Parts of Hawaii were enumerated well before it became a territory, and microfilm of these censuses is available through the Family History Library (FHL), including 1840 to 1843 (index only), 1866 (fragment), 1878 (island of Hawaii), 1890 and 1896 (Oahu). The 1900 census was the first federal census to cover the new territory.
You can fill in some blanks in 19th-century Hawaiian enumerations using two groups of files in the state archives loosely labeled “census.” These files, covering 1840 to 1866 (available on FHL microfilm) and 1847 to 1896, include records such as school census statistics, population census statistics, and summaries of births, marriages and deaths.
For such a new state, Hawaii’s vital records go back a long way, beginning with records kept by missionaries from 1826. Vital records at the state archives cover 1832 to 1949. Official birth and death records began in 1853, though records at the state health department are incomplete prior to 1896. Marriage records collected at the state archives cover 1826 to 1929 and are indexed to 1910. For copies of records held at the state level, write to the State Department of Health, Office of Health Status Monitoring, Vital Records Section, Box 3378, Honolulu, Hawaii 96801.
An important addition to Hawaii’s vital records is the delayed birth record. Kathy McConnell DeFoster, librarian at the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution Aloha Chapter Memorial Library and treasurer of the Honolulu County Genealogical Society, calls these “an absolute gift” to researchers. As DeFoster explains it, a birth certificate could be created by the state for those lacking one through testimony from relatives, friends, and/or neighbors. These records are sometimes several pages long and may contain pictures and/or signatures of the applicant. “Many are veritable treasure troves of genealogical information — everything you wanted to know about your family in their own words,” she says. Although the primary focus is on the applicant, these records often also include information on siblings and parents. Most are from the late 1890s to the 1920s. The FHL has 70 reels of microfilm of delayed birth records from 1859 to 1903, with indexes covering 1859 to 1938, plus 132 reels for 1904 to 1925.
Land records didn’t exist in Hawaii until 1840; the king owned all the land. Foreign influences led to the 1845 creation of a land commission, which recorded almost 12,000 claims between 1848 and 1852. Many of these and subsequent records have been microfilmed by the FHL.
Hawaii also has its own immigration records, with passenger lists from 1843 to 1900 available on microfilm. Note that separate indexes as well as some entirely separate entry records exist according to nationality of origin: Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese.
Your challenges in tracing ancestors in Hawaii will vary depending on your ancestry, says to DeFoster. If you descend from Hawaiian royalty or early missionaries, who came mainly from New England and New York, the task is fairly simple, as most records have been preserved. If your search is for a Hawaiian commoner or for ancestors of Asian immigrants, however, DeFoster warns your search can be very difficult. In addition to the language barrier, she notes, you’ll have to deal with the practice of changing names, in the case of many Asians, and the problem of not having surnames, in the case of Hawaiians before the latter part of the 1800s.
DeFoster cites an example of a woman of Japanese ancestry: When the woman’s grandparents married in Hawaii, her grandfather took his wife’s surname. She doesn’t know the names of her grandmother’s parents or her grandfather’s original name. In such cases, DeFoster recommends the state library’s collection of vital records in its Hawaiiana section. Since the woman knows when her grandparents married, information at the library may give her the record number that she can then take to the Department of Health for a copy of the marriage application.
When researching native Hawaiians, DeFoster says, keep in mind that written records on the native population date only to the early 1800s. Some family histories, however, contain traditional oral genealogies, so in rare cases it’s possible to link to pre-European contact ancestors.
- The Great Mahele: Hawaii’s Land Division of 1848 by Jon J. Chinen (University of Hawaii Press, 1958)
- Native American Estate: the Struggle Over Indian and Hawaiian Lands by Linda S. Parker (University of Hawaii Press, ca. 1989)
- Atlas of Hawaii, 3rd edition edited by Sonia P. Juvik and Hames O. Juvik, chief cartographer Thomas R. Paradise University of Hawaii Press, ca. 1998)
- A Gazetteer of the Territory of Hawaii
- compiled by John Wesley Coulter (University of Hawaii, 1935)
- Hawaiian Geographic Names compiled by W.D. Alexander (Government Printing Office, 1903)
- Hawaiian Islands: Official Standard Names Approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names (US Office of Geography, 1956)
- Place Names of Hawaii, revised edition by Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert, and Esther T. Mookini (University Press of Hawaii, 1974)
- Leslie’s Official History of the Spanish-American War: a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Cuban Rebellion, the Causes that Involved the United States, and a Complete Narrative of our conflict with Spain on Land and Sea, Supplemented with Fullest Information Respecting Cuba, Porto Rico, the Philippines and Hawaii., (Leslie’s Weekly, 1899)
- Unlikely Liberators: the Men of the 100th and 442d by Masayo Umezawa Duus, translated by Peter Duus (University of Hawaii Press, ca. 1987)
- Hawaiian Cemetery Records, 2 vols., typed by Mrs. Jessie H. Lindsey, and the Hawaiian Mission, 1942-1954
- Index to burial records of Lockview Cemetery: Pearl City, Island of Oahu, Hawaii, 1901-1937 compiled by Hawaii Archives Division (Hawaii State Archives, 1991)
- Index to burial records of Makiki Cemetery: Honolulu, island of Oahu, Hawaii, 1896-1954 compiled by Hawaii Archives Division (Hawaii State Archives, 1991)
- Tombstone Inscriptions from the Royal Mausoleum by George Olin Zabriskie (n.p., 1969)