Thursday, March 1, 2012

Persistence Pays: a Myth Uncovered

Kalaupapa in 1890,  about the time my family lived there.
(photo from
Oct 2010)
A long-held story in my mother's family is that her great-grandmother died a Kalaupapa, the leper colony on the island of Moloka'i where  St. Damien, then Fr. Damien, served as priest.  There are a variety of ancillary stories -- how she really didn't have leprosy, how there was some jealousy in the community over her reputed beauty, how her husband and two sons went with her as kokua (care-givers), how she was actually sent to the colony but refused to leave when it was determined she was not a leper because she could not take her trunk of beautiful dresses (holoku) with her back to Maui.

PROBLEM:  There are no records of Hele'ualani at Kalaupapa.  No record of diagnosis.  No record of admission as a patient.   No record of housing.  No census entry.  Nothing.  There are multiple records for her husband and two sons -- admission as patients at the Kalihi Detention Center in Honolulu, transfer to Kalaupapa, church records in Kalaupapa, and records of their deaths in the register of the colony residents.  A cousin and I began to wonder if she ever was there.  We looked further.

This morning I found a computerized entry for a woman named Heleualani among a collection of Hawaiian Deaths and Burials.  This woman was born about 1846, and died at Kaaluloa (sic) on 6 Apr 1886.  She fits the expected profile, more or less, for my great-great-grandmother.  The computerized version of this record does not tell which island Kaaluloa is on, nor does it tell whether Hele'ualani is buried on private land or in a cemetery.  The gazetteers were useless.  The place may no longer exist.  It may be too small to count.  It may be misspelled. It just doesn't appear.  Anywhere.

The online transcription does not tell us anything else about Heleualani to help identify her as our ancestor.  I gave a copy of the print-out to my cousin to mull over.

A couple of hours later he called back.  "Could that place be Kaululoa?" he asked.  I'll know on Saturday when I can get down to the local LDS facility and read the microfilm.

"Read the land records you already have  Hele'ualani and Kaho'oilimoku sold just under 6 acres of land to Dennis Toomey in 1885.  Where was it?"  Toomey had fathered two of this couple's grandchildren, and was then living with their daughter.  I found the deed he mentioned.  The parcel was identified as being in Kaululoa, Kawaipapa, Hana.  Where we know Hele'ualani and her husband Kaho'oilimoku lived.

The source for the burial record is a register of burials from the Kingdom of Hawaii.  If this particular register is from the Hana district of Maui, we have found what happened to our great-great-grandmother.  She may or may not have had leprosy.   My guess is that she did, since her husband and two youngest children were known leprosy patients.  But she died, at home, in Hana, before she could be sent to Moloka'i.

Another myth created in family tradition may be shattered.  A transcription error may be overcome.  It helps to have someone with whom to bounce around ideas.  Thank you, Tim, for being that person.

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