©2009-2016 Becky Higgins

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Donner Party and the Blue Family

As my husband said yesterday, "You just never know who you're related to until you find out."

If you’ve had any interest in the American migration west, you’ve heard of the tragedy of the Donner Party. I had heard bits and pieces about this throughout my life. Was the first time in school while studying the Oregon Trail? Perhaps. Anyway, then  it was simply History – not my favorite subject.

If the details of the Donner Party are vague in your mind check out the well-documented Wikipedia entry or this wonderful PBS film from The American Experience.

I recently received The Chalice, the quarterly newsletter from the Blue Family Association and there was a wonderful article, “The Donner Party Revisited” by Kenneth Blue of Grass Valley, California regarding the Blues who were part of the Donner Party. You haven’t heard of them because, of course, the Blues are on the maternal side and we all know what happens to female surnames.

Even though I have to go back nine generations to our common ancestor, John Blaw of Sommerset County, New Jersey, I am still a distant cousin to the families that made that perilous journey back in 1846/47. Now it’s about Family, not just History; now I feel connected.

Below, Kenneth lists our Blue family as associated with the Donner Party:
The DONNER Family
George Donner’s second wife was Mary Blue, daughter of Solomon and Telitha Ann (Morris) Blue:
Mary BLUE, m1.1828 Charles R. TENANT, m2.1829 George DONNER (b.1784?-1847). Both of her marriages took place in Sangamon Co. IL. Mary was the second of the three wives of George DONNER, leader of the tragic Donner Party. Presumably, she died before his third marriage, to Tamzene or Tamsen (EUSTIS) DOZIER in 1839. Mary's two children survived the ordeal during the winter of 1846/7. George died at Alder Creek Camp, Nevada Co. CA, as a result of an infected hand.
First marriage [of Mary Blue]: No issue.
Second marriage [of Mary Blue]:
1. Elitha Cumi DONNER (1832-1923), m1.1847 Perry McCOON (ca1821-1851), m2.1853 Benjamin R. WILDER (1821- 1898).
2. Leanna Charity DONNER (1834-1930), m.1852 John Mathias APP (1821-1898).
Mary died before the westward trek, but her two daughters made the journey and mercifully they both survived to make lives for themselves in California.

Mary's sister, Elizabeth, and her family were not so fortunate. Elizabeth had married Jacob Donner, George's brother, in 1835 and they had five children:

Elizabeth BLUE (d.1847), m1.1829 James HOOK, divorced, m2.1835 Jacob DONNER (ca1790-1846). Both of her marriages took place in Sangamon Co. IL. James abandoned his family and Elizabeth divorced him. Jacob was a brother of George DONNER, second husband of Elizabeth's sister Mary. Elizabeth and Jacob died with the famous Donner Party at Alder Creek Camp, Nevada Co. CA.
First marriage [of Elizabeth Blue]:
1. Solomon Elijah HOOK (1832-1878), m.1866 Alice M. ROBERTS.
2. William HOOK (1834-1847). Died while with the Donner Party.
Second marriage [of Elizabeth Blue]:
3. George DONNER (ca1837-1874), m.1862 Margaret WATSON.
4. Mary Martha DONNER (ca1839-1860), m.1859 Sherman Otis HOUGHTON (1828-1914).
5. Isaac DONNER (ca1841-1846/7). Died while with the Donner Party.
6. Samuel DONNER (ca1843-1846/7). Died while with the Donner Party.
7. Lewis DONNER (ca1844-1846/7). Died while with the Donner Party.
Elizabeth (Blue) Donner, her husband Jacob, and all seven of her children were members of the
Donner Party. Of this group, only three of her children survived, Solomon Hook, George Donner and
Mary Martha Donner.

More fortunate was George Donner’s daughter from his first marriage, Susannah Donner. In 1835 she
married Barneybeth Marshall Blue, brother of Mary and Elizabeth (Blue) Donner. Susannah and Barney stayed behind in Illinois, then in 1850 they moved to Missouri.


  1. What a nice find, good research and nice blog, thanks for sharing

  2. I hope author of Chalice article credited my research, as much of it is taken from my website, New Light on the Donner Party http://www.xmission.com/~octa/DonnerParty/DonnerJ.htm

  3. Kristin, most of Kenneth's article (90%) was about his journey along the path taken by the Donner Party - none of which did I include in my blog.
    I checked out your website (from you comment) which I enjoyed very much.
    Kenneth did cite several articles/books but didn't mention your work. I have no way of knowing if he visited there or not.
    I can say that I removed the family numbering (cataloging used in the Association's publication)he included.

  4. Awesome! Aunt Becky, not understanding Genealogy speak, can you explain to me how we are related to Mary and Elizabeth - as if you were speaking to a two-year-old?

  5. Hi Roni,
    As best I can figure it right now you would be their 7th cousin once-remove. We are all descended from John Blaw who died in New Jersey in 1757. Mary & Elizabeth descend from his oldest son, John, (of course) and we from his fifth child, Frederick. From there we start counting the cousin generations until we get to the 7th which is me and your Dad. Since you are the next generation down, that makes you once-removed. You are the 8th counsin of Mary & Elizabeth's children. Does that help?

  6. Hi - I'm looking for more information on James Hook who was father to Solomon and William and first husband to Elizabeth (Betsy)Blue. Can't find anything anywhere on his parents or what happened to him. Does anyone know anything?

  7. Hi, I was in Reno approx. 10 years ago. We took a tour from the Truckee River, Carsen City, Ponderosa, and Virginia City and many more stops. It was the best tour in my life. It lasted approx. 10 hours and our tour guide new all the history of the Donner family. He told us about a book that they sold in Virginia City at the Mark Twain book store. It was called Ordeal by Hunger by George R. Stewart and there was another book Patty Reed's Doll by Rachel Laurguard. I bought them both and have read them. Great reads.

  8. Hi Becky, (from Bill Blue, Editor of The Chalice)
    A good friend (and our cousin) ran across your website last night and referred it to me. I must come to Kenneth’s defense. The section on page 13, after Ken’s Bibliography, was added by me in order to explain the relationship between the Blue descendants in the Donner Party. This information was taken directly from my book, "Descendants of John BLAW (BLUE), d.1757 Somerset Co., NJ", 5th edition, 2003. The references I give in the book for these families are:
    C1195. "New Light on the Donner Party", by Kristin Johnson, .
    C1196. "Descendants of George Donner", GEDCOM file and other material from John H. Jameson, .
    C1197. "Descendants of Johan Michael App", by Douglas Hill, published on the web by Larry A. App, Bristol IN, .

    (The website given in my reference C1195 for Kristen’s website is no longer valid and should be replaced by the site she posted above).

    I’m sure that Ken has never seen Kristen’s wonderful website or he would have put it into his bibliography. Furthermore, Ken is a “paper” book reader and doesn’t spend a lot of time searching with his computer.

    At the beginning of his article, Ken cites my article in the November 2000 issue of The Chalice as his inspiration. At that time, I had been corresponding with Kristen over a 4 month period with regard to the Donner/Blue families. She sent me data on the descendants of Mary and Elizabeth (Blue) Donner, which I inserted into my book, cited above, and I helped her establish their Blue ancestry. I then wrote the November 2010 article that inspired Ken 11 years later.

    This article was headed:
    BLUE Descendants Die with DONNER Party
    Prepared by William H. Blue, Seattle WA
    based on information supplied by Kristen Johnson

    I hope this will clear up any misunderstanding that has arisen with regard to the Chalice articles.
    Thanks, Bill

  9. Hi Becky and Blue Cousins-- Thanks so much for such an interesting blog and well managed. I never knew that there were any Blues involved in the miserable
    Donner trek west over the snowy Sierras till I read Ken's article in the Chalice edited by Bill Blue. Then, thanks to Kristin, I was further enlightened
    about the families and their children who survived in California. Now I have even more compassion for my Blue cousins who perished. Thanks. Cindy

  10. According to my grandmother I am also related to the donner family! I'm not sure how though, unfortunately :( my last name is Miles... Any ideas?