On Who Do You Think You Are?, James Bond star Naomie Harris travelled to Trinidad, Grenada and Jamaica to discover her family tree.
Tracing ancestors from the Caribbean can be tricky because surviving records are patchy – but these six websites offer a fantastic place to start.
The link above takes you to pages on the different regions and islands. For example ‘Grenada > Online Genealogy Records’ leads to external databases on myheritage.com and ancestry.com, as well as free images of the St George Register of baptisms, marriages and burials (1765–1785) on the British Library’s website.
On familysearch.org there are Jamaican civil registration records, including more than 3.8 million life events (1880–1999), plus Caribbean-wide collections such as deaths and burials (1790–1906). You will find lots of record scans too, although some can only be viewed from a Family History Centre.
A basic-looking, long-running font of information for the Caribbean researcher, this particular page on the Candoo site leads straight to a list of libraries, archives, museums and other institutions from across the region, which may offer up some online gems. The Department of Archives at the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, for example, has an index to wills from 1703 to 1968.
Candoo also has surname interest lists, plus details of researchers who specialise in the area. This might be a logical option for those who need to carry out research on the ground, but don’t have the time (or the money!) to visit in person.
3. The Jamaica Gleaner
The Jamaica Gleaner, the leading Jamaican newspaper, was first published in 1834, and you can access a pretty complete digital archive online. The database contains more than 970,000 historical newspaper pages, searchable by keyword or date, leading to PDF copies you can scroll through or zoom into via the browser, and containing obituaries, birth records, marriage notices and more. The wider archive site newspaperarchive.com has more than 9,800 titles in its global roster. A six-month membership costs US$49.95.
4. The Caribbean in 1914
This section of TNA’s World War I centenary site focuses on the Caribbean in 1914. You can simply scroll down or click on the map. Select the Bahamas, for instance, and you’re given a short overview of the islands’ population in 1914, along with sections on the home front, naval defence, the Bahamas contingent and others – all the while linking back to relevant documentary material held at Kew.
TNA is also the place to confirm passengers aboard HMT Empire Windrush, which arrived at Tilbury Docks carrying 492 workers from the Caribbean in June 1948 (BT26/237), or the vessels that followed – such as
SS Auriga, which docked with 1,100 souls on board.
5. Caribbean Family History Group
The friendly and helpful Caribbean Family History Group has two main branches, with most of the activity based around Solihull and Birmingham. The website has lots of useful information and links, and the group meets regularly at Solihull’s Core Library. Because Solihull is a FamilySearch Affiliate Library, all of the site’s digital images of Caribbean records are available to view here.
6. Expert’s choice: Jamican Family Search
Chosen by Paul Crooks, author of A Tree Without Roots: the Guide to Tracing British, African and Asian Caribbean Ancestry
“Jamaican Family Search (jamaicanfamilysearch.com) is an online library for finding historical records of those who lived in the country from the late 1600s to 1920 – mainly white families and their offspring. The website has transcriptions from various documents including 19th-century Jamaican almanacs (which list property owners plus civil and military officials), extracts from Jamaican church records, civil registration records, wills, Jewish records, and excerpts from directories, newspapers, books and other documents.
“The website is especially useful for anyone interested in developing narratives around the legacy of British slave ownership – the lists of property owners and pens, sugar estates and plantations will be of particular interest if you are researching ancestors who were enslaved in Jamaica. Links to various documents related to slavery in the country are grouped on a page called ‘Slaves and Slavery in Jamaica’ at jamaicanfamilysearch.com/Samples2/slavery.htm. “If your focus is researching ‘the French connection’, then there’s material relating to refugees fleeing the 1791–1804 revolution in Haiti (then known as Saint-Domingue – a French colony).
“This website was created by an individual, not a corporation. So the database is not complete by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is great if you are at an advanced stage of genealogical research, or are simply looking for a bit of information that might stimulate your curiosity further.”