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

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - YOUR POJECTS -

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.”

In­ac­ces­si­ble records

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

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