Pacific Island Guide to Family History Research
by Noël Neville Cardon
Because Pacific island family history is based largely on an oral tradition, researchers face special challenges. They need to use special methods. These methods are not widely known among family history researchers, so in writing this guide, we found Pacific islanders who had been successful in doing family history work and learned from them how they did it.The people who shared their stories and information with me were very kind and generous, and it is their hard work that has made this guide possible. Most of their names are in the Bibliography.
I tried to find someone from each of the island groups to interview, but was not able to get a case study from all groups. My hope is that one of the case studies in Step 9 will be close enough to your situation to help you.
Table of ContentsHow to Use This Guide
Latter-day Saint Pacific Island Heritage
Steps of Research for Pacific Island Ancestors
- Step 1. Write what you can from memory
- Step 2. Gather written records
- Step 3. Learn about customs and history
- By clicking on this step, you can learn about:
- Personal names
- Determining gender
- Wriitten records that are available
- Other sources of informtion
- Step 4. Gather oral histories from your oldest relatives
- Step 5. Organize your information
- Step 6. Organize your papers
- Step 7. Track your research
- Step 8. Find ancestors on the IGI
- Special challenges with finding Polynesian names
Because of differences in the way Islanders and Europeans kept track of names, dates, places, and life events, it can be especially challenging to find island ancestors’ names in the IGI. The following are some situations that might occur as we search the IGI, along with some suggestions for remedies.
Different ways of spelling names
Since the languages of the islands were not written until the mid 1800s, spelling was not standardized. Thus, the name Te Aroahenui may be spelled Tearoahenui or Te-aroahenui or Aroahenui or Te-aroa-henui or Te aroa henui. TempleReady can check names in theIGI as exact spellings or as standardized spellings. If we choose standardized spellings, theIGI will drop the spaces and change hyphens to spaces. It will keep the first syllable of the name and sort on it. Thus, Te Aroa Henui becomes Te, which is not helpful in finding duplicates. In summary, if someone else submitted our ancestor’s name for temple work, but spelled the name differently, TempleReady may not find our version in the IGI.
• To remedy this, we should search the IGI manually using all the spelling variations we can imagine.
Multiple names for one ancestor
Anciently, Polynesians were identified by only one name. Later, they began adding surnames. Some people were also given an honorary name by which they were known. Thus, it is possible that our ancestor was known by more than one name, any or all of which may be in the IGI. For instance, the name Tangata Tevita Niumeitolu Olakepa could have been submitted as Tangata, as Tangata Niumeitolu, as Tangata Olakepa, as Tangata Tevita Niumeitolu or as Tangata Tevita Niumeitolu Olakepa.
• If we know more than one name for our ancestor, we can remedy this by searching using each name as a surname.
For instance, in the example above, we could search using Niumeitolu, Tangata, and Olakepa as the surnames. We can use this same rule in searching other indexes.
Different dates of birth, marriage, or death for one ancestor
Polynesian genealogies are very accurate about names of people and their relationships through the generations, but since the old Polynesian genealogies were preserved by memory, only the names of persons, the histories and stories, wars and travels, and lines of descent were kept. No specific dates were kept prior to European contact, and even since the arrival of Europeans, few specific dates are available.
Different genealogists or tribal groups may estimate certain lines of a pedigree in a different manner than others. Since TempleReady requires dates to clear a name for ordinances, people submitting Polynesian names have had to estimate them. TempleReady only searches the IGI for dates one year before and after the event date we enter.
• To remedy this, search the IGI manually without using dates. If we find someone that looks like they might be a match, we can try to figure out whether or not it is the same person by comparing event locations and checking to see if they have the same spouse, parents, or children.
Different ways of entering the names of places and IGI regions
There are many ways of recording a location. For instance, one person may only include the village, such as ‘Uiha, while someone else may include the name of the island and region, such as ‘Uiha, Ha’apai, Tonga, Pacific Islands.
TempleReady will only search the IGI for the exact place we have listed. If someone else submitted our ancestor, but did not write the place the way we did, it will not recognize it as a duplicate. If they did not provide a place that is recognized by the IGI, the record would have been placed in the World Miscellaneous region of the IGI.
To remedy this, we should make sure to select the World Miscellaneous region as our region and All Miscellaneous Countries as the country. Also search the Pacific Island region for each name when manually searching the IGI. For Hawaiian ancestors, we should try using the United States as the region. If our ancestor had a surname, we can use the Internet site of www.familysearch.org and choose a generic search. All regions of the IGI as well as Ancestral File and some other Internet sites will be searched. If our ancestor had only one name, this generic search is not available. The computer will ask us for a surname, and if we cannot supply one, the search will not be made.
The ancestor is part of an ancient royal line
If we go back far enough in island genealogy, the same ancestors belong to the Maori, Hawaiian, French Polynesian, Tongan, Samoan, and other island peoples. These same ancient ancestors’ names could be pronounced and spelled differently in Maori, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tongan, Tahitian, Rarotongan, or other languages, even though they are the same person. We do not need to do the temple work for the ancient island royalty as it has already been done numerous times.
The ordinances were done, but they do not appear on the IGI
Manual Processing Collections, 1949–1981.
Before 1984, theIGI did not accommodate long names, people listed with only one name whose parents or grandparents were also listed with only one name, or estimated dates. Even though people with this type of information were not entered into the IGI, many had their temple ordinances performed, and that information was recorded manually on family group records. This special collection of family group records, called theManual Processing Collections, 1949–1981, has been microfilmed and stored in the Family History Library. Some of the names now appear on theIGI, but many do not.
• We can view these microfilms at the Family History Library or order them from a family history center near us.
The microfilm is located in the US/Canada film area, with the call numbers going from 1553385 to 1553391 (7 rolls). These microfilms list people by the island they are from and then alphabetically by surname, more or less. There is no overall index, so we may need to browse through all of the films.
Note: Searching these records is a time-consuming process. However, it may be worthwhile to view these records since they may be written in our ancestors’ handwriting, and since they may provide us with additional information that we would not have had otherwise. Follow the Spirit when deciding whether or not to search these records.
Note: An index to these records has been made, and is in process so it will soon be included in the Fmily History Library Catalog and on the computerized desktop of familysearch.
Records processed manually after 1981.
There is also a collection of family group records, mainly of island people, that were processed manually for temple ordinances after 1981, and are not yet on the IGI.
• We can view these family group records by calling Ruth Inman at (801) 240-2343.
- By clicking on this step 9, you will get information about:
- Island naming customs
- How dates have been estimated
- How to decide whether a name is male or female
- Other Pacific island customs related to family history
- The Cole Jensen Collection and Index
- Oral Genealogies collected during the 1970s
- How to use records from institutions near you
- How to use photographic collections
- How to use the Family History Library Catalog
- For more detailed information about each island group, click on the links below.
- Island naming customs
- By clicking on this step 9, you will get information about:
- Cook Islands (Includes Rarotonga)
- Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
- French Polynesia
- Hawaii background and case study
- New Caledonia
- New Zealand Maori Customs and Background
- Papua New Guinea
- Samoa (Western and American)
- Solomon Islands
- Tuvalu (Ellice Islands)
- Wallis and Futuna Islands
How to Use This Guide
Steps 1 through 7 and Steps 9 and 11 are the same for all Pacific island researchers. They will help you get started with your basic family history work.
Some of the information in Steps 8, and 10 are about temple work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon). Just use the information in the guide that will be of help to you in your needs. You will find that you will be skipping back and forth from one step to another as you do your research. This is normal, so feel free to do it.