Project: Reproduction of
Oliver's 'Caribbeana'
-- James C. "Jim" Lynch --
Last updated - April 19, 2008

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In his early years, Vere Langford Oliver had planned to become a doctor; the fascination with genealogical research and recording in the West Indies proved too much for him, however, and he dedicated the rest of his life to such pursuits. Medicine's loss was genealogy's gain.

Oliver's output was focused and prodigious. He was ably assisted by Mrs.Vernona T. C. Smith, who died in 1902. The Society of Genealogists in London has the original forty-three volumes of manuscript material which she compiled, including extracts from Colonial Office papers, Close Rolls and wills proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury; most of the volumes of her work are indexed in the Society's Great Card Index.

While Mrs Smith was locating and transcribing relevant material in London, Oliver was doing the same in the West Indies. It was, after all, the land of many of his own ancestors, and between 1894 and 1899 he published his three-volume History of the Island of Antigua, a monumental work of scholarship. Even greater achievements were to follow.

Oliver was a tireless collector of material, and later researchers can be grateful that he chose to publish many of his findings in a journal issued to subscribers and limited to one hundred copies, which he chose to call "Caribbeana: being miscellaneous papers relating to the history, genealogy, topography and antiquities of the British West Indies".

The work appeared in quarterly parts from 1910 to 1920, making five full volumes in all and an incomplete sixth volume. It ran as a journal over more years than Oliver would have liked, owing to the intervention of the First World War, but includes at least some material for nearly all the islands of the West Indies, including calendars and transcriptions of parish registers, wills and deeds, correspondence, pedigrees, extracts from newspapers, extensive notes on families and a host of illustrations. Fully indexed, Caribbeana is easy to consult and fascinating to browse through - a gold mine for the Caribbean researcher. Its main series of pedigrees is indexed in J.B.Whitmore's Genealogical Guide (1953).

Oliver himself died in 1942, having added further printed works on monumental inscriptions in Barbados and on other islands in the West Indies to his already-impressive output in 1915 and 1927 respectively. His own papers on various West Indian families were sorted by surname and entered in the document collection of the library of the Society of Genealogists in London, of which he had been a Founder Fellow. An obituary for him appeared in the Society's journal, The Genealogists' Magazine, for March 1942, paying tribute to his work on Caribbeana, "which contains a mine of information about families connected with the West Indies."

The inestimable value of Caribbeana has intensified the frustration felt by researchers interested in the settlers of the West Indies at the difficulty of locating a set of the volumes. Caribbeana is hardly, if ever, offered for sale on the used book market. Very few institutions throughout the world have any volumes at all, while some have incomplete sets. A reprint of this classic work is long overdue and warmly to be welcomed. Caribbeana will surprise and delight you.

John Titford M.A., Mès L., L.H.G.

Chairman of Examiners, Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies, England.
Member of the Executive Committee, Society of Genealogists, London.
August, 1999.


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