Samoa (Western and American)

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Samoa (Western and American)

Hamoa, the native name of Samoa, means The Islands. These volcanic islands are located north of New Zealand and near Fiji and Tonga.

  • Western Samoa consists of nine islands. Savai`i and Upolu are the larger islands, and there are a few smaller islands.
  • American Samoa is smaller. Tutuila and the Manu`a Islands are part of the seven islands.
In 2000, the population of Western Samoa was about 174,000 and in American Samoa it was about 65,000.
Samoan beach.jpg

Research Help

Samoan Genealogy

For more information about Samoan Genealogy please see this article: Samoan, Tongan and other Polynesian Genealogies

Culture and Customs

There are migrations of other ethnic groups found among Samoan people. English and Germans were traders and plantation owners. The Germans were frustrated with the Samoan work habits because Samoans didn’t like to work in the rain. They preferred to stay indoors and celebrate or sleep during the rainy season, so the Germans hired Chinese laborers to come, so you find Chinese blood mixed in with the Samoan. Also, a lot of Tongan people intermarried with Samoans over the years.

The land in Samoa is owned by genealogical rights. Only the “half-caste” land (bought by foreigners generations ago when they would say it was for the Church (not the LDS Church) and then have the chief record it as their own land) can be bought and sold. This is a reason why people do not want their genealogies made public. People could try to get land from another family by disputing it.

Historical background

Oral legends: Pili’s four sons become rulers: Atua, A`ana, Tuamasaga and Tolufale.
950 Tongans conquer Samoa and rule until Tuna,Fata' and Savea drove them from the country. Malietoa (brave warrior) becomes a Matai title.
1000 Faiga becomes Malietoa. He abandons cannibalism by not eating his son Polu. He gives his grand daughters titles. One becomes Gato`aitele, and the other Tamasoali`i.
1550 A great woman named Nafanuafrom Falealupo, Savai`i is the ruler and gains the Tafa`ifa title. The Samoan high chief married the daughter of the Tongan king. Their daughter, Salamasina, is adopted by So`oa`e, the widow of the high chief of Atua district. Salamasina also possesses royal Fijian and Tongan blood from her mother.
1700 Tupua becomes the progenitor of the Sa Tupua family, who has the right to kingship for 100 years.
1722 Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen trades in Samoa.
1768 Frenchman Antoine De Bougainville trades with Samoans.
1800 White traders begin to settle in Samoa.
1802 Malietoa Vai`inupo is appointed king after the death of King I`amafana.
1830 John Williams of the London Missionary Society brings Christianity to Samoa
1835 Methodists and London Missionary Society agree that Methodists will proselyte in Tonga and leave Samoa to the London Missionary Society.
1840 Malietoa Vai`inpo dies.Moli Malietoa, Tamasese, Tui-Aj`ana, and Mata`afa Tui-Atua contend for power.
1849 Willliam T. Pritchard sets up the first permanent store.
1855 Goddeffroy and Sons of Germany establish a store.
1861 Maliatoa dies and his sons,Laupepa and Talavou battle over the Malietoa title.
1873 Peace is declared between Laupepa and Talavou. Colonel A. Steinberger of the USA helps the Samoans establish a government. Tupua Pule declares himself king. Alternating 4-year terms for each king begin.
1875 Steinberger becomes premier of Samoa.
1880 Talavou dies. Laupepa becomes king, Tamasese Sa Tupua becomes vice-king, and Mata`afa Sa Tupua becomes prime minister. They wage a bloody war for power.
1860-89 Samoa exports cotton. Europeans purchase large amounts of land from Samoans.
1888 The LDS Samoan Mission was established.
1889 A devastating hurricane hits. German, British, and American warships sink. Malieatoa is crowned king of Samoa and Mata afa is given a high position. The land commission declares foreign land claims invalid and purchase of land outside Apia forbidden to non-Samoans. Robert Louis Stevenson moves to Samoa. Dies 5 years later and is buried on Mt. Vea.
1890 Wars occur between Malietoa Laupepa and Mata`afa.
1899 Laupepa’s son, Tanumafili is installed as king by force of foreign powers.
1899 USA, Great Britain and Germany agree to Western Samoa’s independence and neutrality. They set up a multi-government. Kingship is abolished in Samoa.

1900 Great Britain and Germany cede rights to the islands east of 171 degrees west of Greenwich. Later, a few other islands are added. At present this is unincorporated territory of the United States. Western Samoa becomes a German protectorate and Heinrich Solf is governor for ten years. Workers migrate from Micronesia and Melanesia to help on plantations. Eastern Samoa (Tutuila and surrounding islands) become a U.S.A. protectorate.
1902 An LDS church and school are built in Pesega. Mission headquarters moves there.
1903 Over two thousand Chinese laborers are imported to Samoa. The Samoan translation of the Book of Mormon becomes available.
1905 The volcano Matavanu on Savai`i erupts and the refugees move to two villages on Upolo.
1910 Dr. Eric Schultz is governor of Samoa and the Malietoa and Tupua families are given titles as counselors to the governor.
1914 Western Samoa is occupied by a New Zealand force during World War I. Colonel Robert Logan becomes Military Administrator.
1918 A deadly flu epidemic kills one-fifth of the Samoan population (approximately 8,000 people).
1920 New Zealand administers the islands because Germany loses the war.
1920s Schools are built in Sauniatu and Mapusaga. The chiefs of Taup`ele`ele decide to dismiss their minister and join the LDS Church. Land is purchased, a school built, and the Mormon village becomes known as Vaiola (Living Waters).
1923 Major George Richardson becomes administrator and dissension between him and Samoans begins.
1929 The Independence movement (Mau) becomes a political power.
1939 U.S. Marines establish airfields and a radio station in Eastern Samoa during World War II.
1951 American Samoa administered by the U.S.A. Department of the Interior instead of the Navy.
1954 A Constitutional convention is held to prepare Western Samoa for independence.
1958 Native Samoans carry out most of the LDS missionary work because of government restriction on non-native missionaries in the country.
1962 Western Samoa becomes an independent country, which renames itself the Independent State of Samoa. The First LDS stake is organized in Samoa in Apia.
1972 Samoa becomes the first country to be covered by Latter-day Saint stakes.
1976 First LDS area conference in Samoa.
1983 The Apia, Samoa LDS temple is dedicated.
2000 The LDS Church has one mission in Samoa. There are 16 stakes in Western Samoa with 58,000 members, and 6 stakes in American Samoa with 13,000 members.

2008 There are 66,249 LDS Church members in Western Samoa and 14,514 members in American Samoa.

Family History Work

These research suggestions for Samoa were given by Raymond Purcell, who was born in Savaii, Western Samoa in 1952.
1. Fill in forms with the information you already know.
The first thing a Samoan should do is to fill in family group records and a pedigree chart of the four generations back from him. Also, if a person has his children and grandchildren, to record their information.
2. Ask members of your family for information.
Most Samoan people come to a problem because the genealogical information was passed by word of mouth from the father of the family to the eldest son. If the father of the family is still living, we should ask him to tell us about his family and his ancestors. If the eldest son is living, we should ask him to tell us the family information that he knows. Over the years, some of the names may have been lost and some of the facts have may have been changed.

3. Ask how you got your name.

How did the Purcell family get their name? Some English people were sent to Australia in my Great Grandfather’s time. Some of them stopped off in Samoa and settled there instead. My mother’s maiden name is Burgess, which is also from an Englishman who married into the Samoan lines. German names are also found in Samoa because of the rubber business.
Some Samoans took English names because it would help them get better jobs. There may or may not be an English person in our ancestry.

4. Talk to the older people about your ancestors.

My father, Mulivai Purcell, talked to the older folk who still have their genealogy memorized. He went back to his island and talked to the chiefs and asked them if they would be willing to recite it or voice record it. Sometimes he asked me to help type the transcripts of the tapes.

I donated these to the Family History Library and they have been microfilmed. Check the FamilySearch Catalog under the author’s name, Mulivai Purcell. Microfilm numbers for these are 795863, 795864, and 795865.

5. Pray for guidance and help to get the items we can’t get any other way.

My father had many spiritual experiences with genealogy. That was one of his favorite things to do. During this time, he would go to islands of Western Samoa. He would go by himself to the other islands, but when he went to the back villages of our island, I would drive him because he didn’t like to drive. He would place a tape recorder and cassette tapes with the chiefs. Then I would pick them up for him and he would transcribe them in his handwriting.

Sometimes the bride’s name would be left off the record, or some of the female children would be left off. That is where some of his spiritual experiences came in. At times he would be asleep. He would wake up in the middle of the night and go to the transcripts he was working on and write the names of the missing wives and children. Sometimes the names were not written correctly because they had been changed. Sometimes he had to get up again and write the names correctly.

Our ancestors want to be remembered. Sometimes children had been left out because the children were so young when they died. They were considered insignificant because they did not carry on the genealogy. He would find out their names and where they fit in with the list of children (first, second, third, etc.).

I think a lot of Polynesians lose some of their spirituality when they are suddenly thrust into the fast-paced world that we live in. We need our spirituality, and it is good to have the spirit of the work. It is not just to say “Look. This is my Great Grandfather.”

6. Try to find out who the missionaries were who converted your ancestors and contact them, if possible.

My great-great grand father was a true Englishman. We didn’t know anything about him until a lady in Springville, Utah, told us her great grandfather was a missionary with my great grandfather and he wrote in his journal about him. It was not my great grandfather who joined the LDS Church. It was my grandfather. My great grandfather’s relationship with the missionaries made it so it was easy for my grandfather to join the Church. He would have the missionaries over for dinner, and would have them sleep in his house. He was “dumb” enough to go against the decree of the Chief, who said there could be only one church in the village, and it wasn’t the Mormon Church. My grandfather told him he would do as he pleased. So he defended the Church with the village chief.

The property where the LDS Church is located in Samoa is the property of my family. We lease it to the Church for one dollar a year. There is a place for the Church, the Bishop’s home, a volleyball and basketball court, and land to grow some food on.

7. If you have ancestors who came from outside of Samoa, learn as much as possible about where they came from.

Then we need to learn how to do research for that part of the world.
Because of my English blood, I will eventually need to find out where in Great Britain my great grandfather came from and how to do British research in that area.

Resources available

The Cole Jensen Collection

An important collection of compiled genealogies from Samoa is found in the Cole Jensen Collection: Oral Genealogies and Genealogical Information Collected from the Polynesian Peoples and from the Pacific Islands. These records were collected by William Cole and Elwin Jensen over a period of 50 years and microfilmed by the Genealogical Department of the LDS Church in 1984. The original collection consisted of 51 binders. The original materials no longer exist as an intact collection. However, there are nine microfilms (1358001-1358009) available at various family History centers. This collection has family group records, pedigree charts, oral genealogies, and other genealogical materials collected from the islands of Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Cook Islands, and French Polynesia, including the Society, Marquesas, Austral Islands, and the Tuamotu Archipelago. 

Microfilms with information from Samoa are:

1358004:  Samoan genealogy, Woolley Collection, Volume 1: Mata'upu , Alisa Toelupe

O Maga, Selele or Aiaifua, Laula lula'a Johnson, Gafa o Frank Burgess of Neiafu Book, and Burgess in a collection from the courthouse in Pago Pago. .

1358005: The entire microfilm is of the Polynesian Genealogies; Gafa Samoa from the F. Wooley Collection

1358006: Samoan family group records, pedigree charts, and other misc. records with names, dtes, and places.

1358007:  Family pedigree charts of Polynesian families of Samoa, Hawaii, New Aealand, Tahiti, and Philipines. (the charts are not in alphabetical order).

1358008:  Samoan genealogy records from the Wooley Collection of Pedigree Charts and Llineages of Samoa with a 45 page index, 258 pedigree charts in alphabetical order.

Family History Library Catalog

The Family History Library has a large collection of Samoan records.
On the Internet, go to and choose the Library tab and then FamilySearch Catalog. Type in Samoa to get records that are made on an Island Group-wide basis and print the items you are interested in. Then type in the name of the island where your ancestors were fromto get a list of records made on that level.

Next, type in the name of the village where your ancestors came from to see if any records were made on that level. Click on the record types that interest you, and print out the lists you get.

To get the oral genealogies, select Samoa – Genealogy and Western Samoa. The title is Samoa oral genealogy project. On the list are Oral genealogy interviews which were done in Samoa by Mulivai Purcell and Tagomoa Matua. A few were done in Independence, Missouri, and in Salt Lake City, Utah. More than 100 interviews were recorded. Some of the tapes were not transcribed. If we look this up in the catalog and get the film notes, we can see the surnames of the families represented on each tape and film. Microfilm numbers for these are 795863, 795864, and 795865.

Also use a film/fiche number search for these same records by typing in microfilm number 795863, which gives an inventory of the tapes and interviews in item 1. Films795864 and 795889 contain transcripts of the interviews. Other oral genealogies are on numbers 823779, 823780, and 823781.

Some civil registrations are available from 1876, 1900, and full registrations are available from 1905, along with many oral genealogies.

Example below.  This chart will be updated as the oral genealogies are made available on the Internet.

Last Name First Names Residence About place
Tape mp3
Atualevao Atoa Nua Tutuila 10
795889 Item 10


As a territory of the United States, American Samoa, has no first-order administrative divisions as defined by the US Government, but there are three districts and two islands at the second order: Eastern District, Manu'a District, Rose Island, Swains Island, Western District.

External Links

Wiki articles desctibing online collections are found at: