52 Ancestors: Women Worked on Hawaii’s Sugar Plantations, Too

This is the fifth entry in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge. The theme is Ploughing Through.  I wonder how many researchers with Portuguese Hawaiian ancestry realize that their female ancestors were under contract, too?  My great great grandmother was one of those women.

debraga documents 029 debragamariamellosugarcontract497crop

This is the original sugar plantation contract that my great great grandmother, Maria da Conceicao (de Mello) de Braga signed before leaving for Hawaii.  The original has been in the hands of the Bonita descendants for many decades.

The contract gives us some details about the sugar plantation system.  Maria and her husband, Jozima de Braga, would be on the ship the SS Monarch in 1882 with their children.  It says that she would be employed as a laborer in agriculture.  She would be given shelter, food, and medical care.  Her children would get schooling, though agriculture work was also a part of their lives.

Maria would work out in the cane field hoeing rows most likely.  In exchange for working 10 hour days, 6 days a week, she earned $5 a month.  Her husband, Jozimas, got $9 a month for similar work.

Jozimas and Maria were sent over to the Kealia Sugar Plantation on Kauai.  The work was difficult.  Maria was 37 years old when she signed this contract.  She also had 3 children to worry about who were ages 8, 6, and 3 years old.  I wonder if she had help or took the youngest into the field with her (many women took their babies with them).  Perhaps the older ones kept watch over the younger.

The couple completed their contracts 19 Jun 1885.  A 3 year stint.  I am not sure how long they stayed on the Kealia plantation.  They were living on the Kilauea Sugar Plantation by the 1890s.  Maria’s health was fading.  She died in 1903 in Kilauea at the age of 58.

There are no photos of Maria that I know of.  Her tombstone and the contract above are the only records of her small contribution to Hawaii’s sugar plantation history.

Braga tombstone Kilauea Catholic Cemetery





52 Ancestors: Rosa Boteilho was a Tough Woman

This is my entry for the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, week 3: Tough Woman.

It’s not easy to flesh out the stories of Azorean women.  You are dealing with baptismal, marriage, and death records.  That’s it.  Often, women are elusive because of naming practices which involved taking a religious name rather than a surname.  A religious name that can change throughout their life.

Rosa Jacinto Boteilho was born 24 Feb 1824 in the village of Maia in Ribeira Grande on the island of Sao Miguel.  She was the daughter of Antonio Boteilho da Rocha and Antonia Leonor.

Rosa married Felicianno de Mello (aka Felicianno Mello Castanho) 26 Oct 1840 at Divino Espirito Santo Church in Maia.  He was 33.  She was only 16.  He was a soldier who had left the village for some time, but returned about 3 years prior.

This is a photo of their village and how it looks today.


To say that Rosa endured hardship is an understatement. Rosa had at least 12 children.  As I’ve worked through the obitos (death records), I’ve seen those children die one by one.  I’ve only worked in the 1860s and so far I’ve found 5 of her children have passed away before the age of 5.  From what I’ve seen in the records, I suspect some sort of epidemic came through the village and affected children the most.  One year there were over 100 deaths (usually 30-40 were normal) and 90% were children.

Rosa died at the age of 44 on 1 Feb 1869.  When she died, only three of her children were alive.  By the time Felicianno died in 1884, only two were surviving.  My great grandmother, Maria, and her brother, Jose.

I don’t know Rosa’s cause of death, but if they had written down heartache I would not have been surprised.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like for her to watch one child after another pass away.  She lost three children in 1863 alone.

She may be a strange candidate for tough woman since she only lived to 44.  I can only imagine the emotional pain that she carried with her.   She gave birth to her first child in 1841 and her last in 1864.  The fact that after each child died she continued to get pregnant and try again says something about her and her inner strength.   Or, perhaps I choose to see it that way.  I think it was a tough life, with much suffering.  That is why she wins the award for tough woman in my tree.  No one should have had to endure what she did, but I know, many have.



Portuguese Newspaper Find: Photo of Seraphim de Braga

I am a believer in going back to databases from time to time and rechecking my searches.  Sometimes I’ve learned things since the last search.  Sometimes there have been updates to databases.  Whatever the reason, it’s a good practice to get into.

The University of Massachusetts has been adding Portuguese newspapers to it’s collection for sometime now.  Recently, they began uploading newspapers from Hawaii and California.  These are of the most interest to me.

The database is a little clunky to work with.  I often have to exit and restart before looking at a new page or doing a new search.  It’s cumbersome, to say the least.  But, persistence can pay off and this week it did.

This is from the 18 May 1912 “O Luso” newspaper.  The article took up the entire front page.  It’s all about an organization called “A Real Associacao Beneficente Autonomica Micaelanese”.  I have never heard of it in my 24 years of researching Portuguese Hawaiians.

Most important is the photograph.  The man sitting in the second chair from the left is my great great uncle, Seraphim de Braga.  This is the first time I’ve gotten to see what he looks like–and that makes me very happy!

Seraphim had an interesting story.  My great great grandparents, Jozimas de Braga and Maria da Conceicao de Mello, came to Hawaii in 1882 on the Monarch.  They brought all their children but one, Seraphim.  It was a fairly common practice for the Azoreans.  They feared not making it to Hawaii or calamity striking them once they got there.  Some families left a child behind “just in case”.  Seraphim was that child.

I was completely unaware of Seraphim until about 5 years after starting my research.  The Pacheco Smith’s had no memory of him.  It wasn’t until I found his sister, Marie Grace (de Braga) Bonita’s obituary that I had even heard of him.  And then, I thought it was a mistake.  I wrote about Seraphim’s story in this article “The One They Left Behind“.

This photograph speaks volumes.  I only know that Seraphim was a carpenter by trade.  He was also a musician.  But, now I know he was elected representative in this organization.  To me that means Seraphim was establish and he had moved up in society.

Seraphim de Braga newspaper photo

Welcome to the family, Seraphim!  It’s nice to know what you look like.

Next challenge?  Figure out what this organization was.