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.

 

Who’s THIS Guy?

Several days before I arrived in Jamaica, my aunt (who’s currently staying with one of my cousins in the US) had her house in Montego Bay broken into.

It’s the first time my aunt’s house was ever broken into, in an area where this type of thing isn’t unusual. But whomever they were (and my aunt claims she knows who did it), they made a point of  leaving their mark.

Like, for example, taking her TV. And her refrigerator.

Earlier in my visit, Kaye and I dropped by the house to see the mess left behind. When we entered the front yard, there was a bottle of cooking oil lying in the grass.

Inside, a dining room chair sat at an awkward angle on the living room sofa — they’d used it to break a few slats of glass in the window looking out onto the verandah.

In her bedroom, drawers were pulled out and emptied. Various articles of clothing, undergarments and papers lay in a pile on the floor.

Fast forward a few days, and we’ve returned (with Uncle Eucline) to the house, because the welder and a couple of tradesmen are coming to (a) fix the bolt on the security gate that had been pried open during the robbery, and (b) fit the window overlooking the verandah with its own set of security bars.

Around the time we’re there, a woman from up the street stops by – her name’s Honey, and she’s a long-time family friend. (Apparently I met her when I was really young.)

As we sit inside the house to keep Kaye company while the tradesmen work, I grow bored and start wandering. I peer inside the kitchen. It’s much smaller than I remember (amazing how one’s memory makes everything bigger), and it’s dark.

2015-07-27 15.44.05I return to the living room, looking at a few photos upended by the break-in.

There’s a photo of my late grandfather as I remember him, sitting in profile on his verandah. There are other photos of my cousins at a much younger age.

I eventually enter my aunt’s bedroom. Other than the mess on the floor, it looks a bit sparse. I peer into her closet – which isn’t wide as it is a bit long – and see all the various objects – sheets, blankets, and I think a hat or two. It smells a bit musty.

I step out, and before I know it, I’m bent over, rummaging through the mess on the ground.

2015-07-27 16.10.58This woman keeps everything, I think to myself. Old immunization records, invoices of different types, and even the odd old photos of my cousins.

I open and close a couple of the empty drawers of my aunt’s dresser … and shoved in the corners of one of them, I come across a couple of dog-eared photos.

One of them was a photo of me at three and a half months old, apparently “blowing bubbles”, according to the description in my mom’s handwriting.

And then, there’s THIS one.

2015-07-27 16.10.28-2You have to understand, my family doesn’t have old black-and-white photos of immediate OR extended family members.

And the oldest photos I’ve ever seen were when I was in Jamaica 22 years ago, at my grandfather’s house. They were colourized portraits from the 1950s — one of him, and one with his wife (who’s also since passed away).

But this. I look into the face of the well-dressed young man in the picture – specifically his lips – and goosebumps go up my arm.

I have a very strong hunch I know exactly who this is, but there’s really only one person who might be able to tell me – and right now she’s in Toronto.

I really, REALLY want to put this photo in my purse. But given what’s been taken from this house already – and knowing how much my aunt like holding onto stuff – I resist the urge, snap an image on my phone and return it to its (undignified) home.

*************************************************************

I return home on July 28th, and visit my mother a few days later.

We’re in her living room chatting away, when I bring up finding the two photos … and that’s when I bring them up on my phone and show her.

Upon seeing the second photo, she gives a smile and says, “Yep. That’s my daddy.”

**************************************************************

My trip to Jamaica was a sweltering whirlwind. But I was glad I managed to do it and to see some of my family.

I still have questions. And who knows if I’ll ever get them answered. But it’s a start.

And if I’m lucky to visit Jamaica again, I hope I don’t wait so long next time, and that I get to see even more of my ancestral home and family.

*Photos taken are mine. Please don’t use without my permission. Not for commercial use.

A Couple Hours in Negril

Monday, July 27th.

IMAG0399“D, get up.”

It’s 6:34 a.m. Guess we’re leaving fairly early for Negril. Although, it would’ve been nice to have known that the night before.

K kindly fixes me breakfast (scrambled egg, sardines and dumplings), and we’re out the door just before 8 a.m.

We pick up Uncle Eucline on the way at a nearby gas station, and off we go, reaching Negril by about 9:30 a.m.

K and Eucline want to take me to Rick’s Cafe (which I vaguely remember visiting back in 1993), but when we arrive, we discover it’s closed. Turns out they open the bar until 12 p.m. and close at 10 p.m.

That’s unfortunate for us, but good for the dozens and dozens of smaller bars in that area that rely on the visitor and tourist traffic for their business. Oh well. Another time.

Next stop: one of the aforementioned bars, owned by one of K’s friends. We have a bit of trouble finding it – it’s so small, it’s wedged between another bar (whose exterior sort of resembles a boat), and another building that’s boarded up.

Beer and liquor bottles of all shapes and sizes line the shelf above the bar. Overhead, a TV plays an American daytime talk show.

The open rear door reveals a view of the rocks, and the water just beyond. Walking out to the back, there’s gravel and wooden beams — the bare outline of an addition K’s friend has plans to build.

IMAG0397Looking out across the water, I can see the various bars and other buildings lining the shore. Even over here, the water is relatively clear and a greenish-blue. The sun is beating down on my neck and shoulders, so I head back inside for a bit.

We eventually leave and – on our uncle’s suggestion – try a resort just down the road. When we drive up the driveway and reach the front gate, we’re faced with something we didn’t anticipate: having to pay $15 US apiece to enter resort property, sit on the beach, and for me to go into the water.

The cost of leisure, I suppose.

My uncle – who has worked in the hospitality business – tries to negotiate with the man at the front gate, but the guy holds firm. After some momentary waffling, we decide to pay and go inside. We’ll get a nice view of the beach, have some lunch and leave.

While in the main lobby, K asks me to inquire about a towel. I approach the reception desk and ask.

“You can buy one at the gift shop,” the desk clerk says in a half-sing-song, completely unhelpful, tone of voice, referring to the building just next door.

Good thing I packed my own.

I go to one of the changing rooms and don my swimsuit (to the nearby soundtrack of a woman severely scolding her misbehaving child).

IMAG0416While K and Uncle Eucline recline on chairs under the shade of a small gazebo, I wade into the warm, clear water. The sky’s an impossible shade of blue.

About 10 minutes in, I spot a dark object gliding through the water. A sting-ray. I stand upright, watching it pass by.

We have a delicious beach-side lunch of jerk chicken, rice and peas and salad.

Then, it’s out of my swimsuit, and back on the road to Montego Bay — K has to go to her mother (my aunt)’s house so she can let in a local welder to repair the security gate pried open by thieves almost a week and a half before …

But not before we make a couple of stops along the way. First, a local school in Sandy Bay, where I believe K taught at some point. Then, we stop in to see one of Uncle Eucline’s younger brothers.

Over glasses of lemonade, we learn his brother (whose name I never learn) is recovering from surgery to remove a brain tumour. Looking at him now, seemingly robust and in great spirits, you wouldn’t have known it. And —  understandably — he gives Eucline a lecture about giving up drinking and smoking. I know he’s doing it out of love, but I’m not sure Eucline’s having much of it.

Before we know it, we’re at my aunt’s house, picking mangoes and waiting for the welder to arrive. But it won’t be a completely tedious visit.

(Photos taken are mine. Please do not use without permission.)

A Lot of Church

Sunday, July 26th.

Full disclosure: I’m not a church-goer.

Do I believe in a higher power? Yes. But that’s my personal belief. And I have a very … ambivalent relationship with organized religion.

However, because of my experiences in attending two different church sects in my youth, I try to be understanding and respectful when it comes to people’s religious beliefs, and their right to worship.

So when I was hastily planning my trip, I knew, in the back of my mind, that a trip to church with my cousin would likely happen. As I panicked over what to pack, and voiced my concerns to my mom, she said to me, “I’m sure you won’t have to go to church, if you don’t want to.”

Wrong. So. Wrong.

For folks who are of West Indian (or even African-American) descent, you’ll understand what I’m about to say. But to anyone else: in the Caribbean (and in this case, Jamaica) church is a serious business. And they can be equally as serious about their church attire.

It’s not just about putting on a dress, versus pants. It’s wearing stuff that other people might reserve for a special occasion, like a wedding.

Sometimes, there are hats involved. Not fascinators. HATS.

If there is such a thing as “church hat swagger”, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Of course, I listened to my mom, and only packed a sundress.

The subject of a church outfit briefly came up early in the trip, but didn’t go very far. But when it finally reared its ugly head on Saturday, K had to lend me an outfit.

Although she didn’t say anything, I don’t think she wasn’t terribly impressed – she told me, “You must always carry something casual as well as formal.”  (I also overheard her talking to her friend and mentioning how I didn’t bring any church outfits. Lesson noted and learned.)

In the end, she lent me a tight, black, knit dress, a pair of pointy-toed shoes and some jewellery to match. This was going to be an interesting ensemble to wear in the heat.

**********************************************************************

One of K’s friends picks us up and drives us over to the Moravian church around the corner from my (absent) aunt’s house.

Unlike church services in my youth — and despite the oppressive heat — this one keeps my attention, and keeps me awake. It’s a nice service, and the small congregation seems lovely. It’s also fairly brief at, 90 minutes in length.

Minutes after the service ends, there’s no dallying — there’s another church-related event happening in St. Elizabeth parish. One of the former pastors of K’s church is being ordained as a bishop in a special event/service. And we’re going.

I will tell you one thing about the drive down: it’s probably the coolest I’ve been, for the longest period of time, during this entire trip. It’s downright heavenly. I gaze at the scenery as we pass through town after town. I close my eyes …

And when I open them, we’re driving under a shady tunnel of trees, with fields beyond them. Turns out, we’re passing through Holland Bamboo.

A little while later, we arrive at the church, in the town of Santa Cruz.

It’s two levels, with a sizeable upper level for those members of the congregation who can’t get a seat in one of the pews on the main level. Inside, the overhead fans – all 10 of them – are whirring away. The only thing it shares with the one back in Montego Bay are those hard, unforgiving wooden pews.

And people are dressed to the hilt. Dress of all styles and colours. Heels of all heights. Hats of all sizes.

There isn’t a free seat anywhere. K and I are crammed into a pew like sardines; the black knit dress clings to me like a small child.

Forty-five minutes after we arrive, the service begins. There are two choirs on this occasion – a senior choir that sings the hymns for most of the church program, and a youth choir.

The presiding bishop speaks for a good 45 minutes before the man of the hour is officially ordained. All in, the ceremony lasts about two and a half hours.

After a restroom break and some refreshments, we eventually leave for home.

The trip back seems to take longer than the one to St. Elizabeth. There’s a brief roadside stop so one of the passengers can buy some fried shrimp. And it’s gotten dark.

As we approach the city limits, K asks for us to be dropped off in town so we can catch a taxi home.

We have plans to go to Negril tomorrow morning, but K and I haven’t really talked about what time we’re leaving. When we finally reach home, she’s so exhausted, she makes a cup of tea and goes straight to bed.

I guess we’ll figure it out when we get up tomorrow.

A Little Fish, A Little Beach

Saturday, July 25th.

The last several days have been comparatively quiet – and hotter than I can ever remember.

On Thursday, I accompanied K on an assignment outside of town. She’s a teacher who’s well-known for her literacy training, and she was asked to give a special presentation to a group of local children and their parents. It was cool seeing her in her element, trying to engage the kids and parents and interacting with them. I could see why a lot of kids might want her as their teacher!

After, there were some games for the kids and parents, followed by refreshments. Unfortunately, the sinus problems that had been plaguing K the last couple of days (probably due to the heat) started taking their toll. When we eventually returned home, and she headed straight to bed.

Friday was a late start, but we braved the heat once again as my cousin ran more errands. Later in the day, we dropped by Uncle Eucline’s house again to visit for a bit, then headed up to Uncle Egton’s place for a second visit.

2015-07-24 18.19.29This time around, we actually spend enough time that I can snap some photos around his lovely property — and get eaten alive by mosquitoes in the process. (The one part of visiting Jamaica I always dread.)

We returned Uncle Eucline to his home, then drove to a seafood place for some fish.

2015-07-24 19.48.13When it came time to order, I asked for some escovitch – fried, well-seasoned, and spicy fish – with vegetables, breaded, fried bammy and rice.

K said that steamed fish would have been much better. And at first, I thought it was because she preferred healthy meals. But I understood better when I tried to separate the meat from the bones — it became a part-time job!

We order a second fish, but after eating the previous one, I barely made a dent. Full of food, we pack it up and leave.

*******************************************************

“K, it’s ten minutes to six.”

My cousin rolls over, and softly laughing. I think she wanted to sleep in, and was hoping that I’d want to do the same.

Nope.

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since she mentioned earlier in the week. Plus, K said she liked to go to the beach to swim early on Saturday mornings, before it got too hot.

2015-07-25 07.07.27By the time we get our act together and get down to the small local beach — near Montego Bay’s “Hip Strip” — it’s close to 7:30. A bunch of people had the same idea — they’re already in the water.

We bathe, K runs into a couple of people she knows (fellow educators, I think), and she collects rocks for her garden, while tiny fish whiz past our ankles. After an hour, we’re back in K’s car, heading home.

Today, we had hoped to go to Negril, but things don’t work out. So as soon as we get home, K goes back to sleep, leaving me hang out around the house.

In addition to the mosquito bites starting to itch like crazy, I notice this crazy rash running down the right side of my neck to my right clavicle. I briefly panic, because I know that chikagunya is an issue down here. The last thing I need — on top of sweating non-stop — is to come down with a mosquito-borne illness. I’m hoping that it’s just a heat rash.

When K gets up, we head out for more errands. On our way down, we stop by this man’s house – he’s got a stand for selling jelly coconuts. Standing under the shade of one of the trees in his front yard, we pass a coconut back and forth to drink the water, then the coconut is chopped in half and the man hack makeshift “spoons” out of the outer shell so we can eat the jelly.

As we stand there, we find out the coconut jelly man actually lives in Canada part of the year – Montreal, to be exact. He’s been living there for 45 years! Go figure.

Later in the evening, I tag along with K to an evening meeting at her church.

The overhead fans aren’t working, and despite all the open doors, the air inside the sanctuary is hot and stuffy. The small choir pews we’re sitting in are so hard — there’s no cushioning whatsoever. If the intended effect is to make one sit at attention, it’s not working.

As the small group makes its way through its agenda, I’m fighting to stay awake (due to the heat) and K – still having sinus troubles – has quietly nodded off.  There were refreshments after, which perked me up, but I’m sure unsettled K a bit.

With that meeting done, it’s back home and just about time to sleep.

Sunday’s going to be a long day.

Meeting Mrs. Shearer

K drives down from the hillside, back into the chaos of downtown. She expertly manoeuvres past cars, around wayward pedestrians — and stops off at the hardware store run by one of my distant relatives.

The lady I’m about to meet is related to my mother’s father’s side of the family*, but everyone knows her as Mrs. Shearer.

She’s busy with the operations of her business — which I completely understand —  but she does make a little time for us.

She says she doesn’t have anything that say about my great-aunt Ellen – those are questions for Milda. (I don’t see it at the time, but my cousin says she makes a face at my mention of Milda’s name. Apparently Milda was quite the piece of work in her youthful days.)

Before leaving for my trip, my mother told me she thought that Mrs. Shearer would be glad to meet me and help. Now that I’m in her presence, I’m not so sure.

She makes an almost-dismissive comment (at least, to me) about “Canadians always asking about the family tree stuff”, and when I mention the gentleman who seems to have done the same thing I’m doing now, she says, “That’s him.” Apparently he’s due to come down to Jamaica for a family reunion (for more immediate members of his family) in August.

She tells me my great-grandfather was one of three brothers (her grandfather being one of the other brothers), and they were really close. (My mother has said the brothers had a bit of an unsavoury reputation in the community where they lived.)

They all had nicknames, so she isn’t sure of what their real names are. That doesn’t surprise me.  She makes a brief phone call to ask someone (I’m assuming another relative) if they can recall, but no dice.

Mrs. Shearer says she’ll try to consult the “book” (of family information, I presume) and get back to me. I would have to drop by and check with her.

Then it’s back on the road, going from errand to errand with K, before heading home for the evening.

It’s been a whirlwind past couple of days, and I’m still trying to process the bits and pieces I’ve learned. But it seems that this portion of my trip is done. We’ll see what else is in store.

*My great-grandfather (on my mother’s father’s side) and her grandfather (her mother’s father) were brothers … which I think makes me her second cousin, once removed? Genealogy experts, let me know if I’m remotely right. I had to look this up on the internet, and I’m still not sure.