Update: FamilySearch & Jamaican Records

Hey again,

It’s been a busy week, but a short update:

So, just as inexplicably as Jamaican records were suddenly made unavailable to non-Mormon FamilySearch users, they were restored as of Monday (May 9)!

I can only hope that the emails and phone calls were a contributing factor to the action being reversed. But we still don’t know and may never know.

At this point, no one really knows how long they’ll be available for. But it’s all the more reason to take advantage of the opportunity, if you’re researching your Jamaican ancestors.

Yay, us!

Head’s Up: FamilySearch & Jamaican Records

Hey there,

I hadn’t planned to post again so soon BUT, if you’ve been researching Jamaican ancestors/family members — and you’ve used the free ancestry Web site FamilySearch (which is run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [the LDS Church]) — I just wanted to give you the head’s up, in case you’re not aware:

Since Thursday (April 28), new restrictions have been implemented which prevent users from viewing Jamaican vital records – birth, marriage, and death records, and so on.

In fact, if you try to click on a record, you might get the following message:

“This image is available:

– When using the site at a FamilySearch Center

To signed-in members of supporting organizations.”

In other words, if you want to see the image of a Jamaican record which might hold key information for your research, you either have to go to a LDS Family History Centre, OR you have to be a member of a “supporting organization” — in this case, the LDS Church.

If you’re Mormon or live in a city or town that has a Family History Centre, then no sweat.

Except for one small thing … Not every city or country has a Family History Centre. And if there is one, their hours of operation may not necessarily be convenient for folks with busy work and family schedules.

So novice genealogists who have relied on FamilySearch (because they might not have the money to pour into paid sites or travelling to their ancestral homelands to do their research) are effectively cut off from this information.

I only learned about this because I stumbled across conversations about this issue in a number of volunteer Jamaican genealogy groups on Facebook. There was no online announcement on the FamilySearch Web site, nor were there any notifications sent to users who have accounts on the site.

From what I can gather, one of my fellow group members sent a note to FamilySearch and was told that the decision to restrict records seems to have come from the Jamaican government – specifically, the Registrar General’s Department (RGD), which oversees registration for vital events.

Genealogical research – and the keeping of archived records – also falls under the jurisdiction of the RGD.

Right now, none of us really know why this decision was made. There’s been informal speculation as to what it could be.

Could the government be doing this because they have an concern that  Mormons are “baptizing” the deceased? Perhaps the RGD has seen the increase in demand from Jamaicans for genealogical research, and is trying to capitalize on the interest?

In any case, the result has been frustrating.

Some members of the genealogy groups (myself included) have emailed FamilySearch for answers, and are also emailing the Registrar General, in hopes someone can explain why this has happened, and perhaps open up a dialogue to find a solution to the issue.

If you’re researching Jamaican ancestors and would like to help, you can email the Registrar General’s Department to voice your disappointment with the decision and ask for an explanation.

The email address is Ceorgd@gmail.com (also CC information@rgd.gov.jm when you do) – address your email to the attention of Deidre English Gosse (who is the Registrar General).

If you can do so by Monday, May 2, it would be extremely helpful to the volunteers who are trying to get some answers from the RGD on the matter, and perhaps find a compromise that all parties would be happy with.

If you know of anyone else who’s been doing Jamaican family research, feel free to let them know about this post and encourage them to send an email as well.

Hopefully something good will emerge from this. It would be a shame to know that for thousands of people in the Jamaican disapora, this decision would put family research financially out of reach.

 

Haggis, Anyone?

Scotland_HaggisThe first time I heard the name “Robbie Burns”, I was eight years old, and my parents were signing me up for piano lessons at a local music school.

I guess it came up when the head of the school – testing my aptitude – was chatting with my folks, and they mentioned when I was born.

“Oh!” he said. “Do you know who else shares your birthday? Robbie Burns!”

As a little black girl growing up in the 1980s, the only Burns I’d heard of was George. I can only imagine what facial expression I wore as this man told me about this guy I was clearly supposed to recognize.

Through the years, I came to learn bits and pieces about the man whose birthday I happened to share, and the little nerd in me found it interesting.

So to simply say Robert Burns is A Big Deal for people of Scottish descent, is a wee bit of an understatement.

In several days’ time, dinners (all over Canada and abroad) will be held in honour of the Scottish bard, filled with music and poetry. There will be scotch, even whiskey tastings. But it won’t be a Rabbie Burns night without one signature dish served:

Haggis.

Yep, that most Scottish of dishes, consisting of lamb or sheep parts, oats, and spices, mixed together in a type of pudding (not the dessert kind), and encased in a sheep’s stomach.

(There are even vegetarian and vegan versions out there, for a different spin. And these lovely folks are hosting a vegan Robbie Burns Day here in Toronto – they’re just about sold out!)

For people like me who’ve never had haggis (the meat-filled version, at least), that doesn’t sound — or look — all that appetizing.

But yesterday, I came across this article by writer Andrea Chiu, in defence of the dish.

She makes a valid point:

“We will pay high prices to taste rich and creamy foie gras, but wrap some lamb liver and hearts with a sheep’s stomach and diners of all ages are finding ways to politely decline the dish.”

I mean, if I can try a camel burger or freshly-caught-and-prepared conch salad (with comically terrible results, in the case of the latter), surely I should give haggis a try?

It’s probably too late this time ’round, but maybe I can give haggis a go at a later date, or perhaps on one of my future birthdays.

It’s the least I could do for Robbie.

 

Let’s Go(al) #4: Try New Things.

I recently went to the bookstore and – on a whim – bought Shonda Rhimes’ book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person.

I hope to start reading it soon, but — according to the description on the inside flap — it’s Shonda’s account of what happens when she (an introvert) takes something her sister says to heart and spends a year saying “yes” to things she would normally say “no” to.

It’s getting me thinking.

Perhaps I should use this year to try different things, things I would normally say “no” to.

Compared to Shonda Rhimes, I’d probably describe myself as more of an extrovert. I do say “yes” to some things. And no, I certainly don’t think I need to read a book by a top Hollywood TV producer to just learn to say “yes” to things. It’s not a new concept; people the world over have — at some point — tried this exercise, with varied (and sometimes surprising) results.

Regarding the book, I’m a fan of Rhimes’ work, so I’m genuinely curious to see how things worked out for her.

But personally, as (relatively) good as my life is, I admit it’s getting a wee bit staid. Every once in a while, I need to shake things up, give myself a jolt, keep it interesting.

What kinds of things? Hmm. Good question. Perhaps it’s as simple as doing something that I haven’t done in a while.

For example: On Monday evening, I signed myself up for a 30-day pass to a yoga studio. I’ve done yoga before, but usually, it’s a one-time event. I want to see if I can do it on a regular basis, to help with some minor back issues I’ve had (which isn’t helped by long periods of sitting at work). If I stick with it, all the better. If it doesn’t, at least I’ve tried.

Oh, here’s another: My friend Renée found a set of writing challenges people can try to improve their writing, or get into the exercise of writing regularly.

She asked if I wanted to try blogging once every day this year.

You’ve all seen what my writing habits are like. But I’ve said yes. Truthfully I don’t know if I can do it, but I’ll give it a try (and I hope you’ll come and visit me here if I do do this).

But there are other things that I should open myself up to trying.

Maybe I’ll try another con like I did that one time in 2012 (scroll down that post to skim).

Perhaps it’s volunteering.

Or semi-spontaneously travelling somewhere for a weekend. (I’m not a spontaneous traveller.)

Or maybe it’s finding myself in the middle of salsa dancing …

These are purely examples, not real things I’m aiming to do. But who really knows?

At least once this year, I have to push myself just a little bit outside my comfort zone, say yes, and travel down a rabbit hole that isn’t virtual and doesn’t lead me to YouTube.

Whether the result is glorious or disastrous, it would be a life experience. (And those things also make for great stories, no?)

What about you?

Is there anything you’re trying or wanted to try, but never got around to it? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

All The Names

IMAG0665Have you ever opened a cupboard or closet, looking for something specific, only to have a bunch of objects come tumbling out (and occasionally hitting you in the face)?

I think, figuratively (or is that metaphorically?) speaking, that’s just what happened to me.

When I recently found my great-aunt Ellen’s birth date on a genealogy Web site, I ended up uncovering some things I didn’t intend to.

According to my mother, her father (the maternal grandfather I know about) was one of six children.

Weeeell … the internet showed me another story … one that included the names of two other siblings – sisters – that I’d never heard of.

Turns out my mom had never heard of them, either.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake. But the parents’ names were exactly the same. I mean, what would actually be the chances of having two families in the same village, with two sets of parents with the exact same names? It didn’t make any sense.

Not to mention, there were three other names that looked suspect. Like they could also be siblings.

Before I go further, a bit of a rewind:

A lot of the records on the Web site had scanned images of various records, such as birth certificates. The catch is, while one can search to one’s heart’s content, in order to see said scanned images to confirm hunches and suspicions, one has to create an account.

Until this point, I didn’t create an account. The terms and conditions I had to agree to, if I started creating a family tree on this site, left me uneasy.

But as I continued to revisit the site, the curiosity increasingly ate away at me like a dirty penny immersed in a glass of pop.

I had to bite the bullet. So I created an account, for the purpose of being able to fully conduct searches, and returned to those records.

One by one, I checked out the birth certificates for the kids I knew about for sure.

And then I checked the others.

Holy shit.

My grandfather was one of ELEVEN.

So what happened to the other five names? I searched the site, and couldn’t find any other information. My best guess is those unlucky souls didn’t make it out of childhood.

Perhaps they died as babies or young kids, of crib death, illness or unfortunate accidents. But that’s how secretive families (mine included) can be.

Then, things took another weird turn.

A recent Google search for the village my mom’s paternal relatives are from, coughed up a result for a reverend with a last name far removed from my own.

Seems that – with the help of his grandson – he’d done some genealogical digging on a scale much grander than my own. I’d landed on a detailed document detailing six generations of one descendant of his family.

Some of those descendants are my mother’s relatives.

A number of them have long since passed. But the ones my mom recognizes, she and her sister knew them, or were cared for by them, perhaps in the summers between school.

So. I’m having a bit of trouble fully processing the information.

I suppose this type of thing happens is unavoidable when digging into one’s family history.

But so many names at once?!

For now, I’m putting these discoveries aside and will try focusing on two searches:

(1) What happened to my great-aunt

and, if I’m successful

(2) Trying to find out about my long-dead paternal grandfather, a rolling-stone railway worker, about whom tiny specks of information were divulged to me while preparing for my father’s funeral in February.

If my mother’s family was secretive, my dad’s people sounded like Fort Knox.

I hope that vise-like grip will loosen when I go to visit some cousins and uncles for several days, later this week. One of them is throwing a 21st birthday party for his step-daughter. And, from the sounds of the equipment, planning and logistics required, and the party itself, it’s going to be a Big Deal. (If someone doesn’t fire off fireworks, I’ll be surprised.)

Wish me luck.

 

Finding Ellen

As the child of immigrants, I was always of the firm belief that my mother was the first of our family to step on Canadian soil, setting in motion this chapter of my family history.

I suppose that’s still true. But as I recently found out, it’s not entirely accurate.

Years before, one of her aunts arrived here from Jamaica.

Growing up, she’d asked her dad about his sister, named Helen. He scolded her, telling her not to mention his sister’s name. No explanation was given.

She and her older sister knew what this aunt looked like, by way of a single photo – she was, by then, approaching middle age – and kept it for years. (It has since disappeared.)

After she arrived here in 1968 (after seven years of training, then working, as a nurse in the United Kingdom), my mother tried to look for Aunt Helen, under the impression that perhaps she’d come to Toronto. She called all the women in the phone book with the same name, only to come up empty.

And, for years, the story behind Aunt Helen remained a cold case of sorts, shrouded in mystery.

On last fall’s trip to Italy, Mom had spoken about her side of the family and mentioned this aunt with no story nor reason behind her abrupt departure to Canada, or the rift it apparently caused within her dad’s family.

I’m sure this wasn’t the first time she’d mentioned this mystery relative. But for whatever reason, this time, it stuck, and has been lodged in a corner of my mind, like a dog-eared cue card wedged in a dusty book, for months.

My father’s sudden death this past winter – aside from leaving me with a lingering melancholy – has gotten me thinking about the importance of family. Or, at least, the importance of trying to know about one’s family.

I started thinking recently, wouldn’t it be nice if I could find something out about Mom’s Aunt Helen … to give her the gift of some closure, to stop wondering?

Two and a half weeks ago, out of sheer boredom with my life – and my work – I decided to start scratching away.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy. Mom didn’t know when this aunt was born, or even when she would have left Jamaica (other than that it was before she was born, perhaps even before her sister’s birth three years earlier).

A lot of my Google searches were dead ends. I even tried looking for any proof of Helen’s existence, through the free resources offered by the Library and Archives Canada Web site – combing through immigration records, scouring for any record of her voyage on ship passenger lists. Nothing.

Late one night, I tried Google for the upteenth time, and stumbled upon a genealogy site run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Yes, Mormons run a genealogy Web site. They also have many, many birth, death, marriage, baptism and other church records from around the world – including Jamaica. I only learned this recently.)

So I tried to input what I knew, using different combinations, parents’ names (as I knew them), with no dice.

Frustrated with the lack of results, I tried another approach, by using my grandfather’s name to see if that prompted any results.

Mere seconds later, I was swearing and staring, wide-eyed, at what looked like a listing for my grandfather’s date of birth (which I would have to verify with my mother the next day), and … based on the information … the listing for the birthdate of my long-lost aunt.

As it turns out, she wasn’t Helen – as I was led to believe – but Ellen. (I also stumbled across other family records, but more on that later.)

The following day at work, I called my mom and verified my grandfather’s birth date, and then told her about Ellen’s birth record – which, understandably, threw my mom for a bit of a loop. After about 20 minutes of excitedly sharing my findings, I hung up the phone, and decided to take another crack at Library and Archives Canada.

It led me to a photocopy of the passenger list, which included the record of her travels to this country.

I could hardly believe it. All I could do was gaze at my computer screen in sheer disbelief. I kept that on-screen window open for at least a good couple of hours.

In the span of about 15 hours, I had gone from having almost no information, to two solid pieces. The blurry shape had acquired a bit of focus.

Further digging helped me to understand what I now know (so far):

Almost 85 years ago, Ellen left her well-to-do family, boarded a ship – the “Lady Rodney” – from Kingston, Jamaica, and arrived in Montreal some 11 days later.

She was all of 20 years old, and alone. She came to work as a domestic, at a time when Canada was doing everything in its power to remain as white as it possibly could, discouraging all but handfuls of requests for “coloureds” (African-Americans and British West Indians) to be let into the country.

The timing of her arrival was also interesting, as it was roughly four months before the big stock market crash of 1929, and the start of the Great Depression.

But why Canada? Why not Great Britain? And how on earth did she find her employer? Those are things I’m not sure I’ll ever find out.

Further online surfing and visits to the library have given me a bit of context about the time Ellen would have come to Canada. But no other concrete bits to go on.

Did Ellen stay in Montreal? Did she, in fact, move to Toronto at some point? And when did she die?

These are the things I hope I’ll get to discover, to help flesh out a story with already extraordinary beginnings.

 

 

 

My Camping List

Summer’s almost here.

But camping season has already arrived. (Did it ever leave?)

Straight up: I’m not a roughing-it-in-the-woods-and-portage kind of woman. More like the occasional, every-other-year, borrow-a-tent-and-chill-car-camper type.

But when I get a chance to go, I do get into it.

I like the fact there are so many campgrounds and conservation authorities with camping areas within a one-to-two-hour drive from Toronto.

But at some point – not necessarily this summer – I’d love to attempt trips to the following sites (both national and provincial):

Point Pelee National Park. My number one future camping destination – with a bullet.

Why? First off, it’s the southern most point in Canada.

There are lush forests, close to 400 species of birds, and butterflies (which holds a quirky, if special place in my heart) – all on this parcel of land.

It would just be cool to hike or bike around, taking in the lovely scenery. And there are also shuttles that take you to the very tip of Pelee.

If I understand correctly, you can’t technically camp at Point Pelee; there are campgrounds in nearby Leamington. But it’s still close enough to get to the Park to explore.

Algonquin Provincial Park. I kind of feel as if it’s a pilgrimage that campers make at least once in their lifetime. And when I think of camping, this is the park that – for me – is synonymous with camping in Ontario.

This park is MASSIVE. And I like the fact there are activities and accommodations for all kinds of visitors – campgrounds for car campers, enthusiasts who prefer to  “rough it” – even cabins for visitors who don’t like roasting marshmallows and getting a little dirty.  You can even rent a yurt, if you’re so inclined!

Obviously, there are campgrounds within the park that are open all year round.

Tobermory/Bruce Peninsula National Park. One of my close friends camped at Tobermory with a bunch of her friends a bunch of years ago. The two things I remembered from her re-telling of the trip there:

(1) It’s a beautiful area.

(2) The weekend they went, there was a massive rainstorm. (Was there a thunderstorm, too? I don’t recall. Refresh my memory.)

Now, I’ve been southwest to the Pinery, along the shores of Lake Huron. But never as far north as the Bruce Peninsula or Georgian Bay. And from the looks of some of the images I’ve seen online, it just looks absolutely stunning, and so majestic it’s almost a bit overwhelming.

Unfortunately I’m not much of a swimmer, so I probably couldn’t enjoy the clear waters as much as someone who swims like a fish. But I can certainly appreciate the beauty just the same. And there are lots of other things to do and see in the area, whether it’s hiking or checking out some of the caves.

Aaaand it’s part of a UNESCO World Biosphere. That’s pretty special.

And even if I didn’t make it to the national park, any park or campground would do – the entire area looks beautiful.

Sandbanks Provincial Park. I’ve had friends who’ve camped at this park in Picton, Ontario, and they’ve had good things to say. Plus, it’s obviously not as far as Algonquin or Pelee.

The main attraction for me to this park – as for anyone – would be the beaches. And taking a bike ride along the sand dunes, or just lounging on the beach, just sounds lovely and relaxing.

Of course, there are many, many other campgrounds and parks that campers hold dear, that I haven’t mentioned.

I’d love to hear about other campgrounds/parks in Ontario that are worth visiting. If you’ve got a recommendation/suggestion, please leave ’em in the comments!