On a Roll (of Records)

In late August, one of the Facebook genealogy groups I’m a part of posted a notice to let members know that the genealogy Web site Ancestry was allowing access to its UK records for a few days.

This piqued my interest, because I knew my grandfather and one of his brothers (one of my great-uncles on the Campbell side) had gone to England in the 1950s. My grandfather eventually returned to Jamaica, but my great-uncle Collin stayed and lived there for about 30 years (he died in Wolverhampton in 1985).

Up to this point, I had some previous luck in finding an index for marriage registrations in Wolverhampton. It didn’t have an image of the actual index itself, but there was a listing for Collin and his wife (who I’ll discuss in the next post). I also located a very minimal listing for his death 30 years ago.

One evening when I had some time on my hands, I clicked on the link and signed into Ancestry.

For starters, I returned to the link for the marriage registration listing that I knew about. And this time, while there was no image for the actual marriage certificate, I could see two scanned images of the marriage registration index – one listing my great-uncle Collin’s name, one listing his wife’s – so I made copies for my records.

Then, I decided to do a cold search for Collin’s name, keeping in mind that I’d also have to use a variation of his name in case using the proper spelling didn’t work.

Well, well.

I found a couple of records of Collin’s arrival to the United States – one in 1944, and one in 1945. Both of them terminated in the US. But they were still interesting nonetheless.

The record from 1944 showed Collin arriving in New York in early June – which happened to be a couple of weeks or so after my great-great-uncle (Jonathan), who lived in New York, had died. Which I why I assumed he went to New York at that time.

Or, did he?

The 1945 record shows him arriving in Port Everglades, Florida. And in one of the columns, it says that the year before, he’d been in the state of Virginia — for six months.

This was surprising, but not a complete surprise. You see, my mom told me that when she was younger, my grandfather used to go to Florida to work as a migrant worker, picking citrus fruit. He’d work for a period of time, and when he got tired of it, he’d tell the employer he was sick, and then go home …

But not before taking his earnings and spending it on stylish new suits. He never sent any money for my grandmother, mom and aunt.

So when I saw the second record, I thought for a second, and considered the possibility that perhaps both my grandfather and great-uncle went up to the States to do migrant farm work. In fact, when I looked at the page with my particulars about my great-uncle, most of the people on that list were from Hanover parish.

But that still didn’t explain the information about Virginia … or the record from 1944.

Did Collin go to New York, and on his way back decide to stop in Virginia for six months? Or did he even make it up to New York?

I tried looking for a similar record for my grandfather, but couldn’t find anything that I could link to him with any certainty.

After more searching, I found not only a record for a flight from Kingston, Jamaica to New York, in 1954 — the year Collin went to England — I found the passenger record for the ship he took from New York to Southampton, England. Final destination: Wolverhampton.

I’m still a bit astounded I found as much as I did, really.

It’s just weird to know that someone I’ve never met – an uncle that I’ve only heard about in stories – is now the most documented of all my ancestors to date.

Go figure.

Assistance in Unlikely Places

In light of my recent discoveries, I decided to look for a little extra help with my research efforts. If you’re a genealogy newbie like me, this post might be of some help.

While searching on Google, I stumbled upon this Caribbean surnames index which – as it turns out – is managed by a gentleman here in Toronto. And best of all, it’s free!

All you have to do is register (heed the administrator’s terms of use!), post the surnames of the ancestors or relatives you’re looking for (as well as the country, city or town, etc.) on the appropriate discussion boards, and see if any of the fellow users see your query and help you make a connection. Or, just scan the discussion boards before you post – there may already be a request posted by someone who could be one of your relatives.

In addition to the Caribbean surname index, the administrator also has Irish and Canadian indexes.

With respect to my search, once I registered, I went to the general discussion boards and came across a list of other resources to help users with their searches.

One of those resources, as it turns out, is something I use regularly: Facebook. If there is a group for almost everything else under the tree, you might be able to find a genealogy group for your search. And if there isn’t one? Start one. You never know who else is out there, looking for the same information you are.

In my case, there are Facebook members who run genealogy groups for each of the Jamaican parishes. So I signed up for two of them.

One of them accepted me in a short amount of time, and I posted a blurb about the ancestors I was researching.

A member from Atlanta responded to my query almost immediately, suggesting we might be related.  The last name of his ancestor wasn’t one I’d heard within my family tree, so I was initially skeptical. But anything was possible.

The conversation on Facebook led to me to sign up for another genealogy Web site and touching base with the Facebook member there, since he was an administrator for a couple of the genealogy groups there.

The Web site he uses is, in my opinion, a bit awkward to navigate compared to the one I’m currently using. But I’m on a two-week trial, so we’ll see how this works out.

Meanwhile, the group administrator for the other parish genealogy page I’d asked to join accepted me almost immediately. And, just as speedily, she set about trying to find records for some of the mystery members of my family.

I’m still trying to figure out whether that was a good idea.

I believe she has the best of intentions. But she emailed me a ton of records I’d either seen on previous searches I’d done on my own, or that I wasn’t entirely sure were my relatives.

It was a bit overwhelming.

(It also doesn’t help that all my relatives seem to have super-common names.)

One record in particular, though, could be the death certificate for my mom’s maternal grandmother. But the date is off by four years. Still, a few of the details on the certificate were spot-on. I’m trying to cross-reference this by checking with other family members, to see if I can solve the mystery.

For now, I’m going to stick with the connections I’ve made. Maybe the additional assistance will help keep my search moving along.