Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy: Information to Help You Explore Your Roots
Sharing My Passion for Genealogy
My Portuguese ancestors came from the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. They left in 1882 to pursue work in the Sandwich Islands, now know as the beautiful state of Hawaii.
I've spent many years working on records in the Hawaiian Island, though mostly for the island of Kauai. I've tracked all of my grandfather's aunts and uncles and their descendants bringing many lines to the present day. When I exhausted that research, I traced all the associate lines. A genealogist doesn't really care who they research.
Because of my obsession, I mean hobby, I've collected a certain amount of expertise about the researching the Portuguese in Hawaii, their history, and their heritage. It's possible to research your Portuguese ancestry in Hawaii. You just need to know where to start.
Sugar Plantation History is Our History
Pau Hana is one of my favorite books about Hawaii. Ronald Takaki's book is informative and enlightening. Though the Portuguese immigrants are the main focus, it gives great detail about the overall immigrant experience. Anyone who has ancestors who worked on Hawaii sugar plantations should read this book.
The book includes a history of the sugar plantation system from it's early roots in the 1830s through the sugar plantation migration era and into the 20th century. There is detailed information about life on a plantation and how management treated laborers. It goes into the many levels and intricasies of racism within the system. For instance did you know that the Azoreans and Madeirans because of their darker skin were categorized as "Caucasian but not White". This affected how much money they could earn and how far they could go in the plantation system. They had less status and were paid less than Americans, Germans, Irish, and others who were labeled as White.
If you want to understand what it was like living under the contract labor system, Pau Hana will give you those insights.
Some of the Basics
Researching Portuguese ancestry in Hawaii can be challenging. There are language issues (Latin, Hawaiian, and Portuguese to be exact). There are problems with locating the records you need. Churches have burned down, records have been destroyed, and so forth. It can be a real pain trying to find anything on an ancestor before 1900 if you have very few details.
This is what you need to do...
You need to begin at the beginning. You can get a free pedigree chart and family group sheet on the web and through the genealogy software that you use. Those are the two most important charts to start with, so have plenty on hand.
Work from the known to the unknown.. The biggest mistake genealogists make is that they start in the middle.. Instead of starting with their grandparents and finding information on them to establish details, they pick their great grandparents who they only have the first names of. Establish what you know and from there you can build.
Remember, just because you know a bit of information, doesn't mean it's true. You should have documentation for every fact in your pedigree chart. In this way, you'll know you're starting with the right information. Also, it's good practice.
Start with these records...
Check out the latest census available and work your way back. The 1940 census is the latest one released. Work from 1940 all the way back to 1900. Then, if possible, check for Hawaii State Censuses for your locality. You to know where they lived, who was living with them, their ages, and what name variations they were recorded under.
Search for vital records. Try to find the birth, death, and marriage records for your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. It's going to be a bit tricky working with Hawaiian records, but it can be done.
Before 1890, the only records available to you will be church records. You'll need to know where your people lived and what churches served the area when they lived there before beginning a search.
From 1890 to 1910, Hawaii used registry books to record vital events. There are no original certificates. You may find a marriage license on file, but it's a rarity. The registry books have been microfilmed by the LDS Church and can be accessed from one of their family history centers. You can check their website FamilySearch.org to see if they have them digitized and online.
After 1910, birth, death, and marriage certificates are available. You can order them if you have a specific date. You can learn more about ordering certificates by visiting the Hawaii State Department of Health website.
Search for cemetery records. You'll learn quite a bit of information from cemetery files. Some cemeteries have been indexed. Check out FindAGrave.com to start with.
Church records can replace missing vital records. Church baptismal and marriage records might be the ticket if you are searching for someone prior to 1910. Here's the thing. Church records were destroyed or moved over the decades. Start with the churches closes to where your ancestor lived. Write letters to see if the church has the records or if there is another church that houses the old records. Sometimes you can find records for lost churches if you are persistent.
Use City Directories to establish where they lived. City directories are an often overlooked research tool. They can help you fill the gaps between census enumerations. They can fill in the blanks when other documents are not available.
There are many more records available for you to research. Many of them are being added to the FamilySearch.org website.
The records you won't find for your ancestors are sugar plantation records. While some records are preserved, there isn't much in the way of employment records. One of the most important records that you might find, the sugar plantation contract, only exists if your ancestors decided to save it.
What You Must Know to Research in Hawaii
It's important that you collect some facts before you begin researching in Hawaiian records. Let's establish what those facts are:
1. Get the names of your ancestors and their variations. You don't know how many Maria, Jose, Francisco, Joao, and Manoel's there are in Portuguese families! Try to get their first and last names, plus any nicknames they were known by. Include spelling variations, too!
2. Know all the family members. If you are researching Joao and Maria Souza on Oahu, you are going to have a heck of a time picking them out amongst all the other couples of the same names. Learn who their parents, siblings, and children were. This will help you recognize the right family in records.
3. The town or the plantation is essential. It may be possible to find an unusual surname in Hawaii without knowing where the family resided. But, if you're looking for any number of Souza, Correia, Pacheco, Freitas, or other common surnames, you will waste your time without a specific locality. You must know the island at the very least. You've got to figure out which town they resided in or which plantation they worked for in order to continue your research in Hawaii. Trying to research in Hawaii with anything less is useless.
Don't Skip Over Hawaii
I'm going to let you in on something. One of the biggest reasons that people fail at tracing their Portuguese Hawaiian ancestry is they skip over Hawaii. They figure that since they know their grandma was Azorean that they don't need to research in Hawaii. They may have even been told which island their ancestors migrated from.
Here's the problem. Unless you have the name of the village your ancestor migrated from, and you have proof of it, you could be wasting a lot of valuable research time. The fact of the matter is there are several islands to choose from and there are similarly named villages on those islands. You want to make sure that you are researching in the right place before you work in Portuguese records. You can only find out that information by researching Hawaiian records.
Let me tell you about how I wasted a year of research. My grandmother wrote up stories about the family. She told my that her first husband's line came from Madeira in the 1890s and that my great grandparents were married before leaving.
Wrong on all three accounts! My great grandparents were not from Madeira. They were from the Azores. They did not migrate in the 1890s. It was 1882. They were not married when they came because both of them were under the age of 10.
I spun my wheels for a year until it dawned on me that some of my basic details were wrong. Once I established the family in Kauai, I was able to get the names of the villages they came from and then I was able to jump the pond.
Network with Other Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogists
The internet is a wonderful thing. It allows us to connect with others in ways that weren't even imaginable when I started doing my family tree in 1990.
Portuguese Hawaiian genealogy is pretty close knit group. Once you start researching your family, you find that they connect to many others. And, then you realize you are related to about half the island.
I've set up a Portuguese Hawaiian genealogy group on Facebook. There are currently over 400 members. The purpose of the group is to share information about our family trees and about genealogy.
One of the bonuses of belonging to such a group is that it is entirely possible to meet cousins. I've met a couple so far. These cousins usually understand the family in different ways. Their information adds richness to my family tree.
If you're on Facebook, you can join the group. Everyone working on Portuguese roots in Hawaii is welcome! Just search for Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy on Facebook.
If you are ready to explore your Portuguese roots, there is also a Portuguese Genealogy group on Facebook. Search for Portuguese Genealogy to join.
Finally, for those who have Azorean roots, there is a group on Google Groups specifically for this area of research. Go to Google.com/Groups and search for Azores Genealogy.
They Brought the Ukulele
Portuguese immigrants are responsible for an instrument synonymous with Hawaii: the ukulele. The ukulele has some how managed to survive many incarnations. It even survived Tiny Tim's Tiptoe Through the Tulips.
The ukulele lives today through younger musicians. They meld the traditional playing style of the instrument and meld it with modern music. I don't think any does it better than Jake Shimabukuro.
I remember seeing him on a Hawaiian music special when he was just a boy. Today, he is considered a world class musician and one of the best ukulele players ever. You've never heard ukulele like this before. He is just fantastic!
A Society Worth Knowing About
I know very few researchers who've made it through their Portuguese Hawaiian tree without contacting the Portuguese Genealogy Society of Hawaii. The group has been around for many years. It includes a small group of dedicated volunteers who help genealogist find their roots in Hawaii.
They have a substantial collection of Portuguese Hawaiian materials. These can be researched on site or by mail (a donation is appreciated for their hard work).
If you'd like to join the society, there is a yearly membership fee. Membership includes a quarterly newsletter. Here is their address:
PORTUGUESE GENEALOGY SOCIETY OF HAWAII
99-077 Hokio Place
Aiea, HI 96701
The people in this photograph came to Hawaii with their parents in the 1880s. You might be wondering why the Portuguese left their homes for a place called the Sandwich Islands that was so far away. There are a few reasons. The people of the Azores and Madeira were poor and illiterate. They were in a situation where they worked on other people's land but could not own land of their own. They had no chance to improve their situation. Their children would be born into the same lot.
Why the Portuguese?
About 1860, sugar production was kicking into gear in the Hawaiian Islands. At first, they attempted to use Hawaiian laborers, but Hawaiian culture did not meld very well with the concept of capitalism and working to make some one else rich. They brought in workers from Asian--Chinese and Japanese laborers mostly. Racism against Asians were very high in the 1800s. There was a deep-seated fear that if too many Asians came to Hawaii they would take over. Don't mention that the White plantation owners would be mounting their own take overs of the islands. Asians were unsuitable laborers according to plantation owners as they tended to finish their labor contracts then return home or they moved to larger like Honolulu. They did not stay in the plantation system.
The situation in the Azores and Madeira caught the attention of Hawaiian Sugar Plantation owners. Research was done to see if they might be a fresh labor market to exploit. What they wanted was a stable labor force committed to living in Hawaii, preferably Europeans.
The Azoreans and Madeirans signed contracts which lasted 2-3 years. They were given a plantation home, regular wages, schooling for their children, and free medical care. In exchange, they had to work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, with very few holidays. Thousands of Azoreans and Madeirans took up the offer. They migrated to Hawaii as families. Thus, the plantation owners hope to have a multigenerational labor force at the ready. The children would follow their parents into the same line of work.
Why did the Azoreans and Madeirans Leave for Hawaii
If you think about it, the Azores and Madeira were far away from Hawaii. In fact, many of these people did not even know where Hawaii was when they signed their contract. So, why did this work so well?
The Portuguese saw an opportunity. They would have a roof over their head and steady work. Their children would get an education. They hoped they might be able to buy a home and maybe their children would be able to have better lives than they did.
The Azoreans and Madeirans were well suited to island life. The climate of Hawaii was very much like the islands they left behind. It seemed like home.
Hawaii was a long way from their native homes. As poor, uneducated people, they didn't really have the resources to return. Once they got to Hawaii they stayed. They adapted to their new lives and the mixing of different cultures very easily. By 1900, the Azoreans and Madeirans were already marrying people of different ethnicities something that the rest of the world was not ready for.
The Portuguese from Mainland Portugal Didn't Do As Well
The results were very different for the Portuguese migrants from mainland Portuguese who arrived after 1900. The Portuguese from Portugal did not like Hawaii for the most part. They found living on an island confining. They weren't crazy about the Azoreans and Madeirans and they didn't care for living with people from other cultures and religions. They didn't assimilate very well. They longed for the day when their contract ended and they could return home. Some of them did just that.
I'm proud to know this part of my personal history. Without my poor Azorean ancestors, Hawaii may not have succeeded in the way it did. The place where sugar was king may not have happened. Of course, it wasn't just the Azoreans who helped it to succeed. The immigrants from several countries including China, Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Sweden, Puerto Rico, Portugal, and many others deserve credit for how their hard work made the sugar industry successful.
Read a Novel Set in This Era
I've often wondered what it was like for my ancestors, especially those born in Azores. How easy was life in Hawaii? How hard was it to assimilate into the multi-ethnic culture of the islands? I would imagine that experience was somewhat similar for most immigrants, many of them never having stepped outside their village back home, let alone took a voyage on a ship to see another country.
Alan Brennert captures the spirit of the sugar plantation era with his novel, Honolulu. The story follows a young Asian immigrant who comes to Hawaii as a picture bride. Although she is not Portuguese, her story is universal. This is a good depiction of the immigrant experience, the meshing together of cultures, and the harsh realities of plantation life.
As I read this book, I imagined my ancestors living through similar experiences. The hard grueling work one needed to do to get by, the paternalism and racism that each group faced, and language barriers that must have made many feel isolated. Life in the Azores must have been very hard for my ancestors to endure plantation work.
I hope you found this information on Portuguese Hawaiian genealogy interesting. If you meet someone researching their Portuguese Hawaiian roots, be sure to let them know that it can be done!