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Pacific Island Guide to Family History Research

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Island scene, Saint-Joseph, Île des Pins, Nouméa, New Caledonia.


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 Contents

How to Use This Guide

Using canoes like this navigators explored and settled the Pacific basin.

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
Written records that are available
Other sources of information
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
Step 9. Obtain and search other records
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 FamilySearch Catalog
    The Pacific islands are split into 3 groups: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Click this map to enlarge it.

  • For more detailed information about each island group, click on the links below. 

Table of Pacific Island Names

Cook Islands (Includes Rarotonga)
Easter Island (Rapa Nui)
French Polynesia
Austral Islands
Gambier Islands
Marquesas Islands
Society Islands
Tuamotu Islands
Hawaii background and case study
Hawaii research helps
Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)
Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands
Kiribati (Gilbert Islands)
Marshall Islands
New Caledonia
New Zealand Maori Customs and Background
New Zealand Maori research ideas
Capt. Cook, a British explorer, mapped many of the Pacific islands.
Papua New Guinea
Samoa (Western and American)
Solomon Islands
Tongan customs and research ideas
Tongan oral history
Register of Tongan Oral Histories
Tuvalu (Ellice Islands)
Wallis and Futuna Islands

Step 10. Share what you found
Pacific Island Guide Bibliography

How to Use This Guide[edit | edit source]

Steps 1 through 7 and Steps 9 and 10 are the same for all Pacific island researchers. They will help you get started with your  basic family history work.