Using City Directories to Determine the Plantation Your Ancestor Worked For in Hawaii

Using City Directories to Determine the Plantation Your Ancestor Worked For in Hawaii

Sugar plantations were a big part of our Portuguese Hawaiian ancestors’ lives. The plantation provided them with a place to live, a job, schooling for their children, monthly wages, and a sense of community. Our ancestors’ lives revolved around the plantation whether at home, work, or play.

Difficulties Finding the Name of the Plantation

For the majority of us, our ancestors left no clues as to which plantation they lived and worked on. Rare is the researcher who locates the actual plantation contract their ancestor signed. Census records may tell which plantation a person worked on. However, that bit of information was left entirely to the discretion of the enumerator. Sometimes we are lucky and the enumerator wrote the exact name of the plantation on the census sheet.

Immigration records don’t have any information as to where a person settled once they passed through Honolulu. Nowhere in the passport, ship manifest, or consulate logs is there a space for “plantation contracted to work for”.

The only viable source for plantation records is the Hawaiian Sugar Plantation Archives. However, those records are not easily accessible and do not cover all plantations.  It is almost impossible to find your ancestor within those records unless you know which plantation to start with.

City Directories Can Help Recover the Plantation Name

An often-overlooked source of information is city directories. The city directory was the predecessor to the modern telephone book. It provided far more details about a person than telephone books ever did. Early city directories listed the person’s name, address, occupation, and where they worked. Later, spouse’s name, whether they owned or rented, and if they were widowed (with the deceased spouse’s name given) were added to the above information.

City directories for Hawaii started about 1880. This may be the earliest record you’ll find of your ancestor’s employment outside the 1890 Census. The 1890 Census does not exist for all areas of Hawaii, so city directories are a better bet.  Keep in mind that the earlier city directories didn’t always list laborers.

What Information Will You Find?

Most of us will be focusing on the 1890s and early 1900s.  This is a sample from an 1892 Hawaii City Directory:

1892 City Directory for Hawaii
1892 City Directory for Hawaii

Let’s look at the first Pacheco entry since he is one of mine.

Pacheco, Antone, steam plow engineer, Kilauea Sugar Co., Kilauea

The entry tells us that Antone Pacheco worked for the Kilauea Sugar Plantation as a steam plow engineer and that he lived in Kilauea.  We can probably assume Antone lived at the same plantation where he worked.

Here’s another example from the page:

Palmer, J. A., bookkeeper, Haw Sugar Co and Postmaster, Makaweli

This person was a bookkeeper for Hawaiian Sugar Co., he was Postmaster, and he resided in Makaweli. Did he live on the grounds of the Hawaiian Sugar Co.?  First, we would have to determine if the Hawaiian Sugar Co. was in Makaweli.  Since he held two jobs and both were office type jobs, I’m not sure we should assume he lived on the plantation grounds, though.

This is an example from the 1937 Polk City Directory for Honolulu:

1937 Polks city Directory for Hawaii
1937 City Directory for Honolulu

The 1937 Polk City Directory takes a different format.  Women are listed in some cases. House addresses are given so it’s not quite as clear if a person worked and lived on the plantation.  It might be possible to find a gazetteer or other reference book to see if the street fell into the area of the plantation.

A Help and a Hindrance

The above examples show the promise and pitfalls of using city directories. When the information is clear, it’s wonderful.  But, it becomes difficult to determine if you have the right person if only an initial is given for the first name or the dreaded “Mrs” is used to identify a woman.

“Husted’s Directory of Honolulu and the Hawaiian Territory, 1900-1901” gives many examples of how hard the task might be. The section for Oahu lists 5 individuals named Manuel Pacheco. The section for the islands of Kauai and Niihau has 23 Souza’s and 11 Silva’s. The 1900-1901 directory is relatively small. Can you imagine how many people with the same surname are listed by 1910?

If your ancestor’s name isn’t common, you can be more certain that you‘ve found the right person. And, if you already know where your ancestor lived, you can narrow things down by comparing locations.

There is also a benefit when using the city directory in conjunction with census records.  It may be possible to find people enumerated in groups in the census, then see how this matches up to the city directory.  Chances are those enumerated close together are from the same plantation.

Where to Find Hawaiian City Directories

The best place to start is the University of Manoa’s eVols website.  They have several volumes from 1880 to 1924.  You can find the complete list at this web address:  Each title is available as a PDF file.  Warning!  They make take a long time to download depending on your internet connection.

Other Sources:
The Family History Library of the LDS Church has microfilmed some volumes. You’ll need to check the catalog to find out which years are available.  These may be viewed at a local family history center.

The Hawaiian Historical Society, 560 Kawaiahau St., Honolulu, HI 96813, has city directories dating to the 1890s. They will copy specific surnames, but not the entire book, for a small fee. has the 1890 City Directory for all of Hawaii. You must pay a subscription fee in order to access the city directory.

With all these faults, the city directory is your best chance to discover the name of the plantation your pre-1910 ancestor worked on. The potential to learn the plantation name far outweighs the negatives.  They are well worth researching.


upd 8/7/2015
© 2002-2015 Melody Lassalle

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2 thoughts on “Using City Directories to Determine the Plantation Your Ancestor Worked For in Hawaii

  1. My grandfather was Joe Pacheco. Born and raised in Hawaii. We don’t know much about his relatives. But I have one or two pictures. Do you know more?

  2. N, what part of Hawaii was your grandfather from? If he was from Kauai, we might connect. My Pachecos were not on any other island. If you’re interested in pursuing your genealogy, join the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy Group on Facebook. We have an active, helpful group. Thanks for your comments!

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