July 28, 2021

Why Can’t I Find a Good Photo of Virginia?

As a family genealogist, we get so excited when we can find a lovely photo or an image of one of our early ancestors.  It feels like Christmas when you unexpectedly discover something that you can look at and see the person that you have only before been able to imagine. 

I have quite a lot of information about my great grandparents, David Alba Scribner and his wife, Virginia Augusta Hale Scribner, and many photos of David who was a clipper ship captain in the late 1800’s.

Virginia Augusta Hale Scribner was born in Baltimore in 1848, and both her father and her grandfather were also clipper ship captains.  I expect that being a part of that mariner community is how she first met Capt David Alba Scribner.  David and Virginia married in 1876, and in the early years of their marriage Virginia and their children would accompany David on the ship as they traveled between ports worldwide (see my last blog post).  Virginia sailed with David for 17 years living aboard ship in the small captain’s quarters with her husband and small children. 


The Scribner family could afford to have portrait photos made, and were often in port locations where photographers were aplenty.  What confounds me is that I have several photos of Capt Scribner at various ages that I believe were taken for the family to have in the times while he was away. (I plan to share some in a later blog post.)  But I can’t seem to find a good photo of his wife, Virginia, or even a photo of David & Virginia together.  I would think that Virginia would have also had her photo made for her mother and sister to have during her absences when she accompanied David on voyages, and in later years for David to take with him during his voyages without her.  

There is a family photo album that Capt Scribner first had aboard the ship, St Lucie, which he sailed during the years 1870-1873 and again 1875-1878.  The album includes many carte de visite photos of friends and family – but, while I can identify several of the photos as David Scribner’s siblings and family, there are also many that are unidentified and not labeled. Because I don’t know what Virginia looked like when she was young, I suspect that I might even have a photo of her among the photos in David’s photo album.  It just seems so reasonable that David would have a portrait photo of Virginia to keep with him.  Captain Scribner continued his ship’s voyages for another decade after the family settled in Brooklyn so that the children could attend formal schooling.  He retired from the sea in 1900.

Capt David A Scribner died in 1911, however Virginia lived many more years until 1940.  Virginia and David’s son, Henry Dickinson Scribner, was a very good amateur photographer long before his mother died in 1940.  I also had hoped that her son, Henry, might also have taken photos of Virginia.  And yet, so far I haven’t found what I am looking for.  

My grandfather, Henry Dickinson Scribner, was the only one of David and Virginia’s children that married and had children of his own. Thus, I have a small number of aunts, uncles and cousins, who I had hoped might have a photo of Virginia, but no luck there.

While I don’t have a portrait photo of Virginia, however I do have two small snapshots – one I am certain has Virginia in it, and the other, I “think” has Virginia in it. The first one is circa 1922 and is from a family photo album with identifying notes.  There is a side view of Virginia on the far left wearing a coat and hat, and a notation below that says “Mrs. S.”  The second photo I believe is probably Virginia Scribner with her eldest daughter, Mary, and likely was taken sometime during the 1930’s.  I found this unlabeled shapshot in a box of old letters that had belonged to Virginia.

If anyone feels that they could have a photo of Virginia Augusta Hale Scribner, I would love to hear from you!

*  *  *  *  * 

Key individuals:

     Capt David Alba Scribner  (1840 – 1911)

     Virginia Augusta Hale Scribner  (1848 – 1940)

               Wallace Flint Scribner  (1877 – 1882)

               Henry (Harry) Dickinson Scribner  (1880 – 1943)

               Mary Islethera Scribner  (1882 – 1959)

               Ella Virginia Scribner  (1885 – 1935)


Virginia also had an active interest in her family history.  In 1897, she was one of the early members of the Colonial Daughters of the 17th Century lineage society in in Brooklyn.  She was active with the group for more than 40 years.


 – Jane Scribner McCrary

July 15, 2021

Virginia’s Sea Journal

In an earlier blog post about the Scribner family visits to Pitcairn Island (August 2020), I referred to a journal that Virginia kept while aboard the clipper ships with her husband and children.  She might have written in journals for all of the many years that she joined her husband, Captain David Alba Scribner, aboard ship during his journeys.  However, I only have a transcribed copy of Virginia’s 1878-1880 journal aboard the ship St David, and a few entries from 1883 and 1885 aboard the ship St Francis.  The transcription was shared with my parents in 1979, about a hundred years after it was penned.  The original journals were in possession of one of my aunts at the time, and probably now one of my cousins.

Reading through the journal entries myself, I find that Virginia usually wrote a paragraph every couple of days and mostly commented on the ship's location, the weather, the children or what needlework project she was working on.  So there are no enormous revelations in her journal, and much about Virginia missing her mother and sister.  Unfortunately, Virginia didn’t seem to include anything about the family activities while in various ports around the world in her journal entries.  In any case, I decided to select some of her journal entries that reflect the story of the life of a young family aboard a clipper ship.  It would be far too tedious and long to have included the entire transcribed journal in this blog post.

In 1878, Captain David A Scribner and his wife Virginia were aboard the clipper ship St David in route from San Francisco to Liverpool, and they had their first child with them.  The child, Wallace, was not quite a year old at the time. 

Tuesday, July 16 – Left San Francisco at noon in the tug boat Monarch.  Baby slept well all night.  Dave didn’t go to bed at all.

Friday, July 19 – Have a good breeze, made in the last twenty four hours one hundred and ninety miles, weather pleasant.  Baby is well, he seemed to worry a little at first but is getting over that.  Have been trying to crochet a little today but it takes me nearly all the time to take care of Wallace.  The carpenter is making him a little carriage.  The boy had him in the shop a little while he has had his naps. 

Sunday, July 21 – Pleasant and windy all day.  Distance sailed 112 miles.  Wallace has been a good little fellow all day, has had his nice naps… I read all morning, looked over the Pitcairn things & etc.  Baby is very much delighted with his carriage and very fond of the dog.  I shall write letters tomorrow.

Thursday, July 25 – Everything about the same as days previous.  Weather pleasant, ship steady and Wallace good.  Have been braiding Wallace a flannel shirt, it is quite handsome.  After he goes to bed Dave reads to me and I sew or crochet just as I feel.

Thursday, August 1 – Pleasant all day.  They have lowered our bed one drawer.  Put the pulley up to the bed and speaking tube up.  I have been washing part of the day …

Monday, August 5 – Out three weeks.  Had pleasant weather nearly all the time.  Have had head winds and nearly calm for two weeks.  Have got the wash room fixed up nicely.  Dave made a pretty bracket to put in the corner and another one for our soap dish.

Thursday, August 8 – Caught a shark before breakfast, I mean Dave did.  Have it for supper I suppose.  There has been any quantity around as well as dolphins and turtles.  Wallace has been very good all day, gave him beef tea this morning, he liked it very much.  Have done two more rows in my shawl, hope to get it done before this time next week.  Ship standing still, calm & hot.

Monday, August 12 – Pleasant all morning.  Ship going about eight knots.  Latt. 5.03 Long. 129.23  If we have a good run will be at Pitcairns in a week.  This afternoon had quite a squall.  I had Wallace in the forward cabin looking out the door.  The more he saw the men would run & shout the better he likes it & the louder he would laugh.  Lost my hat over board.  Was on deck with Wallace in my arms when the squall came up, hurried down with him and lo and behold my hat went a-flying.

Saturday, August 17 – Pleasant and fair wind.  We are now in hopes of making Pitcairn for we have been heading up better for a day.  Wallace has been asleep nearly all afternoon, he is playing now in the little room floor.  Have been ironing, washing and doing a little of everything today….

Saturday, August 24 – It is one week since I have written in this, my old journal, I’ve nothing particular to write.  Tuesday we sighted Pitcairn Island – was about twenty miles off, could not make it, if we had it would have been uncertain about their getting off, there was such heavy sea.  For three days we have done nothing but roll, just as hard as we could.  Wallace and I have sat on the bed nearly all of the time.  Poor little fellow he gets tired of it.  Of a night he has slept in my arms all night.  We are going about 10 knots today.

Wednesday, September 4 – Wallace is one year old today.  The time has passed quickly for I can scarcely realize it, a whole year since he was born.  He has five teeth … knows everything we say to him.

Sunday, September 15 – Here is it a week since I have written a word in this.  The time has passed quickly, still it finds us in the same place as last Sunday, we have had hard luck for eight or nine days, made nothing, had a head wind all the time.  It has been quite cold for a week or two.  Last night they saw large cakes of ice all around, tacked ship at eleven o’clock and got out of it.  This is about the worst Dave has ever had around here…

Sunday, September 21 – Have done nothing but roll, roll, roll for two or three days, and Wallace and I are both sick of it.  Fair wind though that somewhat reconciles us to the swelling.  Dave hasn’t been to bed for two nights nor has any sleep at all ….  We were married two years yesterday, it seems longer than that because I have been going around so much.  I suppose, it has been a happy two years to me, and him contented…

Sunday, October 13 – For two days we have had nothing but rain, have caught plenty of water and everyone has had a good wash day and got their things all clean.  It has been very hot and sultry for all we have had a good breeze until today.  Wallace has been a good boy and gets more cunning every day.  He looks aloft and sees the sails and can pull himself up by anything now.

Saturday, November 9 – Arrived in Liverpool.  Had a pleasant time there and in Glasgow.  [David’s sister and her family lived in Glasgow.]

Thursday, December 5 – Left Liverpool for New York with salt for ballast.  Had fair wind all day and pilot left about noon.  Channel pilot stayed until Friday morning. 

Sunday, December 15 – The past week has been extremely pleasant, have had some head winds, seen a number of vessels of all kinds.  Wallace has been well and very good today.  Have had fine fair wind and all feel happy over it.  We have all been on deck this A.M. and it was very warm and pleasant.  The boys washed Fannee [their dog, I think] and she is now laying in a chair in the forward cabin.  The bird has begun to sing again, commenced before we were up this morning.  Weighed Wallace Wednesday and he has gained a quarter of a pound last month, weighed twenty pounds and a half.  Have been working on Dave’s slippers, got along well with them yesterday and last night.

Christmas Eve 1878 – It is blowing a gale (head wind and the ship is rolling and has been all day) I am down here alone, Wallace is asleep and Dave has to be on deck… thinking of home tonight…

Sunday, January 19, 1879 – Docked at New York in the afternoon.

Saturday, March 10, 1879 – Left New York dock at nine o’clock, Pilot and tug left about half past twelve; had fair wind until evening, then died away calm.  We left mother at Mrs. Flints… before we left.

Sunday, January 23 – Have had very pleasant weather since writing last.  Today is lovely we have been on deck nearly all the morning, the chickens were on the main deck and Wallace was very much pleased with them, the little darling is not very well.

Sunday, April 15 – Have had plenty of rain since last writing.  Crossed equator about midnight last night.  Wallace has been just as well as can be.  He had another tooth through on the lower jaw… Had an awning up all day yesterday, so we were on deck all day.

Monday, May 19 – Have had a fair wind since yesterday noon, been going along 10 knots all day, passed Cape Horn about noon. 

Thursday, June 19 – Haven’t written any lately because we have had such rough weather… I have been on deck with Wallace this morning and it seem pleasant to get out once more.  Have made Wallace a half dozen pairs of drawers, hemmed a table cloth and embroidered a half dozen napkins the past week.  Have been out 96 days and haven’t got to the Equator yet.  Guess we will make a good long passage.

Friday, July 18 – Got the N.E. trades late last night and have been going along seven knots all day.  Lost the sick man last eve, poor soul we did all we could for him.  They buried him in the A.M. at four o’clock.  I have not felt like anything all day, didn’t sleep but a few hours last night I was so nervous.

Saturday, August 9 – Arrived in San Francisco.

Wednesday, October 8 – Left San Francisco for Liverpool.

Thursday, November 27 – Latt 56.11 S, Long 72.32 – we’re a hundred and seventy five miles from Cape Horn at noon, made 206 miles the last twenty-four hours.  I shall be so thankful when we get around and then the time comes to get in port…

Sunday, January 4, 1880 – Wallace is two years and four months old, height 2 feet 10 inches & a quarter, weight 26 pounds.

Sunday, January 11 – Made 188 miles.  Wallace is on the bed kicking and playing with his Father.

Monday, February 2 – Arrived in Liverpool.

Saturday, March 18 – Left Liverpool for New York.

Thursday, April 22 – Arrived in New York.

Thursday, July 8, 1880 – Left New York for San Francisco.

Virginia’s St David journal ends at the end of 1880, and while the journal notes many instances of her being homesick and not feeling well, what it doesn’t say is that she is pregnant with their second child.  Henry Dickinson Scribner known as Harry, their second son and my grandfather, was born on December 27, 1880.  I believe that Virginia might have stayed home with her mother during 1881.  And in early February 1882, not long after Harry was born, Virginia and David suffered a terrible loss when young Wallace died.  She and David were at home, and not at sea, when Wallace died.  I believe that Wallace was sick for a few days before unexpectedly dying at 4 ½ years.

There are a few entries from 1883 aboard the ship St Francis beginning in October.   And on this voyage David is joined by Virginia, son Harry, and a new baby daughter, Mary. 

Thursday, October 11, 1883 – Well we have had a hard chance the past few days, about as near New York as we were four days ago.  This P.M. I covered my pillows and made a pair of pillow cases.  This A.M. baby slept two hours, and I did a lot of picking up and putting away… Mary has been real good all day, and Harry out on the main deck with Joe all afternoon, so I feel quite rested.

Friday, July 25, 1884 – Ship rolling some, since leaving we have had beautiful weather.  I have not felt very well, but have kept at work every day.  [Virginia is pregnant once again.]  Harry and Mary are both just as good all the time as they can be.  Harry takes his picture books and goes to bed every night, looks at them till he falls asleep.  He is just as well and fat as he can be.  Talks all the time about Aunt Ella and wants to see her so much.  Do wish she was here, what a good time we could have.  Dreamed about little darling Wallace last night, thought I saw him standing in a crowd & he was a great big boy, but still had his long curls and the ribbon on top of his head – also dreamed of mother and a good many people.

And finally, there is one last entry for February 5, 1885 that notes that they left New York for Yokohama.  David and Virginia’s youngest child, a daughter named Ella, arrived on January 6, 1885, so in February when they left New York for Japan, the family included 5 year-old Harry, 3 year-old Mary, and the new 1-month old infant, Ella. I think that with three small children, Virginia’s journal writing days might have been over.

*  *  *  *  *

Key individuals:

     Captain David Alba Scribner  (1840 – 1911)

     Virginia Augusta Hale Scribner  (1848 – 1940)

               Wallace Flint Scribner  (1877 – 1882)

               Henry (Harry) Dickinson Scribner  (1880 – 1843)

               Mary Islethera Scribner  (1882 – 1959)

               Ella Virginia Scribner  (1885 – 1935)

- Jane Scribner McCrary

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