In 2013 I embarked on researching the history of my family. The search for one’s past seems to be something of a hot topic nowadays. It seems that many of us are trying to understand how we have come to be where we are now. This is evidenced by the many books, courses and television programs on the subject.
Whilst some of the ‘great and good’ may have documented family histories going back decades or even centuries, most of us are not so lucky and have to work at finding our roots.
I know I arrived in the UK as a baby. My parents, both from St Lucia in the Caribbean, were just one of the many families from the former British Empire to settle in the British Isles during the twentieth century. But what else could I say about the history of my family?
In this series of blogs I will explain how and why I have undertaken this project. This will, I hope, be the first of many posts describing the work I have done and will continue to do. This will also be used to recognize the many contributions from family and friends, which has helped me in my search. Hopefully it will inspire others to start their own research.
Why did I start this work?
First, I wanted to know a little more about who I was. Not just in relation to parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews. I also wanted to learn about those who have come before - my grandparents, great grandparents and so on. I asked myself - Who were my ancestors? Where did they come from? How did they live? What languages did they speak? What work did they do? What foods did they eat? What kind of music did they listen to and How did they dress?
Second, I wished to create something which I hope would be useful and interesting to other members of the family, not just those now living, but those to come after. I have always had a keen interest in history, but wouldn’t it be cool to have a view of the past in which one's own family were the main protagonist!
Last, my hope was to bring the family closer together. The number of times I’ve heard my parents talk about relatives that I’ve never met. This would be an opportunity to start communicating with those related to me living in other parts of the world.
A summary of what I did
It is very easy to start collecting family names and related dates, but the real prize is to tell a story. This only comes through doing the proper research. To learn how genealogical research was done I literally 'went back to school'. I read books and articles on the subject, attended seminars and watched videos.
Next I had to identify how I would record the genealogical information I would be collecting, and how would I share it with others. I eventually decided on two options for maintaining and sharing the family history.
Now I was ready to start recording information. I began with entering details of what I knew, namely my parents, my siblings and their families. Then I spoke with my parents about their siblings. I widened by research to cousins, uncles, aunts and I gradually started to construct a picture of my family.
I had to determine what resources I could use to help me further develop the story of my family. Subscribing to certain sites provided me with access to a worldwide searchable genealogy database of birth, marriage, death records and more. The message boards were another source of invaluable help. The St Lucian Archives were also useful as were funeral programs and obituaries as well as photographs held by family members.
We are familiar with the use DNA testing for forensic evidence and paternity disputes. But these tests can also be helpful in genealogical research. I took two tests with different companies and the results I received provided me with a picture of my genetic makeup and showed me which parts of the world my ancestors originated from. In addition these tests also made available a list of 'DNA cousins', people who had taken the same tests and had elements of matching DNA to mine. With this I was able to find a first cousin who I didn't know about!
Where am I now
I would say that whilst the research I have done so far, has been challenging and at times frustrating, it has also been very rewarding and enlightening. Just looking at the names of ancestors who were been born and lived a hundred or more years ago can really put things in perspective. I often wonder what our descendants will be saying or thinking about us in the future.
Another outcome of this work was that it has opened up avenues of communication with many members of the family. I am very indebted to those family members who have taken the time to contact me and provide items of information and photographs.
As older family members pass on, new members are born and the other thing that I have learned is that this will be a never ending task.