Happy Chinese New Year 2015! I am honored to acknowledge my Chinese ancestors who migrated from China to Trinidad and Guyana in the British West Indies as indentured workers. After the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, workers from China and India were engaged to replace the enslaved Africans. To learn more about this hidden Caribbean and Asian history, I recommend two amazing texts: Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918 by Walton Look Lai, (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1993); and The Coolie Speaks: Chinese Indentured Laborers and African Slaves in Cuba, by Lisa Yun, (Temple University Press,2008).
My Chinese Trinidadian maternal grandmother taught me many of her traditions — from Buddhism, cooking, gardening, palmistry, face reading also known as physiognomy to astrology. I was born in the year of the Dragon, considered the most powerful and lucky signs in the zodiac. I learned from an early age about all of the Chinese astrological animals.
This is the year of the Goat. Celebrate if your birth year is listed here: 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, or 2015. Your lucky colors are brown, red and purple. Lucky numbers are 2 and 7. Your lucky flowers are carnations and primrose. In Chinese astrology, goats are very different from Western Capricorn goats. Chinese goats are delicate thinkers, creative and love team activities. To learn more, click here.
Although it’s not a national holiday, New Yorkers will celebrate big time with a parade in NYC Chinatown, Sunday, February 22, 1-3pm. Please join me!
At a recent family gathering a cousin criticized my genealogy passion: “Why are you looking back? You should be looking forward,” she said. As a genealogist, I gasped. But it took only a moment to re-group. Here was a teachable moment! Timing must be right in order for learning to happen. A simple conversation began. The dialogue that we had became the best way to explain how genealogy ie. family history could be good for your health–mind, body and soul!
Did you know that the more you know about health conditions and traits that run in your family, the healthier you can be? Genealogy is also good for your emotional, spiritual and psychological health! But, more on that in future postings.
Start talking: The best way to start your genealogy health journey is to start talking with the living. Today, even if you are adopted, you can find your family history by taking a DNA genealogy test to find relatives. At the reunion, we started by talking about family traits and cultural traditions passed down. One of the traits we discussed was left-handedness. Our mother was born left-handed. But because of her family’s cultural taboos, she was forced to become right-handed. And, three of her four children were born left-handed! We also talked about other traits like hair texture, body types and ethnic mixtures found on both sides of our family. All of these topics, especially ethnicity and cultural backgrounds are relevant to your health and should be discussed by your health care provider.
Ten Questions to Ask at Family Reunion:
What traits run in our family? eg. dimples, twins, eyes or hair color, freckles, attached earlobes, toe lengths, artistic, musical, mechanical, athletic abilities.
What health problems run in our family?
How old were family members when diagnosed with an illness?
What conditions caused death in our family? Who was the oldest in our family?
Any pregnancy losses?
Any birth defects, mental illness, or developmental disabilities?
What is the ethnic make-up of our family?
Where does our family come from? (country, regions)
Lifestyle queries: smoking; where did family members work, list occupations; did they work on a farm, factory, outdoors; obesity or extremely thin; drug, alcoholism problems?
Who’s the oldest in your family? My husband and I met a group of baby boomers aboard a Natchez steamboat on the Mississippi River during our recent anniversary trip to Louisiana. It was obvious that they were on a family reunion trip. They all wore “Robinson Family” T-shirts. Our conversation naturally turned to –“Who was the oldest in their family/” and ‘How many generations could they trace?”
The feistiest lady in this African-American group said that she was the oldest on this trip at 78. She said that she could trace back to three generations. She also said that their oldest family member, great-Aunt Mamie Robinson, is 100 and lives in Georgia!
The friendly lady shared anecdotes about family as the others chimed in with affirmatives: “Old Auntie works in her garden everyday, cans all of her home-grown summer vegetables, and chops wood. She is what we call a ‘busy body.’ Folks drop in on her all day long. She especially likes the latest gossip. She tells funny stories too. But Auntie always talks about hard work, whether folks had good manners and was ‘raised right’. ”
The lady explained that their family is spread out all over the globe now and that they had reunions in a variety of cities. “We’re the ‘old-school’ cousins. We have a tradition of coming to New Orleans for vacation since we were kids. So, here we are!” she said.
“Why do old people matter today?” I asked. “Wisdom!” said the only man in the group. “Old people teach the young people their family history. Maybe they would have better sense if they knew what the earlier generations went through to survive!” said another spry boomer.
I believe that the oldest person in my family was Tempe Burton, a former slave. My genealogy buddy/cousin, Snow Fox Lawrence, shared an old newspaper clipping about our paternal great-great-great grandmother who lived to 104 in Ocean Springs, Miss!
Here is an obituary of my great-great grandmother Tempe Burton in a March 1925 Ocean Springs, Mississippi newspaper:
“Aunt Tempe Burton, the oldest person in Jackson County, died Sunday at the home of her son Alf Stewart. The funeral was held Monday afternoon and was largely attended by both white and colored friends. Tempe was said to be 104 years of age. She was an ex-slave and had made her home with the late Mrs. W.R Stuart for seventy years. When Mrs. Stuart was married, Aunt Tempe was given to her as a wedding gift and was Mrs. Stuart’s maid. When slavery was abolished she refused to leave her mistress and remained with her until the end. Mrs. Stuart died about two months ago.”
Who is the oldest person in your family? Where do/did they live?
I posed this question to new friends at a Blogging While Brown conference. Check out their amazing entries:
Miz Kp -“The oldest person in my family is my grand aunt. She was born in 1919. She is 94 and lives in Chesapeake, VA.”
April J. Cheatam Sands – “My great-grandmother lived to be 98 and died in 2006 in Wilmington, NC (born in 1907).”
Gina McCauley- “I had a paternal great-grandmother that lived to 99. I have a cousin in Houston, TX that is 100+ year’s old. They do a story about her in the local news every year. My maternal grandmother lived until she was 93!”
Kahlil O. Haywood – “My grandmother is the oldest in my family. She’s 95. She’s still alive. She’s from Panama, lives in Brooklyn.”
Alysia Christiani – “My paternal grandmother lived to 100. She was from Guyana, South America but died in Brooklyn, New York.”
Erica Kierulf – “My grandmother was born in Blue Fields, Nicaragua. Lived to 105. She resided in Chicago, IL.”
Deborah Smikle-Davis – “My wonderfully creative and inspiring paternal grandmother, Lillie Mae, lived to be 95. She resided in Lumberton, NC.”
Eva Greene Wilson – “Great-grandmother in Tobago lived to 104. I think she’d have lived longer if she hadn’t lost her sight and mobility. Being able to get up and down the hill to be “in people’s business” was what really kept her going.”
Researching Caribbean family history can be a challenge. Most of our early history chapters are steeped in slavery and indentured servitude. Searching by surname is not always the best way to learn our history. We must look at surnames for clues about the enslaving family and possible locations where our ancestors lived. Then, look for their property records, wills and church records etc. Caribbean genealogy takes a lot of patience.
Many of my ancestors are a mixture of many different people: African, Chinese, Indian, Latino. According the UK National Archives: “More than 1.6 million people were transported between African and the Caribbean between 1640-1807. Although the British slave trade from Africa was abolished in 1807, emancipation of the people did not occur until August 1834.”
Some of my ancestors were Chinese and arrived in the Caribbean via South America after African slavery ended. They were sometimes called Coolies (a derogatory word similar to the N-word!) and brought in as indentured servants, like many of workers from India, Europe and other places. Although these workers had contracts, they were treated like slaves, according to oral histories and other source material. But, it is possible to review worker contracts to learn their original names, and other information. The key is to ask a lot of questions and listen to the stories told by the oldest people from your island.
I found my grandmother’s papers at the National Archives Chinese Exclusionary Index on Ancestry.com. Here is an excerpt:
Ancestry.com. New York Chinese Exclusion Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1998. Original data: United States, National Archives and Records Administration. Index to ‘Chinese Exclusion’ Case Files of the New York District Office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, ca. 1882-1960. New York, USA. National Archives and Records Administration–Northeast Region (New York), [April 1998].
Index of New York INS Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files 1882-1960.
But, many records about our families are still in files in the islands and the UK National Archives. Some Caribbean islands have very good records, some not in such good shape. Here is an excerpt from a list of resources, developed by Guy Grannum, a noted Barbados ancestry expert:
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – the website has online indexes to Barbadian baptisms and marriages, locations of their family history centers, and their catalogue of their microfilms of archive and library material. Its Hyde Park Family History Center, 64/68 Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London, tel: 0207 589 8561, has many Caribbean resources on-site, including registers of births, marriages and deaths for Barbados and Jamaica.
Caribbean archives, libraries and registry offices:
Most archives, libraries and registry offices do not have websites and it has been difficult obtaining these addresses. Where I have found websites I have obtained contact details from these, or used other official and government sites. It is possible that some of these contact details may have changed. My experience is that some services are excellent and others tardy but on the whole it can take some time to get a reply – be patient.
Anguilla Library Service, The Valley, Anguilla, BWI, tel: (264) 497-2441
Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Judicial Department, The Valley, Anguilla, BWI, tel: (264) 497-2377
The National Archives, Rappaport Centre, Victoria Park, St John’s Antigua, West Indies, tel: (268) 462-3946, email: email@example.com
The Registrar General’s Office, High Court, High Street, St John’s Antigua, West Indies, tel: (268) 462-3929
Antigua and Barbuda Public Library, Market St, St John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, www.thepubliclibrary.edu.ag/, tel: (268) 462-4959, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Archives, PO Box SS-6341, Nassau, Bahamas www.bahamasnationalarchives.bs, tel: (242) 393-2175, email: email@example.com
Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Government of the British Virgin Islands, Central Administration Complex, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Islands, tel: (284) 494-3492, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cayman Islands National Archive, Government Administration Building, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. tel: (345) 949 9809, email: email@example.com
Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, General Registry Department, Tower Building, Grand Cayman. tel: (345) 244 3404, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Library, Edward St, George Town, Grand Cayman, tel: (345) 949-5159
National Documentation Centre and Public Library of Dominica, Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, tel: (767) 448-2401, email: email@example.com
General Registrar, Bay Front, Roseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, tel: (767) 448-2401
Public Library/National Archives, 2 Carenage, St George’s, Grenada, tel: (473) 440-2506
Registrar General, Church St, St George’s, Grenada, tel: (473) 440-2030
National Archives of Guyana, 28 Main Street, Cummingsburg, Georgetown, Guyana, tel: (592) 227 7687, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
National Library, 76/77 Church & Main Streets, Georgetown, Guyana, www.natlib.gov.gy, tel: (592) 227-4053, email: email@example.com
Jamaica Archives and Records Department, 59 Church St, Kingston, Jamaica, www.jard.gov.jm, tel: 876 922-8830, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Registrar General, Vital Records Information, Twickenham Park, Spanish Town, Jamaica, www.rgd.gov.jm, tel: (876) 984-3041, e-mail: email@example.com
National Library of Jamaica, 12 East St, Kingston, Jamaica, www.nlj.org.jm, teL; (876) 967-1526, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Montserrat Public Library, Government Headquarters, BBC Building, Brades, Montserrat, tel: (664) 491-4706, email: email@example.com
Registrar General, Department of Administration, Government Headquarters, Brades, Montserrat, tel: (664) (664) 491-2129
St Kitts and Nevis
National Archives, Government Headquarters, Church St, Box 186, Basseterre, St Kitts, West Indies, www.nationalarchives.gov.kn, tel: (869) 465-2521, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nevis Archives and Library, Nevis Historical and Conservation Society, Nelson Museum, Bellevue, Charlestown, Nevis, West Indies, www.nevis-nhcs.org/library&archive.html, tel: (869) 469-0408, email: email@example.com
Registrar General, PO Box 236, Basseterre, St Kitts, West Indies, tel: (869) 465-5251
St Lucia National Archives, PO Box 3060, Clarke St, Vigie, Castries, St Lucia, tel: (758) 452-1654, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Registrar of Civil Status, Peynier Street, Castries, St Lucia, tel: (758) 452-1257 Central Library of St Lucia, Bourbon St, Castries, St Lucia, www.education.gov.lc/lib/lib.htm
St Vincent and the Grenadines
National Archives, Cotton Ginnery Compound Frenches, Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, tel: (784) 456-1689, e-mail: email@example.com
Registrar General, Government Buildings, Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, tel: (784) 457-1424
Department of Libraries Archives and Documentation Services, Lower Middle Street, Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, tel: (784) 457-1111, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trinidad and Tobago
National Archives, PO Box 763, 105 St Vincent St, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, tel: (868) 625-2689, email: email@example.com
National Library and Information System Authority, 105 Abercromby St, Port of Spain, Trinidad, www.nalis.gov.tt
Turks and Caicos Islands
Turks and Caicos National Museum, Guinep House, Front Street, PO Box 188, Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, British West Indies, www.tcmuseum.org/ tel: (649) 946-2160, e-mail: use webform
The Registrar’s General Office, Front Street, Turks & Caicos Islands, British West Indies, tel: (649) 946-2800
Source: Guy Grannum has been researching his own Barbadian ancestry for many years, and in doing so has gained first-hand knowledge of how to research West Indian ancestry. He works at the UK National Archives and is the author of a number of genealogical guides and article.
Have you searched at any of the Caribbean island archives listed above? Please share your experience?