Digging deep in the Caribbean
Alan Crosby makes use of an amazing online resource that helps family historians get to grips with their Jamaican ancestry
Elsewhere in this issue I describe my reaction to discovering that 200 years ago a member of my family was, in a small way, a slave-owner in Jamaica. This was a great surprise, and a discovery that would have been impossible 20 years ago.
I used the Jamaican Family Search website ( jamaicanfamilysearch.com), a remarkable and outstanding resource, which was for more than 15 years the personal project of one woman, Patricia Jackson. Her work led me down all sorts of avenues of exploration, because she had almost single-handedly transcribed and placed online an extraordinary variety and quantity of material relating to the island, its history and its people.
A single line in a will, stating that my relative was “of the Island of Jamaica”, was the starting point for a fascinating journey.
Preserved for the future
The website is now hosted by a splendid ongoing site Legacies of British Slave Ownership ( ucl.ac.uk/lbs), a very accessible project managed by University College London (UCL). In 2014, Patricia arranged its transfer to ensure that her work would remain in the public domain, secure for the future.
She was born and grew up in Jamaica, then travelled widely before becoming fascinated by the diverse multicultural history of her homeland, and its dramatic story of human endeavour, suffering and achievement.
An interview with her on the UCL website explains the origins of the resource she created: “I sta arted preparing pages for the site in Augustu 19999 and made them available to the public in March 2000. “As a researcher, I had seen how little was available about Jamaica for those trying to trace their family histories, and I believed that with the assistance of other researchers we could help fill that void.
“Things evolved even better than I had hoped. People responded by giving help in a way that exceeded my expectations.”
As Patricia observed: “The website includes many pages from Jamaican Almanacs that listed property owners and information that I had found in Jamaican church records and civil registrations when trying to trace my own family surnames, as well as those of selected families.
“I wanted to concentrate my efforts on records that were not easily accessible to researchers. I found lists of people in various books from sources, in England, of Jamaican documents and I hired researchers in England to make copies of those documents for me. After a few months, the archivist of the Roman Catholic archives in Kingston offered to allow me to copy documents there.
“Someone with access to old records of Jews in Jamaica did the same. Others with copies of old directories let me have copies. I wa was ableab le to g ge t MethodiMethMe thodtht odisod d is t baptisms microfifififififififififififififififififififilmmicrofilmed lmeded for me in JamaicaJamaica, tootoo. As the website grew, so did the list of people who contributed their work to it.”
I found my relative’s name in Patricia’s transcripts of probate records, and in the copies (with original images) of slave returns compiled by the British Government and kept at The National Archives in Kew – material I’d never have found without this site.
And there is so much more – histories of the island and its parishes, newspaper extracts, register information, title deeds and land grants to colonists... and everywhere, the underlying darkness of a slave-based economy. I’d recommend this site to anybody interested in Jamaica and its people – remember, there are thousands of British families and British surnames, the missing links on family trees.
If an ancestor was ‘packed off to the colonies’, this may help you in your research. And, of course, if your forebears migrated the other way, from Jamaica to the British Isles, this could give many clues to your Caribbean family origins.
A single line in a will, stating that my relative was “of the Island of Jamaica” was the starting point for my journey
The Jamaican Family Search website was a labour of love
for Patricia Jackson