For me at this stage I would have to say no, I don’t think I do have any West Indian ancestors, but like much of genealogy, you don’t know for sure until you find documentation and perhaps photos.
If you think there is a chance you could have West Indian ancestors or are just curious about the history, please continue to read and even have a look at the websites I have listed for further information 🙂
Countries included as British West Indian
Also I have included the dates these countries were settled so if you have a hunch then seeing the date may perhaps help you in you research.
Anguilla – 1650
Antigua – 1632
Bahamas – 1629
Barbados – 1625
Belize – 1638
Bermuda – 1609
British Virgin Islands – 1666
Cayman Islands – 1670
Dominica – 1763
Grenada – 1763
Guyana – 1814
Jamaica – 1655
Montserrat – 1632
Nevis – 1628
St Christopher – 1623/1713
St Lucia – 1814
St Vincent – 1763
Tobago – 1814
Trinidad – 1802
Turks and Caicos Island – 1678
Please note that some of these Islands were previously occupied by either the French, Dutch or Spanish.
Now I know what a lot of you are probably thinking, being West Indian means you are black or have black ancestors, not necessarily true, your ancestor could have been someone who owned a plantation on one of the islands and owned some slaves (not that I enjoy using that word but it is the term used at the time).
Unfortunately not all the research into these ancestors can be done outside of these countries and many of them hold all the records there, especially in the associated churches, though there is some that you can do online and even in England, let me show you how, but first, you need to know some of the history.
By 1800 the population of the British West Indian Islands was mostly Africans and those of African decent, those who had been captured, enslaved and transported from West and Central Africa, an amazing 1.6 million actually, transported to the British West Indies to work as slaves on the plantations. Though this changed in the 19th century when Asian Indian labourers were recruited to help overcome severe labour problems due to the abolition of slavery in 1834 (good date to remember).
Tracing your ancestors on these islands is much the same as tracing them in England, it helps a lot to know which island they were from and which parish they were associated with, it would also be useful to know their ethnicity and their religion. Sadly though, the amount of documentation which has survived is poor on some of the islands due to poor records management, neglect and fire, not to mention both public and private property destroyed during war or invasion, plus humidity and hurricanes due to the climate, last but not least would be due to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Port Royal, former capital of Jamaica was destroyed in 1692 thanks to an earthquake, so if you have difficulties locating records there, that would be why. Also, similar destruction happened to Plymouth which was the capital of Montserrat in 1997.
If you have an ancestor who was a slave then tracking them down could be tricky, see they were not entitled to have legally recognised surnames, couldn’t make contracts or own property – until the 1820’s – also they were often prevented from attending church. If you are wanting to know about an enslaved ancestor before they were freed then you need to research their owners, though you need to keep in mind that an owner can also be an ancestor.
Generally before 1834 the only information you will find is the person’s ethnicity and status, though if these two are not recorded then you can generally assume that the person was ‘considered’ white, even if they were not. Another little fact is that some relationships and marriages were not recognised at the time Muslim marriages were not recognised as legal first until 1936 and Hindu ones not until 1946, so finding the term ‘illegitimate’ is rare, look into these things pretty deep as there are a lot of religions, laws and traditions mixing together on these islands.
http://www.familysearch.org – The Church of Latter-Day Saints has many records online on this very useful website.
http://www.bl.uk – a website for newspapers, old and current
http://www.newspaperarchive.com – more newspapers to sift through
http://www.rootsweb.com/~caribgw – Caribbean Genealogical Web Project
http://www.cyndislist.com/hispanic.htm – a site to help those looking for Hispanic, South American and Caribbean ancestors
One suggestion I could give, go and have a bit of a working holiday, once you have researched as much as you can, go and see where your ancestors lived and worked, you might just be able to find the missing pieces.
Happy hunting 🙂