Today is my pet peeve day. For the umpteenth time, I’ve heard a Portuguese Hawaiian genealogist (i.e. someone researching their Portuguese roots in Hawaii) tell me that they bought a subscription to ancestry.com and they “can’t find anything!” UGH! I hate those words.
Let me start by saying, this isn’t a slam at ancestry.com. Ancestry.com is great for many states. If you’re looking for someone in New York or Massachusetts, it’s awesome. But, they don’t really have much for Hawaii and Hawaii researchers should be aware of that before they decide to get a subscription.
Let’s take a look at the offerings. One of the things I’ve noticed when I look at each category is that many of the listings don’t really apply to Hawaii. Unless your genealogy leads you outside of Hawaii, chances are the Civil War, Revolutionary War, and similar databases aren’t going to do much for you.
The first category is Hawaii Census and Voter Lists. The first few entries are for the 1900 through 1940 Census for Hawaii, which are very helpful. But, after that? I see a listing of Cherokee records and a listing of soldiers from Brookfield who it appears fought in the Civil War. The rest of the listings might be helpful reference materials.
Now, let’s look at the next category Birth, Marriage, and Death records. There are 20 databases. Three pertain to Hawaii: Social Security Death Index, Hawaii National National Memorial of the Pacific, and Headstone Applications for Military Veterans 1925-1963. The rest are questionable at best. There are no offerings for birth and marriage records and there is nothing to help you with pre-1920 research.
I find the same problems with the Immigration and Naturalization section. There is an excellent database of ships from Hawaii to California that will help those who have relatives who either traveled back and forth between Hawaii and California or left Hawaii for good. The US Passport Applications may be helpful for post-1900 ancestry, too. But, the naturalization databases will be a bust, simply because Hawaii had a completely different process for naturalization of its citizens. The records were not sent on to a federal agency until the 1950s or so (I forget the specific date). Applications were handled at the circuit court level and kept there.
While there are some records that you will find helpful for your Hawaii research, be aware that Ancestry.com only has a very small fraction of what’s available for Hawaii. Beyond cemetery records, there are no birth, death, or marriage records, there are no immigration records for ships going to Hawaii from the Azores, Madeira, and Portugal. There really aren’t any pre-1900 records that the Portuguese Hawaiian genealogist will be able to put to use.
My suggestion is before you get frustrated, get a trial subscription. Check to see what it can offer your specific research. If your ancestry leaves Hawaii or if your tree includes some of the Americans who helped build the plantation industries, it may be worth getting a subscription. But, if your ancestors were immigrants and they stayed in Hawaii, I might hold off.
There are some other websites you might try first. Familysearch.org has a few holdings for Hawaii (including some birth, death, and marriage records), the Hawaiian State Archives has several databases including the Index to the Portuguese (ship index for ships going to Hawaii during the sugar plantation era). The Chronicling America website has added many Hawaiian newspaper which might be useful, too. When you’re ready to research in the Azores and Madeira, those countries have been building their online archives, too.
I don’t want to discourage people, but I feel Portuguese Hawaiiaan researchers should be aware of what they’re getting before they sign up for something. Ancestry.com is a vital tool for many states. But, it just isn’t there yet for Hawaii.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com