When my grandma asked me if I’d like to write down our family history, I jumped at the chance. She sent me letters detailing my ancestors’ journey to Hawaii. I was so appreciative. Then, I realized she was so far off it cost me a year of research.
Her Version of Events
In my grandma version, Theodoro Pacheco and Maria de Braga were from the island of Madeira. In the 1890s, Theodoro and Maria with their children migrated to Hawaii to work on a sugar plantation.
I was just starting out. I didn’t even know I was a genealogist yet. I had no idea how to start my search or the fact that I should take stories from relatives with a grain of salt.
For a year, I spun my wheels looking for Theodoro and Maria.
Wilma Set Me Straight
I wrote letters to facilities in Hawaii, but they couldn’t find my great grandparents in their archives. You know why they couldn’t find Theodoro and Maria from Madeira? They didn’t exist.
I was persistent. When my requests came up empty, I found an address for one of my Mom’s cousins and set off a letter. I received a response from his widow and she offered to help me with my family tree.
It was during our first phone call that I realized all my first efforts were for naught because the only information my grandma gave me that was correct was my great grandparent’s names.
She said they were from Madeira, were married, and brought their children with them. The truth is that they were from the Azores, they arrived in Hawaii in the early 1880s, and they were children themselves.
Three strikes and you’re out.
Learning from Our Mistakes
It was fortunate that I had this experience at the beginning of my research. Well, thank goodness I didn’t have it later or I might have documented the wrong family.
It taught me valuable lessons for later research attempts.
- I learned that well meaning relatives can be wrong and not realize it.
- I learned that you should take family stories with a grain of salt until proven.
- I learned that no matter how fervent someone is in their belief that what they are telling you is the truth, you have to be skeptical.
Thanks to my cousin’s wife, I restarted my search with much more accurate information. And then, I actually found Theodoro and Maria in the census and other records. There they were with their children in Kilauea, Kauai exactly where they were supposed to be.
Years later, I used the information I had to find them in records from the Azores (not Madeira).
When I look back, I laugh at how far off my grandma was. I am sure it was the truth as she knew it. But, it wasn’t the true story.
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com