let, W. P. A. Original Record Located: County Clerk’s O; Book: 5-W; Page: 74. Record for Agnes McCormick., U.S. City Directories, 1821-1989 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc., 2011),, Record for John A Burke., 1920 United States Federal Census (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.Original data – Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. (NARA microfilm publication T625, 2076 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Reco),, Year: 1920; Census Place: Arcada, Gratiot, Michigan; Roll: T625_763; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 31; Image: 1158. Record for John Burke.

Samuel Bliss (1734-1786), Minuteman in the American Revolution

The Bliss family has been in America since about 1635. Though there are still a lot of facts for me to sort out and document about the earliest Blisses and their relationships, I’ve established through good sources that my grandfather, Harold Benjamin Hundey (1907-1987), is descended through his mother, Mayme (Woodward) Hundey (1889-1971), from Samuel Bliss (1734-1786), who was a Minuteman in the American Revolution.

Minuteman Statue at the Old North Bridge
Minuteman Statue at the Old North Bridge: Public Domain, David Pape

Samuel, my 6 times great-grandfather, was born 11 February 1734 in Brimfield, Hampden County, Massachusetts. On 3 December 1758, he recorded his intention to marry Mary Gleason. They married 1 February 1759 at Warren, Worcester County, Massachusetts.

As the Battle of Lexington was being fought on 19 April 1775, the alarm went around the countryside for the Minutemen to march to defend the areas around Boston that were threatened by British troops. Samuel was 41 years old and he and Mary had nine children, but he answered the call as part of Captain Josiah Putnam’s company in Colonel Jedediah Foster’s regiment and marched to Roxbury, Massachusetts, for an eight-day campaign. The distance from Warren to Roxbury was more than 60 miles.

Samuel re-enlisted at the end of the campaign, on 26 April 1775, and served in Captain John Granger’s company in Colonel Learned’s regiment until 7 October 1775. I’ve found a couple sources that say Captain Granger’s company may have fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775, but I haven’t established that for sure yet.


Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 - Mary Gleason
Intention to marry between Samuel Bliss and Mary Gleason: Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988

On our Hundey side, we have close to a dozen Revolutionary War veterans, but Samuel is the only one who answered the alarm after the very first battle of the Revolution. He’s our only Minuteman.

How I’m descended from Samuel Bliss:

Samuel Bliss (1734-1786) and his wife Mary (Gleason) Bliss (1735-1823)

Their son, Jonathan Bliss (1770-1864) and his wife Mary (Bond) Bliss (1770-1820)

Their daughter, Nancy (Bliss) Tompkins (1800-1855) and her husband William Tompkins (1795-1871)

Their daughter, Laura Malinda (Tompkins) Crout (1828-1896) and her husband Edwin Crout (1830-1879)

Their daughter, Ellen (Crout) Woodward (1851-1915) and her husband Merritt J. Woodward (1846-1928)

Their daughter, Mayme (Woodward) Hundey (1889-1971) and her husband Clarence Rueben Hundey (1887-1949)

Their son, Harold Benjamin Hundey (1907-1987) and his wife Katy Pleasant (Forquer) Hundey (1910-2000)

My mother


 It’s interesting that Laura (Tompkins) Crout, my 3 times great grandmother, has two great grandfathers who fought in the Revolution. In addition to Samuel, her great-grandfather Solomon Tompkins (1740-1823) was also a Revolutionary War soldier.


Barber’s Historical Collections of Massachusetts – p. 613 and 276

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, Vol. 11, p. 189

Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp, Massachusetts, Marriages, 1633-1850 (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc, 2005),, Record for Samuel, Jr. Bliss.

The Lexington Alarm

Godfrey Memorial Library, comp., American Genealogical-Biographical Index (AGBI) (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc, 1999),

Daughters of the American Revolution, Ancestor Search

Wikipedia, Battles of Lexington and Concord

Google Maps, Warren to Roxbury, Massachusetts

Starting My Family History Blog

I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a very long time, and finally I just decided to get on with it.

My mother, Donna Jean (Hundey) Burke Weaver (1930-2003), and I took an adult ed class in genealogy in about 1974 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, DeKalb Co., Illinois, where we were living. We’d both been interested in genealogy, but we didn’t really understand how to go about family history research in an organized way.

The class was an excellent introduction to all the forms and methods of research available at the time. I wish I could remember the name of the woman who taught it, because I’d like to try to track her down and thank her for getting us started down this road.

This is the first Pedigree Chart I filled out when we started our research.
This is the first Pedigree Chart I filled out when we started our research. The sources of each piece of information were noted on the back of the sheet. From the author’s collection

After the class, Mom and I worked on getting information from older relatives, sending away to county courthouses for documents, traipsing through cemeteries, tracking down books that might contain information on our forebears — all the activities that characterized pre-Internet research. As my career became more busy, I had little time to spend on it, but Mom kept on plugging.

When the Internet came along, Mom embraced email for contacting family members at a distance, Family Tree Maker for organizing her records, and FamilySearch for early online research. She bought a laptop to take on her trips to the Family History Library at Salt Lake City and to other research locations. She would love all the things we can do with technology these days!

After she died, I inherited the boxes and boxes of stuff she’d accumulated, along with her Family Tree Maker files. I was still working, and would still be for another eight years, so I was unable to do anything about organizing and sharing all the great information she’d found. But now that is my work in retirement.

In the meantime I had done a lot of thinking about the best way to give other family members access to these treasures of family history. While pedigree charts and death certificates get us genealogists excited, they’re pretty dry in themselves. It’s the stories they tell that can capture the imagination.

This blog is for telling those stories, so my extended family can take part in the delight that comes from learning about those people who came before us, and so that they and I can honor the love and hard work that went into making our own lives possible.

And I’ve just told my first family story….