Today’s tip is all about places. I spent a considerably amount of time going through the 1930 census trying to locate all my Grandfather’s 40+ Pacheco first cousins. I was very successful!
I noticed that a good many of them put down their place of birth as “Honolulu”. As I had done extensive research on these people, I knew darn well that they weren’t born in Honolulu. Many of them hadn’t even seen Honolulu except for the day they boarded a ship heading to California. They were all born in Kilauea on the island of Kauai.
I noticed similar responses in other records. Relatives from Achada or Maia on Sao Miguel Island putting down that they were from Ponta Delgada. Relatives in Oakland, Salinas, and other areas of California noting they were from San Francisco. Every single one of them wrong!
How could a person not know where they were born, where they were married, where their first home was? I know that some of them couldn’t read or write, but surely they knew where they lived…right?
I’ve noticed other researches comment on this as well. I think you have to put yourself in your relative’s shoes to understand this problem.
There was no google maps in those days. There probably wasn’t easy access to a world map or globe for most of these people outside of a class room. Newspapers reported on major cities and popular places. Only when a crime was committed did a small town get it’s name in the paper normally.
Our relatives knew that if they said they were from Kilauea, Spreckels, or an out of the way place that no one would know what they were talking about. So, they picked the most recognizable place name on the map–the capital, the largest city, or the most easily recognizable.
Saying you were from Kilauea might get a blank stare. Telling people you were from Honolulu made things easier. Same for Los Angeles, Ponta Delgada, Boston, and a host of other easily recognizable place names.
There may have been a bit of puffing of the chest to pick a large city as your home town as well. Many of these people had relatives and friends who lived far away. If you told them you were from San Francisco or Los Angeles, they’re image of who you are and where you now live you life might be alot different. It probably was alot easier to explain where those place were located to the folks back home than some teeny tiny town in the middle of the state.
It may also be in records, especially with our Hawaiian kin, that those recording records took the easy way out. If I told you I was born in Kilauea, could you spell it on the spot? If I told you I was from Kilauea, Kauai, might you be tempted to write “Honolulu” because that was close after all?
When you encounter a fact such as a birth place or residency listed in records, be sure to verify it, unless it is a primary document. Just because a person gives the information themselves about events in their lives doesn’t mean the information isn’t fudged a little or that those recording the information didn’t take certain liberties with the facts.
Unless you already know that your relative was from a major city, treat this information with a skepticism until proven. The real place might be something completely different.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com