You may be sitting with your research in front of you. Stacks of folders and binders surround you. Papers litter your work area. Now that you’ve collected all this information, what do you really know about your ancestors? You’ve spent many hours collecting documentation. You’ve dutifully filled in your pedigree chart. But, you still feel like you don’t KNOW your ancestors. The females, especially, seem but mere names and dates.
Records like the census can help fill in the details. This is where you begin learning the personal side of genealogy. Instead of working to figure out if two people are related, take a closer look at those documents. What can you learn from them? If you look close enough you will find out many things like: when your ancestor came to the US, whether they could read, write, or speak English, whether they owned a home or rented, what type of work they did, how many children they lost, and so forth.
My Great Grandmother, Maria de Braga did not have an easy life. At the age of 6, she left the only home she knew in Maia, Ribeira Grande, Sao Miguel Island, Azores with her parent’s and siblings. Her parent’s had signed contracts to work on the Kealia Sugar Plantation on Kauai, HI. From the Census, I put together the pieces of Maria’s story after Kealia.
In the 1900 Census, Maria was 23 and married to Theodoro Pacheco. She could not read or write and spoke no English. She had 3 living children. Maria and Theodoro took in two boarders of Greek descent in their home to make ends meet. She and Theodore were just beginning their life together.
Things changed quite a bit by the 1910 Census. Maria was now 33. Theodoro had contracted leprosy and in 1907 the family was smuggled to California. As the story goes, Maria was pregnant at the time. She either gave birth aboard ship or shortly after arriving in California. By 1910, they had changed their surname to Smith to hide their identities. Theodoro worked at odd jobs while Maria stayed at home. I’m sure Maria’s days were more than full having only lived 3 years in Oakland, Calif., raising 5 children, and taking care of her husband in his failing health, and having her father living with them.
By the 1920 Census, Maria’s life was turned upside down. Theodoro had succombed to leprosy in 1914 and their middle child, Whilhelm, died at the age of 13 in 1913. Maria, now 42, and widowed for 6 years, had uprooted her family to Spreckels, California. They lived next door to her brother, Jose, on the Spreckels Sugar Plantation. Three of her four surviving children (her daughter had married at the young age of 16) aged 23, 18, and 12 lived with her. Her oldest son worked as a Steam Engineer at the sugar plantation and her second oldest was a helper at a machine shop. Though no occupation is stated for Maria, she probably did whatever odd jobs she could to support her family.
By the 1930 Census, Maria was back in Oakland, back on E. 25th Street. She lived with her daughter, Maria and her family. Towards the end of her life, she became very ill and spent most of her days in bed. In 1938, she died at the age of 61.
Read more about the de Braga family:
[This article was updated 8/1/2015]
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com