Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Expanding my genealogical horizons: diving into the Caribbean (records, that is)

My family history is totally American and Western European, so whenever I do genealogy research, records pertaining to those two areas are the ones I am most familiar and comfortable with. Because of the request of two of my friends with Italian ancestry for help, I've dabbled in some Italian records, too. But the world is a lot bigger than just the United States and Europe and I'm starting to realize that in my genealogy research. For me, personally, having a narrow geographical view of the world has been okay, and probably more than okay, as I really feel well-versed in a lot of those records because I have to use them so often. But I've recently gotten requests from friends with Caribbean ancestry for some help on where to look and what to look for, and so, since I'm in a lull in my own personal research, I've started dabbling in that. The Family Search website is a particularly good place to start. They have an array of records online outside of the American-European genealogy sphere, although be forewarned, a lot of these records are not indexed. My best friend's family is from the Dominican Republic and with a name and date and place, I was able to find her grandfather's death record as well as his baptismal record (VERY enlightening and interesting), but it took hours of scrolling through page by page by page...yes, folks, genealogy is not as easy as "Who Do You Think You Are?" makes it seem! Luckily, I took five years of Spanish, so reading these records was a lot easier than whenever I use German records. Which is a lot. Anyway, my sister has a friend who is Jamaican and whose grandfather was born in Cuba. He has questions about what his grandfather did for a living and any siblings he might have had. So the past couple of days I've been looking to see where he might be able to go to get those answers. No matter what kind of genealogy you're doing, you're going to have to go beyond records that have been put online. European and American family history is much more easily accessible online but even then you can't just depend on the Internet to do thorough research (although you can use the Internet to find out what on-site records might be available). And of course the boyfriend's family is Honduran - there aren't many records from Honduras available online although Ancestry.com was very helpful in finding passenger manifests that showed his great-grandfather's many trips to New Orleans and provided a lot of good biographical information. More info may be available in Honduras - next vacation perhaps? I also realized this weekend when my sister asked me where her friend might be able to find info on his grandfather that for people who don't do genealogy, they literally have no idea where to even start. For us, it's second nature to think "birth certificate, census, city directory, will, immigration" etc. etc. but the "lay person" if you will doesn't even know half of what's available to them. So you can be helpful to a friend (or a stranger) just by pointing them in the right direction. Plus, every genealogist uses different records and may have discovered something obscure but helpful that you may never have heard of, even if you're a well-versed genealogist in your own right - which is today's reminder of the importance of sharing!! :) Rambling, done. Have a good week everyone!

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