Where do I begin?

Where do I Start My Jamaican Family Research

Congratulations, you have taken the first step towards discovering your family roots. You are probably asking yourself, how do I start my family research? Well you need to start with what you already know yourself and your family. Here are a list of steps that will get you well on your way to discovering your family genealogy.

  1. Gather a family tree/pedigree worksheet that you will use to record any information you find on your family.
  2. The first resource for tracing you family is your own family. Interview your immediate relatives and gather old family bibles,  birth, marriage, baptism, death certificates, old photographs, wills, and personal letters. Record the details in your worksheet.
  3. While interviewing relatives try to get as much details possible. Find out full names of parents, grand-parents, siblings, date and place of birth, occupation(s), military records, travel history(immigration/emigration), religion, club memberships, occupation, divorce, adoption records,  and places of residence(parishes and districts). This information will provide leads to the types of records you will need to search.
  4. Pay attention to the family rumours or tales as they may hold clues to the truth!
  5. Get a head start and request the Jamaica Government Registrar General Department to conduct a genealogical search on your family’s background. To begin this process, you will need to fill out a Genealogical Request Form with as much of the family details you acquired during your interviews mentioned above. The RGD will then use this information to search its archives for details on your family roots. This service is at a reasonable cost of JM$600.00 or US$10.00 per hour of research. I recommend that you spend at least US$30 to get a meaningful return. I have used this service twice and it can rewarding as well as disappointing. The results are highly dependent on the accuracy of the information you supply in form about your family. You will be required to fill out the following information on the request form:
    • Names of parties 
    • Parish of births 
    • Approximate dates of births or deaths 
    • Names of brothers or sisters or other relatives
    • Spouses’ names
    • District of residence
    • Parishes of residence
    • Occupations
    • Parent’s names
  6. Although you may pay for 3 hours of research time it may take as many as 3 weeks or more to get the results from the RGD.
  7. Next stop is the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) website(s) which is treasure trove of free Jamaican civil registration records (births, baptism, deaths and marriages) and also for other counties in the world. The LDS has filmed many of the Jamaican civil registration records which are available on microfiche, microfilm and also in most cases the website. The LDS website predominately holds birth and baptism records and is a bit thin on marriage and death records. For more details on how to use the LDS effectively go ahead and check out the link  Discover Your Family History – Searching the LDS Explained.
  8. Search Church records. If the denomination of the family members is known then the church records is possible source of information. Before the mandatory registration of civil records, the Church recorded births, baptism, marriages and deaths. The Anglican church was the dominate church in the 1800s but other Christian denominations such as Baptist, Moravian, and Methodist Churches also recorded family events in each parish. For more details on searching church records check out: Locate and Search Church Records.
  9. Visit Patricia Jackson’s virtual genealogy online library at http://jamaicanfamilysearch.com/. This website contains substantial pre-1920 resources including excerpts of wills, books, documents, land grants, Jamaica Almanacs, census information, historical events, tomb stone inscriptions, military lists, newspaper clippings and many more. Some of the site’s contents is free to the public but for full access to all resources you need to pay a reasonable fee for membership(US$8/month,US$20/3month and US$75/year) .  The site is updated regularly with Particia’s finds as well as user contributions. The site a little difficult to search but for useful tips on using the site see: Jamaica Family Research.
  10. If you determine that your ancestors were slaves then here is a list of records that may assist in your research:
    • Plantation Records
    • Property registration and deeds
    • Manumission Registers
    • Notices in publications (newspapers and gazettes)
    • Plantation Records – stock and inventory books
    • Slave Registers
    • The National Achives – Public Records Office
    • Church Records – Slave Baptisms and Marriages
    • Wills – Slaves were possessions and as a result they would have been included in property bequeathed to beneficiaries.

    The Jamaica Archives and Records office may contain most of these records and a visit in person is probably required. Given that Jamaica was under British rule for hundreds of years, some records of the island are duplicated in the National Archives in Kew, London.

  11. Jamaica’s motto is “Out of Many, One People” which implies that the ancestors of the Jamaican population originated from several different parts of the world. Hence, immigration records from other countries may become an important part of your family tree research. As mentioned in the post Important Events in Jamaica’s History, people migrated from Britain, Scotland, Ireland, China, India, Syria to Jamaica. Given that travelling by ship was the only means available in pre-20th century then a review of shipping records could be your next step. The website Cyndi’s List is probably the best starting point when searching for shipping records to and from the island. Cyndi’s List is also a good starting point for locating links to worldwide genealogical websites.
  12. Jamaican newspaper publications can help you fill in the gaps in your ancestors’ life stories. The Jamaica Gleaner has been the leading newspaper since it was established in 1834. The newspaper’s archives may hold articles related to the island’s shipping arrivals, obituaries, marriages, birthday announcements, business information, criminal convictions, land sales and purchases, etc. The Jamaica Gleaner archives are online but access is not free. The archives are at NewspaperArchive.com. The cost of annual membership is $5.99/month($71.88/year). Once you obtain membership, you will be able to search the archives online and print the found articles that are in PDF format.



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