ARGH. Names.

Eight days ago, the Mormon genealogy Web site updated its database.


And for a few minutes, I got really excited. So I tried to search for some of my unknown relatives. No dice. I wasn’t completely surprised.

On a whim, I decided to check the digital numbers for some of the files. Turns out the records were for parishes OTHER than the ones my ancestors lived in.

While chatting with my mom recently, I was telling her about my non-progress with the family research, and we somehow started talking about last names. She told me to keep the following in mind when dealing with Jamaican birth records:

On the birth certificates of people whose biological parents didn’t marry (for a host of reasons), that person often assumed the mother’s surname, unless or UNTIL the mother decided otherwise.

Maybe you’re thinking, so what? This isn’t really anything new. (Or, you know exactly what I’m trying to get at.) But, humour me for a moment. I’m going to use my mom as an example.

For my entire life, I’ve thought that her maiden name was Campbell. That’s what she’s always told me. That’s what she conveyed in all sorts of anecdotes about her life. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s still true.


Her mother’s maiden name was Jenkins. So, technically, you could say that her maiden name was actually Jenkins, right up until she was registered for school. From that point on, her last name was Campbell. (Same with her sister.)

When she went to the UK in the early 1960s to study nursing (and I hope I have this part of the story right), she and her father had to go through some paperwork to verify that she was who she SAID she was, and that her father WAS actually her father, since she was identified by her mother’s surname, not her father’s.

So, when you’re searching for your Jamaican ancestors (or ancestors from ANY country for that matter), it makes things a hell of a lot harder if you don’t know their mothers’ maiden names. Or, even worse, you don’t have any names whatsoever.

Sigh. I actually don’t know how stuff like this doesn’t make genealogists throw up their hands with frustration sometimes. Oh well. Onwards.

POST-SCRIPT: According to an avid researcher on one of the Jamaican genealogy groups on Facebook, Family Search – the Mormon-run genealogy Web site, is having what it calls a Worldwide Arbitration Event, from May 1 – 8, 2015. Their aim is to enlist the help of volunteers to help reduce a backlog of some 6.5 million records that need to be indexed.

I wish I could take part, but my schedule’s not that flexible. They’ve got specific records they want indexed, but I’m hoping that there are a bunch of Jamaican records from St. James or Hanover parishes among them. (I’m crossing all my fingers and toes.)

It would be nice if someone taking part would keep an eye out for any wayward Campbells, Danielses, Careys, Jenkinses or Fosters on my behalf 🙂 !

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.