There is a small group of immigrants to Hawaii who did not stay very long. These individuals signed sugar plantation contracts, did their time in Hawaii, and left as quickly as they came. Most went to California, but some went to other parts of the US. A very small percentage went back home. These short term immigrants are incredibly difficult to research.
Why did they leave so soon? It’s uncertain what the motivations were. Economic opportunity may have called them to other parts of the US. Some people didn’t adapt to life in Hawaii. This was particularly true of those who came from Portugal. Whatever the case, they completed their 2-3 years sugar contracts then left.
It’s really difficult tracking these folks especially if they left before 1900. If they got their names in Hawaii’s first federal census, you will have a much better chance of locating them and tracing them back to their native country. If they left before 1900, the difficulty compounds. The 1900 federal census is the first Hawaiian document that places family groups together. You won’t find an equivalent in the pre-1900 era to substitute. There is the 1890 State Census, but it’s a quirky census with families recorded at home and laborers recorded out in the fields. It’s not the best source for placing family groups together.
If you are going to track your ancestor’s brief stay in Hawaii, you will have to know a few facts beforehand.
- Knowing his or her full name is essential. Try to find out the Portuguese forms as well as variants.
- You must know the names of family members including spouse, children, parents, siblings and their family members. Knowing aunts and uncles can help as families tended to live close to each to each other. The more you know about the family the better chance you’ll have of locating them.
- You must at least know the island that they resided on. Without this bit of information, it will be impossible to find your ancestor unless he or she is the only one of that surname or has a really unique first name.
- You may still need to know the plantation, town, or city that they lived in. Knowing the island may not be enough especially for common surnames.
What if you don’t have this information? Can you research back to Hawaii without it? It is possible. If all you have is a couple of names and ages, it’s going to be rough.
You will mostly be dependent on local records such as city directories, birth, death, and marriage register books, and church records. Knowing where to start looking is paramount.
Your research should center on working backwards from what you know to what you don’t know. Focus on collecting as much data in the place that your ancestor is known to have lived in even if that is a state outside of Hawaii. An obituary, marriage certificate, social security record, mortuary record, etc. could identify the place in Hawaii they originated from. Also, collect as much information on siblings and parents as possible. One of their records may reveal the details you need.
If your ancestors went back to the old country, it may be really difficult to find the trail back to Hawaii. Your best hope is to find their immigration records (ship manifest, passport record, etc.) Even with this information, you may not be able to go much further with Hawaii. The ship manifests may only list first and last names. I’m not aware of ship manifests that are available for voyages from the Hawaiian Kingdom or Territory of Hawaii back to the Azores, Madeira, or Portugal.
It may be possible to jump over Hawaii. This can only occur if your ancestor left behind enough information to either identify the ship he/she arrived on in Hawaii or you already know the place of birth in the country of origin. Having a unique surname like Remoaldo will help.
Researchers having to deal with multiple migrations and migrations that were brief have a difficult road ahead of them. Finding pre-1900 records in Hawaii is always a challenge. If you don’t know where your ancestor lived in Hawaii, either the plantation name or the name of city, it may be impossible to root out that part of their story.
© 2004-2016 Melody Lassalle
Revised 13 Sep 2016