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Caribbean Genealogy Research
General Resources
FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
More information and accuracy is always welcome...
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Updated 29 July, 2008


 
 What can I expect as I start looking for my Caribbean ancestors?
 
My own experience has been very positive. When I first started, I joined one of the email Lists and found very nurturing guidance which gently put me on track, gave me information and suggested both web sites, software and required reading. I used every tool I could find, including search engines, meta-search engines and every word, name and combination I could think of.
 
On the dark side, I have seen people come onto both email and on-line Lists like bulls into a ring, complete with virtual snorting, fiery words and heavy breathing, and have gone away mostly empty-handed after making outright demands of the volunteers they treated like paid servants and flinging insults at everyone in sight.
 
The people on these Discussion Lists and Web pages are not REQUIRED to serve you or anyone else; they are there because they are interested and they want to be there - they should be treated with the same respect you would desire for yourself.
 
By all means ask questions, but if there are indications that you are relying on eveyone else to do the work and do not plan to lift a finger for yourself, the stream of information will soon dry up. Educate yourself a little before jumping in with technical or broad requests - several books are available, software usually comes with tutorials, and there are several places on the Net which offer teach-yourself courses.
 
Back to my own experiences, using the Internet I searched Library catalogs (especially of local Libraries) and discovered a treasure trove less than half a mile away from where I live. I had very few bad experiences, but I tried to learn from them along the way and always tried to improve on what I found. If you do some searching on line, you will very probably find catalogs on line for Libraries not far away from you (more of you learn how to use Telnet), and if you find there are specific books you want to view, you can locate them in this way and try to have them made available at your local Library by Inter-Library Loan (ILL), a network of participating Libraries in the USA and Canada who lend each other books.
 
Using the software: I bought a competent and professional software package, and in building my Tree I refused to insert any entry unless I had some kind of documented proof that it was a genuine record. As my Tree expanded and I hit brick walls, I started preparing for the eventuality of getting over that obstacle by researching and adding all of the possibly valid records from before that date that might be relevant (on the other side of my "brick wall") - so that when the happy day came that I could pass that wall I could make connections right away and not have to start my research all over again with the newly discovered set of data.
 
I started a Library of my own and, one by one, have found relevant books at reasonable prices through eBay and other sources. So now I help others with queries on the Caribbean List with look-ups in what material I do have, and the acquaintances that have sprung up have been no less than surprising.
 
I have gone further than the average person would have. Using resources that are available to me I have started finding and re-publishing rare books in specifically the subject of Caribbean Genealogy. My first three "Projects" have all been large investments and expensive to produce and sell, but I know they will be worth it to myself and many others in time.
 
 How complete are records that are available today?
 
In my travels I have come across heartbreaking instances of lost and damaged records due to severe and every-day weather, as well as abuse and neglect. I have even come across people who actually believe that the records of the past have no relevance to today and would just as soon see them destroyed altogether - some have been found on dumps - instead of money spent to preserve them. In the main, most of those in charge who have had training, could make the process easier - and should know better - simply have no interest and do not care.
 
In most Caribbean countries today, records preservation is a very low priority for a number of reasons - in addition to the ones above. To some extent, Caribbean island governments find themselves in severe financial trouble for many significant reasons and there is little justification found to spend money on microfilming and archiving when basic human needs are being neglected, hospital resources are in short supply and roads are full of holes.
 
So there is a need to approach your research with an expectation that it will be for the long haul. Records are being discovered and brought to light through individual efforts, but the process is very slow and tedious, and not made any easier with the suspicion and bureaucracy surrounding such original material. Effectively, once records enter most government Archives, they are lost to private reproduction forever.
 
My own efforts include re-publishing what rare books and records I can find in Caribbean genealogy - the current list is HERE. Prices are high for many reasons; a few are - high setup costs, short print runs, high quality of materials, expensive sources of originals, and the cost of shipping heavy books (shipping is usually included).
 
Local researchers in most islands are also in short supply, and the few that do exist are usually overworked. I offer any Caribbean researcher a free listing on these pages, so if you know of one who is not listed, feel free to give him/her my address.
 
 How can I start looking for information about my Caribbean ancestors?
 
This question has a very complicated answer. For a number of reasons, each island or territory presents a different challenge or problem, and most islands do not have researchers available on location. In many cases, the records are disorganised - or literally all over the floors of several rooms or locations - and/or may be locked away and inaccessible.
 
Most islands changed hands several times over the years. For instance, research in St. Croix involves the governments of Holland and the United States - the records are still held separately depending on which country owned that island at the date for which you need the records. Where English, Dutch, French or Spanish - or a combination - owned an island, the records are even more scattered.
 
So the simple response is to determine which country owned the island or territory during the period you are researching and then start to look for the records. The Caribbean-L email Discussion List would be an excellent place to contact people who know about your particular location.
 
Additionally, because the area is subject to violent hurricanes, volcano and earthquake damage, records may be waterlogged or partially / completely destroyed or missing. There is even evidence that records were dumped into the sea during one rebellion of another.
 
There are several sites on the Internet dedicated to genealogical research. The largest source of links is Cyndi's List, and probably the widest-ranging is Rootsweb.
 Are there any web locations that deal specifically with the Caribbean?
 
Yes. This web site you are on now has a couple of directories that are dedicated to Caribbean genealogy research - see Caribbean Genealogy Resources for pages of resource and links on each island and CARSURDEX (the CARibbean SURname InDEX) where you leave your name and email address through a submission form for others to find your names of interest and contact you directly. Of course, you may also search it for the purpose of contacting others yourself.
 
Rootsweb also contains a similar Surname search (Select Caribbean for the Area) and Surname Index. There is a Discussion Forum-type of environment where people can leave short messages about their quests.
 
Rootsweb runs the Caribbean email Discussion List - where subscribers send emails to the List address and they are re-distributed to the entire list of subscribers. Here are found the instructions on how to join the Caribbean-L and the Caribbean-D Lists - they are both the same, but the Caribbean-D List accumulates about ten messages before sending them to you as a single email instead of you receiving them in a constant trickle.
 
This "Caribbean-L" List is perhaps the most helpful resource you can try. It finds among its subscribers a core of extremely well-informed, helpful and involved researchers throughout the Caribbean. There are quite a number of "lurkers" (people who are subscribers but choose not to post messages) who have been known to kick in with information at their disposal in particularly difficult requests, usually off-list (directly to the person asking for the information).
 
There are also a few sites - home pages run by interested individuals - which share additional information and research collected during their own personal quests. Some of these are quite extensive and have obviously taken enormous amounts of time to set up and maintain, and are probably best found using appropriate keywords and a MetaSearch engine like MetaCrawler.
 What email Discussion Lists are available through Rootsweb?
 
Here is a copy of the text from Rootsweb for the Caribbean. I suggest you follow this link to their site and follow the instructions from there... Digest mode is the version that sends you about ten accumulated posted emails in a single email instead of relaying each posted email as it is sent out - it has the effect of saving a little disk space. The Digest may not be convenient for you if you plan to be active and need fast responses - at the most, you would receive a Digest about once a day (or less frequently).

Caribbean
 
CARIBBEAN-L -- A discussion list, gatewayed with the soc.genealogy.west-indies newsgroup, for anyone with a genealogical or historical interest in the West Indies and the Caribbean.  CARIBBEAN-D -- digest mode.
 
Bahamas
 
BAHAMAS-L -- A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the country of the Bahamas.  BAHAMAS-D -- digest mode.
 
Cuba
 
CUBA-L -- A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the country of Cuba. Interested individuals may want to check out the CubaGenWeb genealogy site (part of the WorldGenWeb Project) at http://www.cubagenweb.org and the Cuban Surname Query Bulletin Board at http://www.cubagenweb.org/bbs.htm. Postings may be in English or Spanish.   CUBA-D -- digest mode.
 
Dominican Republic
 
REPUBLICA-DOMINICANA-L -- A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in the Dominican Republic.  REPUBLICA-DOMINICANA-D -- digest mode.
 
Puerto Rico
 
PUERTORICO-L -- A mailing list for anyone with a genealogical interest in Puerto Rico.  PUERTORICO-D -- digest mode.
 What can you tell me about the LDS and their material?
 
First, worldwide locations of Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can be sought here:
  http://www.familysearch.com/Eng/Library/FHC/frameset_fhc.asp
*Please bear in mind that not every Temple has a Family History Library associated with it.
  
The LDS is the common reference used for the Mormons, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints. The last three words here are the source of the initials LDS.
 
The LDS has for many years been sending their people to various places around the world with microfilm and microfiche equipment to make copies of records or genealogical interest - with the full permission of the agency, institution or government involved. They have covered - and are still working on - quite a few places in the Caribbean, and they publish a directory of their material. My personal knowledge indicates that on occasion local conditions interfere with their work - as soon as there is any local political activity or opposition directly concerning their intentions and/or activities, they pack their equipment and leave immediately.
 
A number of the LDS Churches/Temples have been provided with "Family History Library" facilities for the use of the Mormons themselves. However, they also provide limited hours staffed by volunteers for the use of the general public. Normally the use is so heavy that the equipment must be booked quite far in advance.
 
In my own local experience, the hours are too limited to provide for a satisfactory rate of progress (I experienced a limit of 3 hours per day, 3 days a week). The equipment is also limited in numbers and somewhat antiquated, in some cases making use of the facilities somewhat inconvenient and frustrating. Part of my experience was also that when the films arrived it took two weeks or more to secure a booking to use a machine, which effectively wasted half of the time the films were available to me on the LDS loan.
 
A better route for long-term research is to determine whether a larger library near you is equipped with microfilm and/or microfiche readers - and, most usefully, printers - and has an Inter-Library Loan (ILL)  arrangement with the LDS Library in Salt Lake City. If there is such a suitably-equipped library and they are not already affiliated, you can usually request that it establish such an ILL relationship. The hours of public libraries are much longer, the machines are usually relatively recent (and better serviced), and there is a much greater ratio of printers to just readers. You also have access to facilities for a considerably longer - and more convenient - time.
 
The loan process is to check the LDS Directory - from these pages or the CDs available at the Family History Libraries and the places where they have Inter-Library Loan (ILL) arrangements - and determine the 7-digit numbers of the films required. A Request Form is completed, including address and contact telephone number. The fee is paid either upon submission of the Request Form/s (at the LDS Family History Centre) or upon arrival of the films (my public library).
 
In North America, the material arrives in about two to three weeks - other areas of the world may be different and I believe requests from the Caribbean take as long as six weeks due to shipping times. They are available to the Requestor for one month from the date of arrival, and that period may be extended by one month with the payment of an additional fee (which is usually the same as the initial fee).
 
Please note: The material borrowed may NOT be removed from the facility where it is on loan.
 
Time Saver: Look first for a directory or an index in the film series you plan to use. A single microfilm can contain many hundreds - even thousands - of images and if someone has already indexed the set you can save perhaps literally hundreds of hours of searching - and thousands of dollars - by knowing precisely which reels to order and where on them to look. Indexes for Barbados records usually narrow the search down to a single page.
 
LDS
microfiche are more likely to be actually stored and available in a participating Library. They are flat films, about 6 inches x 4 inches in size, which require very high magnification and usually contain many full pages of documents on each film. The IGI (International Genealogical Index) is a list of names, events, dates and locations, and is found alphabetically by region. The entire Caribbean region is a single set of 30 microfiche and contains mostly records from Barbados (due to the greater number of Barbados records available over everywhere else).
 
There is also a database  version of the IGI on-line. The Custom Search page is at
  http://www.familysearch.org/eng/Search/frameset_search.asp?PAGE=igi/search_IGI.asp
   
Please further note that, because the IGI is also composed of family trees submitted by individuals, it should be seen as a guide and not solid evidence of an individual or relationship. Researchers must be careful to confirm and check that the IGI information is in fact true, but it serves as an excellent source of additional and alternate leads and information to persons whose research has reached a 'brick wall' and are casting around for some way to continue their quest for family information.
 
Finally, I am made to understand that the LDS material must be - by their own rules - at least 50 years old before they will allow it to be available publicly. I also understand that it has been about 50 years since the last release, so we may soon have the bonus of seeing a release of new material to their public database in the near future.
  

 I hear more now about a search using DNA. What are the basics?  24feb08

The first "big thing" between DNA and the public was the National Geographic "Genographic" Project. In that Project a scientist is (still) gathering samples of DNA and running a test on it for only the 12 Y-chromosome "markers" for males and two mitoChondrial "markers" for females that are necessary to his research. That Project seeks to discover the roots and the routes: where Man originated from, and how he got to where he is now. The research has discovered that the Root is in Africa, and for each individual the matches with others (so far) give a fairly approximate route by which each individual reached his or her ancestral base.
  
It should be noted that this Project does not in any way come close to showing that one individual is related to another individual. the 12 male markers that the Project is using are the most basic markers and tie us to groups of ancestors thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of years ago. Each test performed gets a unique ID with which they can access their own individual page, review a graphic of their ancestral pathways from Africa through Asia and/or Europe, and collect their DNA marker results.
  
I hasten to add that nor does the 12 marker test show any indication of sickness or disease in the current individual from which it was taken. Not only are the 12 markers chosen for the Project not the ones that would indicate such conditions, they are also insufficient to indicate more than what the Project is studying.
  
This brings up the subject of what an effective test result is for contributing to the genealogy of your recent family... my knowledge so far suggests that the absolute basic you should be aiming for is 37 markers; however if you get the 67 marker test done you will be saving money in the long run (not having to pay for any other tests) and you can extract the 12, 37 and and any other test lesser than 67 markers.
  
By explanation, each marker has a name. The 67 marker test starts with the 12 markers studied by the Genographic Project and continues with those in the 37 marker test, and so on, up to 67.
  
The Genographic Project has partnered with the company Family Tree DNA, on the web as FamilyTreeDNA.com, who sell the tests and - with access to the Genographic Project samples, if you did that already - are able to offer upgrade pricing and comprehensive testing facilities.
  
With test results in hand, there are a number of databases already being built on the web against which you can enter your DNA results and receive connections with potential existing relatives. However, I urge you to understand that the 12 markers provided by the Genographic Project are NOT enough to guarantee anything but the minor fact that you were related to a small percentage of those people indicated, and that would have been too far in the past for human memory or recording.
  
At 37 markers and above you may find good matches... the more important - accurate - ones would be those who can find a common surname (or similar surname) with yours.
  
The DNA test is a good idea. It will tend to expand your family tree, and in an accurate way (if you keep following a path where you only accept reliable evidence). There is even a place that offers a 37 marker test free of charge!

To get involved in your own Caribbean genealogy research, leave your info for others to find 24/7/365 and start discussing the possibilities, please review the FREE resource provided on this domain - the Caribbean Surname Index...
Caribbean Surname Index (web page): http://www.candoo.com/surnames/index.html
Caribbean Surname Index (Forum): http://www.candoo.com/surnames/index.php


FAQ | Preservation | GenResources | Microfilm Index Caribbean Surname Index | About Microfilms | email Webmaster | Mitchell's West Indian Bibliography | Caribbean-L email Discussion List | Commercial Sources of Research Material | Mormons: IGI International Genealogical Index | Mormons: Family History Library Catalog |  CARSURDEX - Caribbean Surname Index | Antigua Film Project p1|p2|p3|p4|p5|p6|p7|p8 | Surnames By Town 


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Last modified: July 29, 2008