How to Trace Your Native Hawaiian Genealogy

Hawaiian genealogy
Images from Hawai‘i State Archives

Native Hawaiian genealogy presents an idiosyncratic slew of challenges and familial puzzles to solve.

With blood-quantum requirements to apply for Hawaiian Home Lands and documented proof of Native Hawaiian ancestry needed for admission to Kamehameha Schools, scholarships, and financial aid, Hawaiian families are trying their best to gather information and create their own genealogical charts.

Below is a primer on how to begin your genealogical research.

HOW TO BEGIN

1. Gather as much information as possible about your family, including surnames and maiden names of your parents, your grandparents, their parents, siblings, spouses, and children. If dates of births, marriages, or deaths or where they lived is unknown, try to approximate.

2. Start with online resources, including Ulukau.org, Ancestry.com, Hawai‘i State Archives Digital Collections, and Familysearch.org. Look up family names in the indexes, and record any findings. Note: While Ancestry.com’s searchable census database is unmatched, Hawaiian names are often misspelled in it, so you should double-check the documents.

3. Once you’ve exhausted online resources and know what you want to research, decide where you want to visit. If you found a name in an index, retrieve those documents.

RESOURCES

Birth, Marriage, and Death Certificates

The Hawai‘i State Department of Health holds certificates of birth, marriages, and death records from the early 1900s to present. For records prior to 1929, the Hawai‘i State Archives has a collection of these also. Indexes to these can be found online at Ulukau.org. The Hawai‘i State Public Library also has an index to births, marriages, and deaths from 1909 to 1949.

Certificates of Hawaiian Birth

From 1911 to 1972, the Certificate of Hawaiian Birth program registered all births that occurred in Hawai‘i and weren’t certified. The Territory of Hawai‘i asked each person to testify and produce witnesses to their birth in Hawai‘i, making this an invaluable resource. The LDS Mormon Family History Centers have an index to these, and certain locations have testimonies as well. Certified copies of birth certificates and transcribed testimonies are available through the Hawai‘i State Department of Health. Be sure to order the testimony when requesting the certificate.

Census Records

Race, relationships to head of household, ages, marital statuses, and birthdates are some information found in census records. The Hawai‘i State Archives has census records for 1866, 1878, 1890, and 1896. The Hawai‘i State Library holds copies of the U.S. Census from 1900 to 1930.

Probates & Wills

Probate records from 1847 to 1917 are located at the Hawai‘i State Archives, with an index available at Ulukau.org. These records link parents to children, which is especially handy for adoption searches, and include an inventory of property. Often, probates and land deeds are in Hawaiian.

Church Records

Once the kapu system was abolished, Hawaiians joined Christian churches. Church documentation may help push back genealogical charts. Hawaiians were mostly converts to Latter-Day Saints, Catholics, and Congregationalists.

Land Records

The Māhele required Hawaiians to explain their rights to own property. Native and Foreign Testimony can be found at the Hawai‘i State Archives and LDS Family History Centers.

Court Records

Circuit court divorce records from 1849 to 1915 are available at LDS Mormon Family History Centers. Divorces (1848-1915), equity files (1851-1914), criminal cases (1848-1914), minutes (1848-1960), and civil cases (1848-1916) can be found at the Hawai‘i State Archives. Divorce indexes are found on Ulukau.org.

Newspapers & Obituaries

Genealogies, births, marriages, deaths, and obituaries were sometimes printed in Hawaiian newspapers. A partial index from 1850 to 1950 can be found at LDS Mormon Family History Centers, the Hawai‘i State Archives, and Hamilton Library. Hamilton also has an index of 1929-1985 newspaper clippings on microfiche.