The wife of Daniel McCorriston (1840-1927) was, up until recently, known to her descendants as Annie Nelson. Born in the Hawaiian Islands in 1851, she was the mother of eight and known within her community for her kindness and generosity.
But who was she? From where did she come?
The family story is that she was hanai at birth and given to a haole couple to be raised. Some stories state that she was a full-blooded Hawaiian woman; others that she was hapa haole, or half-Hawaiian.
Up until recently, we had little evidence to support any theories on Annie’s parentage or racial and ethnic background. All we knew was that
she was born in the Hawaiian Islands
she was married to Daniel McCorriston
she had eight children who lived to adulthood
Thankfully, research has revealed some crumbs of information that we’ve been able to follow.
The first piece of documentation that comes into play is the 1900 US Census. The 1900 Census was officially conducted on June 1, 1900; Annie was recorded as living in Honolulu in the household of Elizabeth Morehead on June 2, 1900.
The Census data reveals a few important details: that she was part Hawaiian (PH); that she was born in 1851; that she was married between June 3, 1866, and June 2, 1867 (33 years of marriage subtracted from 1900); and that she had given birth to 9 children and lost 3.
Annie’s youngest daughter, Aileen Annie McCorriston (1900-1982), was born in July 1900, roughly one month after the Census was taken, bringing her total number of children born to 10. Annie’s son, Daniel, died in May 1900, accounting for one death. We can safely assume that the remaining two children born were stillbirths or died in infancy before being recorded.
It’s important to note here that Census data isn’t always correct; for example, the 1910 Census regularly transcribed “CH", or “Caucasian-Hawaiian,” as Chinese. However, it usually gives enough information to point our research in the right direction.
Annie’s obituary helps verify some of the information discovered in the 1900 Census, namely that her approximate year of birth was 1851 (1907 minus 56 years of age). Knowing that she had seven children alive at the time of her death in 1907 and that she had a child in July of 1900, we can also consider this a confirmation of the number of children she had, both living and dead.
Unfortunately, her obituary doesn’t confirm the date of her marriage or her racial and ethnic heritage.
Marriage Record from the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaiʻi
Fortunately, the marriage record from the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaiʻi does confirm the date of her marriage, and possibly her racial and ethnic heritage! It also reveals more detailed information about from where Annie came.
Not only does the marriage record state that the year of marriage was 1867, but it also gives the exact date of marriage—March 5, 1867—the location of the marriage—Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Honolulu—the residences of Daniel McCorriston and his bride—Waiawa, Oʻahu—and the celebrant—Fr. Herman Koeckemann.
Significantly, Annie Nelson was, at the time of her marriage in 1867, known as Anna McColgan.
McColgan was not a common surname in the Hawaiian Islands in the mid-1800s—of the 192 newspaper mentions of the surname McColgan from 1849-1867, all but three referred to John C. McColgan (1814-1890). This strongly indicates that John C. McColgan is Anna’s biological father.
Many external details support this theory: John McColgan arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1849, and Annie was born in 1851. John McColgan owned a sugar mill in Waiau, located near Waiawa in the Pearl Lochs. And, importantly, Daniel McCorriston and John McColgan certainly knew each other; they were first cousins.
Assuming that John McColgan being Annie’s biological father is true, then her marriage record also indicates that her racial and ethnic heritage is part Irish.
Beyond the Paper Trail
Verifying Hawaiian Heritage
Before digging too deep into the Irish part of Annie’s ancestry and using this to figure out more of her background and parentage, we first needed to verify that she was, in fact, Hawaiian. It’s always been a strongly held belief that Annie was—and therefore the rest of us descended from the Daniel and Annie McCorriston line—but one can never be too sure.
Good news: it appears as if Annie was Hawaiian.
According to my maternal haplogroup—the genetic inheritance down the maternal line—descendants of Daniel and Annie McCorriston share genetic inheritance that “is virtually universal in Polynesia, but hard to find anywhere else.”
Given that my descent within the McCorriston family is strictly on the maternal line, we can extrapolate that Annie was Hawaiian, as was her mother, and her mother, and so forth.
Armed with this information about Annie’s possible parentage, and now with DNA verification of her Hawaiian ancestry, I updated my private research tree in Ancestry.com to reflect John C. McColgan as Annie’s biological father—and got a DNA match!
I plugged this relationship into DNA Painter’s What Are The Odds?, an amazing relationship probability tool that allows you to match the number of shared centimorgans (cM) into a hypothetical family tree and test your ideas. Turns out that my match of 7 cM is negligible, so I requested the use of another match, this one being 29 cM. According to that match, we determined that it is a little more than three times as likely that Annie is the half-sister of Mary Piʻia McColgan as opposed to a full sister.
Great, right? We just determined that Mary Piʻia McColgan’s mother, Kalaʻiolele Kamanoulu, isn’t Annie’s biological mother!
Not so fast.
Given that we know that Mary McColgan is the biological daughter of John McColgan, and we know that John McColgan and Daniel McCorriston are first cousins, then it is possible that the DNA match isn’t from Annie and Mary being half-sisters, but from Mary and Daniel being first cousins once removed. This would reflect in the DNA match as either half fourth cousins (Half 4C) or fifth cousins once removed (5C1R)—which it does with equal probability.
So where does that leave us? With a few unanswered questions.
But first, the questions we did answer.
We determined that, at one point in her life, the woman we’ve known as Annie Nelson was also known as Anna McColgan. This was verified by a marriage record from the Roman Catholic Church of Hawaiʻi.
Racial and Ethnic Heritage
We also determined that Annie was at least part-Hawaiian. This was verified by the author’s maternal Polynesian inheritance, which could only exist if it was passed down on the maternal line.
It is very likely that Annie is Irish-Hawaiian; however, given the cousin relationship between Daniel McCorriston and John McColgan, the parental relationship between John McColgan and Mary McColgan, and the DNA relationship between our recorded matches, we can’t definitely state that. Yet.
New Facts Learned
Marriage Place & Date
We learned that Annie married Daniel McCorriston on March 5, 1867, in the Roman Catholic Church (now known as the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace) in Honolulu. This was learned from her marriage record from the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaiʻi.
We also learned that Annie was most likely Roman Catholic, something that I’ve long held as a belief. We can’t definitively state this; however, given that Daniel and Annie married in the Roman Catholic Church and interfaith marriages were at the time considered “detestable marriages which Holy Mother Church has continually condemned and interdicted” (Benedict XIV), we can safely assume that she was Roman Catholic.
When & where was Annie born?
We’ve narrowed Annie’s birth date to between May 4, 1850, and May 3, 1851, with a likely range of January 1-May 3, 1851. The most likely source for this information will be her Baptismal record from the Roman Catholic Church in Hawaiʻi, if it exists.
As for her place of birth, beyond being born in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi, we don’t know much else at this point. Her Baptismal certificate may or not reveal this fact. If we’re lucky, though, the personal interviews contained in the file of her daughter Aileen’s delayed birth certificate application will touch on this subject.
Was Annie’s father, in fact, John McColgan?
While it’s highly likely that John McColgan is Annie’s biological father, we don’t have definitive proof of this relationship. The most likely source of this information will also be Annie’s Baptismal certificate, or perhaps Aileen’s delayed birth certificate application packet.
Who was Annie’s mother?
It’s safe to say that Kalaʻiolele Kamanoulu was not Annie’s biological mother—the relationship between our DNA matches isn’t strong enough. The question of who is her mother still remains, something that can hopefully be determined by Annie’s Baptismal certificate.
Why did Annie go by the surname Nelson?
This question is a variation on one that I’ve been asking for decades (and I’m sure I’m not the only one!): who were Annie’s hanai parents?
An additional, tangential question that pops up here is, Why was Annie hanai in the first place? I have a few theories, and I’d love to hear yours!
What Do You Think?
Do you have any knowledge, information, resource, or ideas about who Annie Nelson was? Why do you think Annie was hanai in the first place? I’d love to hear what you think! Please leave a comment below to participate in the conversation, or, if you’d prefer, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.