Searching for your Caribbean Ancestors - A Half-day course on 15 Feb 2020

New jobs – new homes – a new start. Most migrants, no matter where they come from or where they are going to, have similar expectations. It’s typical of some of the migration waves that happened between the late 1940s and the early 1970s. ‘£10 Poms’ leaving the UK for Australia, and also New Zealand and Canada, travelled during those years with high expectations. ‘Windrush migrants’ leaving the Caribbean for the UK during the same period felt the same way. Both groups of migrants were invited to move by their destination countries. They felt needed and that probably heightened their expectations.

I think they travelled with enthusiasm and energy and excitement. And that may explain why their children and grandchildren frequently say they know little about their family history. It wasn’t that this generation turned their backs on their home countries. I’m sure they wrote home and looked forward to letters from their parents and families. It was just that they were busy looking forward, building new futures for themselves and their children.

It may partly explain why Adrian Stone sat next to his mother’s hospital bed here in Britain and realised he did not know who his ancestors were. He set out to discover his family history and, as he slowly uncovered the evidence, his tree branched out to more than 6,000 people in Jamaica, America, England, Scotland and eventually Nigeria.

Adrian is coming to the Society on Saturday morning, February 15, to tell the story of Caribbean migration. It can be complicated but it’s powerful. And it’s fascinating for anyone interested in social history as well as family history. During his research Adrian found oral traditions, documents and even buildings that created a picture of his family’s experiences of enslavement, emancipation and migration. He travelled from 20th century Bristol back to mid 18th century Nigeria.

Importantly, Adrian wants to tell us about the key Caribbean sources and to explain how to navigate them to the 1800’s and beyond. He covers civil registration records, parish church records, migration records and slave registers.

I decided to explore the Society’s archives to see what we held that might help family historians trace the Caribbean branches of their family trees. It’s not surprising that we have a lot of interesting records – we are the National Family History Centre and a UK-wide repository for family history documents and records.

The most exciting item I found was a CD in our Archive called ‘Genealogy of Jamaica’. It contains lists and indexes, with useful descriptions and background. What really excited me were the 1300 images it holds. Most of the images are of men, women, children and occasionally families. I just loved browsing through them even though none of them were my ancestors. Imagine how exciting it would be to find an ancestor’s photo. In case you are already walking out your door to come and look, the CD is in our Lower Library and has reference number WI/LOC/112639. Just ask one of the people on the Information Counter and they will find it for you. In addition to the images, there are lists of Jamaican manumissions from the very early 1800s. The notes on the CD say they have been extracted from records at TNA and compiled by Edward Crawford in 2000.

Our ‘Special’ and ‘Document’ Collections contain fascinating items, such as letters written home by British people who lived and worked in the Caribbean. The Collections relate to over 44,000 surnames and your family’s names might be there. Generally, you need to have a surname to start your search. However, there are indexes to browse that may help. For example, I searched the indexes for the words ‘letters’, ‘correspondence’ and ‘West Indies’ and I found a lot of material.

To take just one: the Bourne Small Collection has papers relating to Antigua and Dominica. There are copies of a newspaper’s classified ads section, dated April 1873. So we can see Thomas Ross, a sail maker in Charleston, looking for business. Or a company wanting ‘At this Office: An intelligent boy as apprentice'. There are letters to the Colonial Secretary in the 1860s from a person in Antigua, congratulating them on some tasks and complaining about others – a snippet of background information. I found Elizabeth Montague’s will from 1823, leaving her estate to people she barely knew in Britain. All the originals are carefully preserved in special wallets, but everything has been copied so we can easily read them.

In addition, the Society holds around 57,000 microfilms that they received from FamilySearch (the genealogical arm of the Church of Latter Day Saints or Mormons). These microfilms include material for Jamaica and other Caribbean Islands as well as St Helena, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, India, and Sri Lanka. To find out exactly what we hold, come down to the Lower Library and ask one of the staff or volunteers on the Information Counter to help you. The films are all held in secure units but they will find the ones you’re interested in and you can browse as long as you like.

-Sherryl Abrahart

Tracing your Windrush Roots - Caribbean Ancestry, a half-day course on Saturday, 15 February (10:30-13:00) with Adrian Stone. Places should be pre-booked, through our website or by telephone: 020 7251 8799 (Tue-Thu & Sat). Do you have a question? email the events department.

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