I have been working fervishly in the voter registration indexes for California. What a surprise to find my Great Grandmother registered to vote in 1936. It’s a surprise because she wasn’t a US Citizen. She wasn’t even in the country legally.
My great grandfather contracted leprosy while they still lived in Hawaii. He avoided deportation to Molokai by getting smuggled out of Hawaii. Family members were in on the deal. I’m assuming money changed hands. When they got on board the ship, they were the Smith family and forever they remained.
The family was fairly secretive about their identity. Even after Theodoro died in 1914, Maria remained someone cloistered. She stayed within the Portuguese community. She never learned much English, something her youngest son chided her for.
How did it come to be that my great grandmother was a registered voter? I’ve really got no clue. She was not born in Hawaii, so she did not gain citizenship when Hawaii became a territory. Theodoro didn’t gain citizenship before he was diagnosed with leprosy, so it isn’t as if they had citizenship before they escaped Hawaii. She is listed in the 1930 census as an alien, so she hadn’t been granted citizenship at that point.
The rule was all individuals born in Hawaii automatically became citizens at the time it became a territory. Those who weren’t born in Hawaii had to wait a couple of years, then they could apply for citizenship under US law. It seems 1902 was the year that this process began since I found several familiar names in the indexes that year.
I would love to see the original voter registration form to see what it says. It has crossed my mind that Maria might not even be the person who applied. Perhaps a cousin filled out the form on her behalf. I have no clue what type of proof you supplied in the 1930s. It may not have been so difficult.
As I fill in details of my family tree, I keep opening up new mysteries. My great grandmother might have committed voter fraud. Or, a relative might have forged the documents on her behalf. Either way, it bugs me as I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com