Top Ten tips for researching your Caribbean family history
- Names: records used for genealogy research tend to be riddled with spelling errors that usually occurs for various reasons. Main reasons tend to be:
- Officiating Birth, Marriage or Death Officer: tend to record names as they sound resulting names being spelt phonetically. Particularly common in early records.
- Informant: the informant may report the name of the individual incorrectly.
- Dates of birth: early recordings of baptisms and births registrations within the Caribbean community the date of birth is usually recorded incorrectly. One suggested method to use is calculate the estimated year of the event by add or minus (±) roughly up to five years either side of the year of estimation
- Place names: record all place names mentioned when interviewing your family and or friends. It is best to include the names of places that may sound trivial, whimsical or unbelievable. Further research usually clarify the name of the place in question
- Female line: when gathering information, investigate the names of female relatives within your family. Rules regarding marital status of the mother when registering the birth of a child to the mother were clearly regulated
- Record the data as written: one of the main golden rules in genealogy is to transcribe records as written or recorded within the document. You are most likely to get the opportunity to interpret the transcription accurately at a later stage. In addition, information found to be difficult to interpret at the time will become clearer with further research.
- “My great-great-grandfather was white”: careful investigation is required when determining the skin complexion of an ancestor deemed white (Caucasian) in complexion as reported by family. The ancestor in question may well be of mixed heritage or of lighter skin complexion born to parents both of whom may well be of equally light-skinned complexion. It is not uncommon that ancestors are reported to being white in complexion. Some records exist that have recorded the complexion of the individual at the time of baptism. Note of caution, the information recorded is inconsistent.
- “Is weh yuh want to know fah?”: at times when gathering information, a relative maybe reluctant to share information or may not open up. Give the relative plenty of notice when preparing to interview your relative, be clear about your intentions, ensure that the initial information gained relates to their ancestor that have passed away many years ago and not personalised to the relative being interviewed. Subject to issues relating to confidentiality, information cannot be published on living relatives. When this is explained this may reassure your relatives.
- Gathering information: another genealogical rule of research is to start the investigation with you as the starting point then gather information through working towards your great-grandparents. This may require guess work when calculating the estimation years of birth for each ancestor.
- “I cannot find the birth information for my great-grandma Mrs Mary Brown – why?”: as occurs in many countries many of our ancestors were not registered at the time of birth and even at the time of death be it before or during Civil Registration period. If your ancestor had siblings – record the names of these ancestral lines. Information gathered may lead to the strong possibility of identifying the parents.
- Be open-minded: this is a very important pre-requisite when conducting family history research. For many researchers family lore throws up interesting information when matched against physical evidence proves to be illuminating. For instance the extra child born in 1880 the family may not have been aware – this child may have passed away at or near after birth. The great-grandmother who worked for the Salvation Army and more.
The information is covered in more depth in the forthcoming publication of “Dig Out Dem Roots – Part I” (Publication date 2011).
If you have any tips that you would like to share, please feel free to send in your suggestions by leaving a reply below.
Searching your family history is exciting that requires patience and respect for the ancestors that brings worthwhile satisfaction especially for researchers with Caribbean connection the fitting of the pieces missing from the puzzle.
Created by Sharon Tomlin, Caribbean Genealogist & Family Historian
© Sharon Tomlin 2011