Born on 18 February 1967 in Cardiff, Colin Ray Jackson says he feels he’s a Welshman through and through. However, the Olympic medal winner is also descended from Jamaican immigrants and is fascinated by his rich ethnic heritage. To find out more, Colin decides to take a DNA test to find out where his roots lie.
While waiting for the results of the test, Colin starts the research process by talking to his family. The first family member to come to the UK was Colin’s maternal grandfather, the splendidly-named Everil Emmanuel Augustus Dunkley (known as Dee for short) who arrived from Jamaica in 1955. He settled in Cardiff because of the work opportunities provided by the coal and steel industries.
His wife, Maria Rosyln, born in Panama, had returned there from Jamaica to look after her own sick father when Colin’s mum Angela was 14. Unfortunately the marriage broke down and Dee moved the children to set up life in Wales. Sadly, Maria Roslyn wasn’t able to regain custody of her children and did not see them for 40 years when she finally visited them in Wales.
Dee’s four-bedroom home in Wales had enough space to house Angela, her sister Winsome and her brother Tony. The spare room was let to fellow immigrants and one of them, Ossie, came over in 1962 and fell in love with Angela. Ossie and Angela married and settled down to start a family in Cardiff.
Colin decides to go to Jamaica to have a look first at his father’s side of the family. Although it’s been many years since he last visited the country, his initial nerves are allayed by the results of his DNA test, which reveal him to be 55% sub-Saharan African, 38% European, and 7% Native American – the last result coming as quite a surprise!
Keen to work out where this unusual genetic make-up comes from, Colin learns more about the background to his Native American ancestry. When Jamaica was first colonised by the Spanish, their arrival largely spelled the end for the native Taino Indians. Some managed to survive inland, but most either succumbed to the sword or diseases brought by the European invaders.
When the British took the island from Spain in 1655, they established sugar plantations and began to import slaves from Africa to work them. Colin’s 7% Native American DNA shows that he is descended from the Tainos, which is where he probably gets his high cheekbones, almond eyes and open face.
The Tainos mixed with slaves who had escaped from the Spanish and who made their own ‘Maroon’ communities, so it’s possible that Colin’s remote ancestors were Maroons – or cimarrones (from the Spanish cima, or summit). So successful were the Maroons that in 1739 the British drew up a formal treaty with them in order to legitimise their self-government, although rebellions continued throughout the 18th century. Learning this, Colin wonders whether it could be the root of his own rebellious and determined nature.
A genetic cocktail
At the Spanish Town Record Office, Colin is able to trace his paternal grandmother, Marie Wilson, and her parents, Jacob and Eugenia. Colin’s own father still has cousins living on the island – Speedy, Alderman and Justin – and they tell Colin more details about his great grandparents and their ten children. What’s more, Colin uncovers a sporting streak: two close forbears were called Speedy and one first cousin once removed had been a boxer.
Archives going back earlier than the 1880s in Jamaica are rare, but Colin meets local genealogist Cynthia Roser, who has been able to track down Colin’s’ 2x great grandfather, Adam Wilson. He was almost certainly born a slave, but would have become emancipated as a result of the abolition of slavery by the British in 1834. Slaves were buried in unmarked graves, so although Colin can only get an idea of where his earlier forbears might rest, he visits the likely burial plots of Jacob Wilson and his father Adam Wilson Jnr in the former slave cemetery of the Greenmount Plantation where they worked.
Colin then turns his attention to his mother’s ancestry. An old photograph of her mother, his grandmother, shows a woman whose skin was strikingly light. From her birth certificate he learns that his great grandparents were Richard Augustus Packer and Gladys Campbell, the latter born in 1888. The surname Campbell suggests a Scottish link already supposed by family tradition, and a little more research reveals his maternal 2x great grandparents to be Duncan M. Campbell and Albertina Wallace.
There was a sizeable Scottish community in Kingston in the 19th century and, after some initial difficulty, Colin is able to identify his 2x great grandfather as a Scot belonging to that community. Albertina was his maid, and Colin tries to understand their relationship: was it a loving one?
The family fell on hard times after the earthquake of 1907 that devastated Kingston. Colin is unable to trace a death certificate for Albertina, nor establish for sure why Richard and Gladys moved to Panama, though the most likely reason is that they went there in search of work.
Following this theory, Colin goes to the Miraflor Museum in Panama to look for evidence that Richard and Gladys worked on the Canal. A search for Gladys draws a blank, but the results for Richard are more successful: he’s listed as working for six months in 1905 for the canal company as a hospital attendant at $25 a month. He then left its employ, but Colin knew that he and his wife remained in Panama where their daughter, his grandmother Maria, was born in 1921. She was taken by Gladys to complete her education in Jamaica, but returned to look after her father in Panama when he fell ill.
As he places flowers on his grandmother’s grave in Panama, Colin reflects on the turbulent times both sides of his family’s forbears had lived through, and on the rich cultural and ethnic cocktail that had shaped him.