The One They Left Behind
By Melody Lassalle
For many immigrant families the thought of dying on the voyage to the new country was scary. These fears were especially strong for the Portuguese who went to Hawaii. The trip was long. Who knew what awaited them on Hawaii's shores?
Because the fear of the entire family being wiped out at sea played on people's minds, parents usually left one child behind. This child would carry on the family name in case something happened to the rest of the family.
It's hard to imagine that this was an easy thing to do. Parents may have been comforted by the fact that their child was left with loved ones. It must have been torturous for the child. With many immigrants being illiterate, there might not have been any communication between child and parent. They would have to accept the fact that they may never see or hear from their family again.
Chances for a reunion were very slim. Keep in mind that very few Portuguese left Hawaii to return to their homeland. The migration was permanent in most cases.
There were some instances when the child was sent for. Since the early Portuguese laborers were paid in gold, they were able to saved up money. There was a good chance they might save enough to bring the last child to Hawaii within a couple of years.
There were some situations where a son was of draft age and could not leave the Azores or Madeira. As their was an antagonistic attitude between Portugal and the islands in the 1800s, parents did what they could to protect their sons. Some were smuggled from the islands, but others could not leave. The fines were steep if caught and most families did not have money to pay the fines.
There is a case of a child being left behind in my de Braga line. My great great grandparents, Jozimas de Braga and Maria da Conceicao (de Mello) left behind their youngest son, Seraphim. It was 1882 when they boarded the SS Monarch without him.
In the mid 1890s, Maria became very ill. The family feared she was dying and Seraphim was sent for. It is unknown if he made the trip alone or in the company of a chaperone.
Seraphim joined the family on Kauai, but he did not stay long. By 1900, he was living in Honolulu. None of the de Braga's were living there, so he was pretty much alone. Perhaps the time separated from family had been too long. Ironically, Seraphim was the only one of the de Braga children to stay in Hawaii and make it his permanent home. The others went on to Oakland ca 1907 putting further distance between them and their brother.
If you have a family story that says there were five children, but you can only find four, there could be a reason. If no proof of the fifth child can be found in the US, you may have to look for that child in the village records where your ancestors originated from. There is a good possibility the missing child was left behind.
© 2004 Melody Lassalle
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