Tonga customs and research ideas

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Wesleyan Church in Neiafu, Vavau, Tonga, 1884. Image courtesy of The George Handy Bates Samoan Papers, University of Delaware Library, Newark, DE.
Pacific Island Guide  >  Tongan Customs

A case study with research steps, and description of genealogy resources in the Family History Library.


The importance of correct family lines is jealously guarded, and has everything to do with land acquisition and passing on the titles of nobility. These concepts pre-date the Christian era.

In the case of weddings or funerals, there is a very exact order of things to follow. Who is in charge and makes the decisions is decided by the extended family, rather than the immediate family. Every person is inferior or superior to other family members. A female usually outranks a male, sometimes going back a couple of generations. Each person must know his or her place in the family genealogy to determine who is sitting in the proper place in the kava circle, which has great importance in the social and political life of each person.

To keep track of family ties, many Tongans make a Hohoko map, which shows the descendants of their ancestral lines. The ancestral family is called the Ha`a, and most of us know which ha`a we are from. This is helpful in doing our family history.


People move from one village to another, so find out where your ancestors lived during their lives. Then study the history of the villages where they lived.

If you do a village family history project, non-member neighbors as well as members should be contacted and included in the project, especially the Nobles. Not many of the Nobles are members of the Church now, but their parents and grandparents fed the missionaries, and they may be interested in finding out more about this.


The further back in time, the more likely that a person has changed his or her name. If someone did something, proving themself in a certain way, they can change their name accordingly. Study the context of the person’s life, including parents, and other family members when dealing with name changes. On some Church records, the person’s
several names may be given.


On outlying islands, people would often wait to get births, marriages, and deaths recorded at the headquarters of the place where they lived. Sometimes, people did not know the exact date of their birth, for instance. One man had an estimated birth date on his record that had been given by his mother a few years after his birth, besides the one he had been told was his real birth date. When he had to decide which one to keep, he chose the one on the record because it was the same as a favourite relative, even though it was not accurate. It may or may not be possible to be completely accurate with dates.

Case Study

I am Tisina Melila Wolfgramm Gerber. My husband is Roy Gerber.

My father is Iohani Otto Melila Wolfgramm. He was born in 1911 and died in 1997. His father was Charles Fredrick Wolfgramm, and his mother was Salome Fo`ou Afu. Dad’s grandfather, Frederick Gustav Ludwig Wolfgramm, emigrated from Pyritz, Pomern, Prussia in 1885 to join others of his family, who were copra traders. Frederick’s wife was Kisaea Sisifa, daughter of Afi`a Folola Havea Tu`i Ha`ateiho and Ilaisa`ane Pita Haveatuli.

My mother is Salote Lasini Fakatou, who was born in 1915. Her father was Penisoni Kaufusi Fakatou and her mother was Selu Vaia Mafi. They have 19 children, of which I am the 5th born. My father moved to the United States in 1960. Following are some things I have learned in doing Tongan family history work:

1. Interview family members and write their information.
My father has worked and prayed a lot to get the information of his family, and so has my mom. We have talked for hours with my father and mother, and I helped them record in writing the things they have memorized and the records they have obtained. Also, I talked with my Aunt Edna P. Wolfgramm Burningham, to get information on the German lines.

2. Gather written records.
My mother wrote our family genealogy on a family map, or Hohoko. Many Tongan families have charts like this. She wrote on sail cloth with a ball point pen so it could be folded up and carried and not be torn or destroyed by the elements. The map is about 4 feet wide and 20 feet long. (See the picture in Step 5 of the Pacific Island Guide.)

3. Enter information into Persona Ancestral File or similar computer program.
Family members helped me copy the information from the Hohoko into the Person Ancesral File computer program. From there, it can be printed out as pedigree charts and family group records and entered into the TempleReady program to request LDS temple ordinance work.

4. Write what is learned and share the information with others.
We also compiled the stories of our family and published them in a book, Tisina Wolfgramm Gerber, Iohani Wolfgramm, Man of Faith and Courage (S.l.: s.n., 2001?) [FHL book 921.9612 G313i]. Testimonies, family stories and memories, as well as family history of our ancestors have been compiled in this book.   You also could eventually compile your family stories into a book, if you have the time and the means to do it,

5. Share the information with others.
Before we came to America, my father was able to get permission to copy the royal lineage charts of Amelia Tamaha at the Kings’ palace, and several other charts of Royal ancestors. He brought these with him. The family donated them to the Family History Library as the Iohani and Salote Wolfgramm Papers mentioned below.

Research Ideas and Resources

Most Tongans know the name of an ancestor who was a chief. Look for this ancestor in one or more of the following sources. Compare the different sources to get a more complete genealogy.

Iohani and Salote Wolfgramm Papers

Tisina Wolfgramm Gerber, [Iohani and Salote Wolfgramm Papers] (Salt Lake City: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 2003) [FHL film 1224623]. These papers include:

  • 95 Genealogy Charts of Royal Families, Nobles, and Chiefs from `Ahoeitu and Tangaloa and his son `Ahoeitu (the first Tui Tonga, 950 A.D.) to Tui Ha`atakalaua, 1450, including the Ha`a Túi Kanokupolu line. This is not a complete record, but only a few from the Genealogy papers of Iohani and Salote Wolfgramm.
  • Amelia Tamaha Records from the year 1844
  • Túi Latai Mataele (who came from the royal lines) book of records he copied from the Tongan Royal Palace
  • Veikune book of records of Queen Matáaho’s father.
  • 77 Genealogy Charts of Royal Families, Nobles, and Chiefs from `Ahueitu and Tangaloa and his son `Aho Eitu, the first Tui Tonga 950 A.D. to Takulaua Tui, Ha`a Takalaua 1450, including the Ha!a Túi Kanokupolu line. These charts are in larger print, with some additional names than are found on the 99 Genealogy Charts of Royal Families, Nobles, and Chiefs in this same collection.

Tui’one's Tongan Pedigree Charts and CD

Kakolosi K. Tui’one, Tongan Pedigree Charts Including Royal Lineages (West Valley City, Utah: K. Tui'one, 2002) [CD-ROM no. 1125 supp.; PEDIGREE no. 2182 pt. 1-71] During his life, Kakolosi Tui’one worked hard to collect the records of the Royal family of Tonga. He was given permission in 1949 to copy the records of the royal family. These records are on “maps” or hohoko charts. They are on a Compact Disc that must be read by a Computer Assisted Design (AutoCAD14) program. (It is not possible to see what is on the CD by loading it onto a regular word processing program).

The maps are 32 by 41 inches and cannot be printed out by a regular computer printer because they are in AutoCad format. There are 70 maps in the set. You can call Kakolosi’s children at 801-446-5362 and they will print out the ones requested. If you want to buy the CD with all of the files on it, you can also request it from the Tui’one Family. The family donated a copy to the Family History Library, which has the call number CD-ROM no. 1125 - INTL Lib Att Win.

A printed copy of these maps is located in the bottom drawer of one of the large pedigree chart and map cases in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. The call number is PEDIGREE no. 2182, pt. 1 - 71 INTL Pedigree File. Ask a Library Attendant for help in getting them.

Note: Because the maps are computerized, each map has a file name. Thefile name contains family names on the charts. They start with the letters of the alphabet contained in the map. Look at the INDEX to see the file names for the maps and the name of the ancestral couple of the decendants on that map.

Tongan Oral Histories

Kalolaina and Tevita Mapawere were commissioned by the LDS Church to gather oral genealogies throughoutTonga during the 1970s. There are over 800 Tongan oral genealogical interviews, which they gathered on reel-to-reel tapes. The tapes were transcribed, and the transcripts were microfilmed. In 2006, the tapes were transferred to compact disc (CD) in order to preserve them.  For more information about these oral histories see the next Wiki page Tongan Oral History.

Further Resources

Use the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog to find the records of Tonga on an island-group-wide basis. To do this click here, and then click on the blue underline topic of interest.

Then type in the name of the island group, such as Vava`u or Hapa`i where our ancestors were from to get a list of records made on that level. Then try typing in the name of the island and then the village, in case any records were kept on those levels.

To save time, you can also use a film/fiche number search to get to the oral genealogy interviews quickly. Some of these numbers are:795707, 796816, 795831, 795708, 795709, 795710, 795889, 795890, 795891, 795892, 795913, 795978, 795983, 1066597,795976, and 795975 item 4795913

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