Uncovering Family History in Chile

February 27th, 2012 by Smithsonian Journeys

Jeffrey A. Cole has led over 50 Smithsonian journeys to Latin America since 1992. Jeff’s research and publications have focused on colonial South American history and civil-military relations in Argentina and Chile. He has taught Latin American Studies at Clark University, Tulane University, SUNY-Oswego, Cornell University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Smith College. Here he discusses a recent Patagonia Explorers trip to Chile.

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Sometimes something really wonderful, and unexpected, takes place on a Smithsonian tour. In February 2012, on our last day in Chile and while visiting the port city of Valparaíso, our Smithsonian group visited a statue dedicated to William Wheelwright. Mr. Wheelwright, born in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, introduced steamship navigation, the telegraph, and other innovations to Chile in the nineteenth century. More importantly, on this occasion, his great-granddaughter, Margaret (“Peg”) Keirstead, had the chance to share her pride in his service with her fellow Smithsonian Journeys travelers. As we all lined up to have our picture taken in front of the statue, a Smithsonian banner proudly displayed, everyone reflected on the many ties between Chile and the United States, and how our histories are intertwined.

The group had visited Cape Horn on a beautiful morning, had walked among more than 100,000 penguins on Magdalena Island in the Strait of Magellan, and had enjoyed beautiful weather in Torres del Paine National Park, but this sharing of a personal connection to William Wheelwright in Valparaíso might well have been the highlight of the trip; it certainly was for Peg.

Smithsonian Journeys - Valparaíso, Chile

Smithsonian travelers pose in front of a statue of William Wheelwright, an important early steamship and railroad entrepreneur in South America and great-grandfather of Peg Keirstead (in the very back wearing a gray shirt).

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Find out more about our Patagonian Explorers trip here.

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