Like most Americans I may have been born in this country, but if I start to trace back my family history, my lineage soon takes me offshore. My mother was born in Barbados and came to America when she was 15 years old. Her parents were also born in Barbados. My maternal great grandparents were born in Barbados too.
I remember spending every major holiday in the islands as a kid. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, Easter break and of course all summer long. Only my mother’s first cousin still lived on the island, everyone else was already in America, but as my great aunts (whom I lived with) only daughter we went to visit her very often.
I felt like if I knew anything about my family it was my mothers side. Aunts, cousins, uncles and we did a lot together as a kid so we were pretty close knit. My father’s side of the family not so much. He passed away 8 months after I was born, on Christmas Day, so I have no memories of him, my mother was his second wife and his first family was not too happy to get acquainted with his new baby when I was born. After he passed away their interest was even less.
Except for his youngest daughter, my sister Neisha, who was already an adult when I was born and she was determined to be the bridge and have a relationship with me. I had 4 other siblings on my fathers side who were all introduced to me through her. She became a vital part of my life and a constant family member from his side from then and still is now. However she rarely ever talked about our dad and she didn’t have that much of a relationship with him.
The only things I knew about my father was that he was my complexion, smoked a lot and died of lung cancer at 52. He was born in Harlem, but there seemed to be some confusion as to whether his fathers family really was from Barbados too or just lived there for a time and was really from Jamaica. There were also rumors of Panamanian ancestry through my grandfathers wife Lucille. I also heard we had some Asian lineage somewhere down the line, but had no clue how or where.
I always wanted to know more about my family so a few years ago I tried building a family tree on ancestry.com but didn’t learn much more than I already knew. Majority of the information I found uncovered deeper details about my mother’s side, but I learned nothing new about my father’s. I will admit it was exciting to see the ship manifests from my grandparents arrival into the states via Ellis island in New York, and see their actual signatures on census records, but I gave up my search and figured I would eventually need to take my research and my tree to the actual islands to figure out and fill in more.
Until this past summer.
For whatever reason I was inspired to take a crack at my family tree again this summer. It was probably after seeing the Moana movie for the second time. (chuckles) It’s really important for me to be able to share with my children who they are and where they come from in as much detail as possible. One of my life goals is to actually create a family history book for them.
So I headed back to ancestry.com as a starting point and was amazed by how much had changed. Over the years they had implemented direct access to the Barbados and Jamaica vital records, baptism and marriage record databases as well as a database of people who worked on the Panama Canal, like my grandfather.
Much to my surprise I was able for the first time ever trace my father’s family! The records were so thorough and well documented I was able to trace back FIVE GENERATIONS to my great great great grandmother! I don’t know what year she was born exactly but her first child was born in 1836 so I approximate her year of birth to be in the early 1820’s or before.
Slavery was abolished in Barbados in 1834, the Barbados Rebellion is one thing that prompted the abolishment and that happened in 1816, which means she was born, or living through a very pivotal time for the island.
However there are also no slave records for her, which means one of two things. Either she and her family were living in Barbados as freemen (which a small percentage of the population already was even during slavery or she changed her name once slavery ended.
Either way it was an exciting journey and I actually made contact with a distant cousin who also has been on the search. We connected via phone and she was able to share medical history and all types of things I never knew. I even saw immigration photos of some family members which was such a big deal to me. I never saw a picture of my father until I was 22, so to be able to put names to faces of extended family members was like putting together the best puzzle ever in life.
Hope you guys are inspired by my journey and know that if you have questions on who you are or where you came from there are resources out there to really help you fill in the gaps.
I can’t wait to go even further and do one of those DNA kits they have!