[This was written for the Fearless Females prompt for 1st of March, Women’s History Month]
One of my favorite female ancestors is Ana Jacinta (de Melo). I’ve always been drawn to her. I am not sure why, but it must have something to with the fact that she migrated to Hawaii from the Azores alone with her children. It must have been a pretty gutsy move for a widow to pull up roots like that in the early 1880s.
Ana was born in the village of Achada, Nordeste on Sao Miguel Island about 1835. The beginnings of her life is shrouded in mystery. No record of her birth has been found, nor are the usual notations as a Godparent or Witness present in early records.
She appears in Achada married with two sons in 1863. She gave birth to 8 children between 1862 and 1876. One of her daughter might not have made it to adulthood. Her husband, Jacintho Pacheco, died sometime between 1876-1882.
There is a family tale that Ana was married five times. The story ends with a suspicion that Ana outlived them all by nefarious means. I have found no evidence that Ana was married more than once. Though her absence in records until 1862 could point to previous marriages in another village.
In the early 1880s, Azorean across all islands were getting the call to go to some far off land called Hawaii. There was the promise of regular work, education for their children, and a roof over their heads. There was no chance of escaping the peasant life in the Azores for most people. They left in droves for a chance at a better life.
Ana was one of those heard the call. Well, I’m really not sure if it was Ana or her second oldest son, Manoel. He was 20 at the time. However, as Ana’s name is the one on the passport as head of family and not Manoel’s, I think it likely that she was the one who set things in motion. As many women as men signed sugar laborer contracts, so it’s an impossible idea.
The ship left from Feiteiras on the 14th of July 1882 and arrived in Honolulu in September. She had all her children with her except her oldest son, Antonio. He would join the family a year or two later.
I would love to ask her what that voyage was like! Most of the Azoreans who left for Hawaii were uneducated. They had no clue where Hawaii was except for the fact that it was somewhere on the other side of the ocean. It must have been incredibly and scary to embark on such a journey. They saw water for weeks on end and must have wondered if they’d ever get to the islands.
In Hawaii, they were sent to Kilauea, Kauai to work on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation. Ana probably worked in the fields in the building where women sewed the bags to hold sugar cane. She still had a young child to care for. My Great Grandfather, Theodoro. He was just 6 years old when the family left for Hawaii.
There is a tragedy that surrounds Ana’s later years. Her daughter, Marie, gave birth to a son, Theodore (named after my Grandfather). One day when Theodore was 10 months old, he was handed off to Ana. As she was holding him, he slipped from her arms. He died in the fall.
I wonder how that must have weighed upon her conscience. It makes me wonder if she was showing signs of senility or frailty. Perhaps arthritis had set in. At any rate, it must have been a horrible thing for her and her daughter to bear.
Beyond that story, Ana is invisible in the records. She somehow avoided being recorded in the Kingdom census in the 1890s and in the first Federal Census that Hawaii was a participant in 1900. Her name does not appear as a witness on marriage or birth records. The only record we have that Ana did in fact make it to Hawaii is her tombstone in St. Syvester’s Cemetery in 1902.
As you can see, Ana’s life is shrouded in mysteries and with alot of blanks to be filled in. Though she lived until 1902, it appears no one ever thought to have her picture taken. If they did, none survived that I know of. It is sad for me to know that without my efforts, her existence would have disappeared. Her crumbled tombstone isn’t even a reminder that she was here.
It would be great if I could speak to Ana. I would love to record the details of her life. I would want to ask her about being a young widow, taken care of her children alone, and what it felt like to leave everything she knew for Hawaii.
I’d want to know what it felt like living in Hawaii. She no doubt lived within the Portuguese community on the sugar plantation (they were segregated) so she would have had plenty of people to speak to in her native tongue. But, what did she think when she set eyes on people who did not look like her, spoke different languages, and ate different foods? Was it shocking to her to meet Japanese, Hawaiian, Filipino, and Chinese people? Did the unfamiliarity scare her or did she embrace it like so many who went to Hawaii?
Last, I’d also want to know if she ever wanted to go back home. Most Azoreans did not return. Their voyage to Hawaii was a one way trip. Did she ever dread leaving the Azores? It must have been difficult to leave all of one’s family behind knowing they probably would never see them again. Maybe she accepted her fate and once the ties were cut, she accepted them and moved on. Or, maybe the family story was true. She killed off a couple of husband and left so she wouldn’t have to face charges. I will never know!
My questions will be left unanswered. Some day, I hope I find other documents that will shed light on Ana’s life. Until then, I can only muse about what it must have been like.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com