My interest in the history of my family began decades before all of the current interest in genealogy. It was fueled by a desire to hold onto the people I had left behind in Guyana, as well as to connect to a past that I knew nothing about.
My first line of enquiry began with my mother; afterwards, I spoke with other family members, raising some of the things that I had gleaned from her. By interviewing as many relatives as possible, I was able to get a clearer picture of the people I was trying to find out about, as well as the circumstances surrounding their lives. Each relative had their own unique tale to tell, and slowly, I was able to fit pieces of information together, the way one does with a jigsaw puzzle.
Most of my relatives had migrated to the USA after I left Guyana, so while holidaying there, I looked through telephone directories for people with the same surname as my grandfather. After calling and informing them of my search, most were willing to give me basic information about their family members, which enabled me to pursue other threads of enquiry. I also obtained a copy of my great great-grandfather’s will dated 1883, from my aunt.
Another source of information came from the Internet, where I was able to locate the names and addresses of family members in Guyana. One such relative was an 82 year old cousin of my mother. He wrote back informing me that he had lost contact with her after he came back from the Second World War. Most of his knowledge came from his father, my grandfather’s elder brother. Being advanced in age, I felt a sense of urgency to question him, and we corresponded regularly for nearly three years before he died.
My search on websites also unearthed information, previously unknown to my older relatives (because it happened before their birth), and led me to join the British Library, where I researched information on a court case dating back to the 1920’s involving a family member. That case was later quoted as a precedent with regards to Caribbean Tort Law in relation to false imprisonment.
Other websites provided information dating back to the 1600’s with a Chinese connection, when indentured labourers were shipped from Hong Kong to Guyana. I also joined the National Archives at Kew, looking for records of the plantations that enslaved populations were allocated to live on.
In 2006, Cheryl (a cousin of mine) visited Barbados, and located the birth certificates of my great-grandmother, and her siblings. We had always been told that she was the only girl in the family, however, birth records stated that she had another sister and that all seventeen of her siblings had the same parents.
My great-grandmother’s son had gone to Africa during the 1940’s. That knowledge had always filled me with admiration and a tinge of sadness. Sadness, because I thought the links between them and the family in Guyana had been lost decades ago. However, after holidaying in Guyana, my mother’s first cousin returned with an address in London. They had travelled to England after their father had died during the conflicts in Sierra Leone. Meeting them for the first time was the fulfillment of a dream I had nurtured throughout my childhood.
More recently, my search for family has been through the social network site Facebook. That avenue is proving to be very productive because I am making immediate contact with family members and can share my findings with them.
Family history research is extremely rewarding, but you need to be specific about what you want to achieve. Though genealogy is about tracing those who came before you, the first step is to begin with yourself, then continue with your immediate family. It is sensible to start off with one side of the family. As you traverse backwards and forwards through time, you may discover lost family histories and new relatives. But more than anything, your journey will be one of self discovery and a deeper appreciation of your heritage.
Read Part One
© Scherin Barlow Massay, July 2009 (all rights reserved)