Marquesas Islands

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Marquesas Island Chieftess in a traditional tapa cloth costume.
Pacific Island Guide  >  French Polynesia  >  Marquesas Islands


General Information

These islands are known in Polynesian legends of the Maori, Hawaiians, Rarotongans, and Easter Islanders as the Sacred Land of Hava`iki, from whence their ancestors came. They lie ten degrees south of the equator, are 4,000 miles west of Peru, and are the northernmost of French Polynesia. Population is about 1,800 people, most of them living on Hiva Oa.

The Marquesan language is the ancestor of modern Polynesian languages. Tahitian and Hawaiian are dialects of ancient Marquesan. Though 1,200 miles further away than Tahiti, the Hawaiian language more nearly parallels Marquesan than Tahitian. It is also similar to Mangarevan (Gambier Islands) and Rarotongan (Cook Island) languages.

The islands in this group are:

Mendana (southeast) group: Hiva Oa, Fatu Hiva, Tahuata, Mohotani, Rouatoua, and Fatu Huka. Washington (northwest) group: Nuku hiva, Ua Pou, Ua Ituka, Eiao, Hiao, Hatutu,, and Motu-Oa.

Historical Background

1595 Spaniard Mendana de Neyra and Quiros discovered the southeastern group of the Marquesas.
1791 Englishman Marchand Ingraham discovers the northern Marquesas
1792 Whalers visit the Marquesas
1837 Englishman Pritchard is appointed consul to the Marquesas.
1839 French commander Laplace intervenes to gain freedom for Catholic activities. War goes on in the Marquesas.
1840 Pritchard leaves for England to ask for British protection.
1842 French annex the Marquesas and land a detachment of troops at Taiohae, Nuku Hiva. Islanders kill 26 Frenchmen in Tabuate, Marquesas.
1843 The French protectorate of the islands is acknowledged by Britain, in spite of Pritchard’s return.
1849-50 French troops withdraw from the Marquesas.
1860 War begins in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, Raids of the Peruvian slave traders begin.
1863 Former slaves, returned from Peru, bring small pox to the Marquesas. There is a rapid depopulation, due to smallpox, drunkenness, human sacrifice, cannibalism, warfare, and prostitution.
1881 France establishes a civil administration in the Marquesas.
1914 German raiders are shelled at Papeete and exiled to the Marquesas.
1961 Taiohae is chosen as the site of the vicariate of the Marquesas.

Research Tools


Use the Family History Library Catalog. 
Go to the Internet at and click on the Library. From that tab, click on the Family History Library Catalog. We can type in French Polynesia to get a list of the islands and island groups and to see what records were made under this large jurisdiction. Then we should type in the name of each island group for records in that jurisdiction and then type in the name of the island that interests you. On Tahiti, records are listed under the name of the town. Also, we should do a keyword search on Tahiti. Over 220 items will appear.
Note: All of these islands are a protectorate of France. The people of these islands are full citizens of France. School children must learn French history. French is the governing language, and the civil records are kept in French. Jurisdictions are organized the same way
Births, marriages, and deaths are recorded by the government, and citizens are required to have an official government record. Tables are published by the government every ten years giving an index to the names in the records. This facilitates genealogical research up to the time when the French first came to the islands. They have been keeping records since the early 1800's.
Notarial records are available from the year 1862.
Large numbers of civil registration records are available from 1843.
A large number of oral genealogies and land records are also available.
Tahiti: 795887, 795889
Tuamotos: 795889
Tubuai (Austral Islands): 795889
You can use a Film/fiche number search and look at the descriptions of the following microfilms, all of which contain French Polynesian records.:795887, 795888, 795889,181746 Item 7, and 1515054.


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