Jamaican Genealogy Sources For Those Beginning Their Search

After you have talked to all the older relatives and done your searches for family papers, documents, bibles, certificates, photographs etc and made a preliminary pedigree and group sheets of all the known data, you will probably want to begin with searching the vital records, i.e. births, marriages and deaths for data that you do not have. Remember to work backwards from the known to the unknown. So if you know your great-grandfather was alive in 1910, but you do not know the date of his death, the first task is to find this death record or an obituary, because it may have other leads or clues to the records further back, i.e. of his marriage and birth.

Several groups of records are available to help, but two will probably yield the most information, namely Jamaican Civil Registration Records and Jamaican Church Records. Although the originals of the latter reside in Spanish Town, Jamaica, do not despair, the Genealogy Society of Utah, better known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) or the Mormons has filmed these records, and they are available all over the world in their Family History Centers for a small fee for underwriting the copying of the microfilms. Master copies of the films are kept in an underground vault in the mountains outside Salt Lake City, Utah and are copied by the Family History Library when requested by users at their centers. Some film records may be on permanent loan to a particular local Family History Center, as they are called, for example the one in London, England. The parent Family History Library is located in Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah. This is their website:The Family History Library.

ADDED in February 2012

Although many of these records have not been indexed, a great number are available on line as of this date. Several of the Civil Registration Birth records have been indexed and so are available for search on line. You may still want to use the indexes to the parish records of the Anglican Church records which are available for browsing, before you try to find the births, marriages and burials that are available on the orignal microfilms now on line for Browsing. When you first open the page of the New Family History Search (given above) you will see a section for inputting your search for an ancestor. Below is the Browsing section. If you click on Caribbean, Central America and South America, and scroll down the list you will see the records from Jamaica some indexed, those with only browsing abiltiy are so labeled Note: only the births for Civil Registration have been indexed at this time (Feb 2012). The Law 6 registers 1871-1879 and Dissenter records which are described in the catalog do not appear to have been put on line yet (from the Anglican Parish records). Please note it is very important to browse the Anglican records that you know the PARISH that the ancestor came from in order to browse the records profitably. I suggest that while you may find what you are looking for on an intial search that you, read the rest of this page to enhance your knowledge of the records and finding them in the catalog on line.

IF YOU DO NOT FIND THE RECORDS YOU ARE SEEKING ONLINE,your first task will be to determine the closest Family History Center near you. To do this, either look in the telephone yellow pages under Churches and find the listing for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Or search the website of the Family History Library Find Centers. Before you go, phone and ask for the exact location of the Family History Center, and the hours of opening. These centers are staffed by volunteers of the Church and so they are not always open. (Even if you have opening times from their website, it is wise to call for verification). In large cities, you may want to also ask if there are times for signing up for use of computers, or film or fiche readers. Your first visit may not yield great quantities of information, but you should feel some accomplishment at learning to use the catalog and the equipment for reading the films, fiche or using the computer.

The films of the Mormons are cataloged. This catalog may either be on Computer CDrom or in smaller centers on microfiche. Some centers may have both, so if the computer is busy, you may still use the microfiche reader. This source is called the Family History Library Catalog Or FHL Catalog. The catalog is also on their website: FHL Catalog. Usually you would do a "place" search, e.g.Jamaica. This site is in Beta so there is a link to the old catalog link on the page.

The other source which many have heard of before they visit a center is the IGI, (the International Genealogical Index). This may also be on CDrom or on Microfiche. If you feel uneasy with unfamiliar computers, you should try the microfiche, but the volunteer in the centers are most helpful in assisting you to master the equipment. You just have to ask. The IGI is also available on the old FHL website with a search engine: IGI Family Search. You can select "Caribbean Islands" as the region, but see below before you search.

Another word of reassurance, volunteers do not try to convert you to their religious beliefs, and welcome people of all faiths. The tenets of their belief, require them to undertake genealogical research on their own families, which is why they have made the most extensive collection of records in the world, which they are willing to share with everyone.

The IGI. The IGI is not a great source for Jamaican genealogy. Under the Caribbean, or West Indies, most of the records which have been extracted are for Barbados. The most records for Jamaica which have been entered, even in the computer update, are records submitted by Mormons for their own families, and these are very few. There are not many centers working on extraction of records for Jamaica for the IGI, so you may have a long wait for this to come out.

The IGI is a collection of over 200 million world-wide names of people, mainly birth and marriage records, which have been entered first by Mormons identifying and performing temple ordinances, called Sealings, on their own ancestors, and then by a program of extraction of original sources to fulfill obligations to the church. Because temple ordinances do not require death or burial data, very, very few of these events are recorded in the IGI. Searching is easiest by computer on CDrom, but the fiches have the same data. An advantage of using the computer is that you can get printouts, whereas you need to copy data from the fiches by hand.

A new edition of the IGI came out about every 4 years and the last edition was in 1992, with an update (Addendum) in 1994. The 1996 version was shipped to centers at the end of 1996, so they were available in early 1997. As stated above, while I check this source to see what has been updated, I do not expect to see a large increase in the number of entries for Jamaica. The church in Jamaica is relatively new, and very few centers in the U.S. are doing extraction work on births and marriages in Jamaica. The LDS is no longer adding to the IGI, because of the online data searching capacity.

However the LDS is started, in 2009, to extract some records in their PILOT SEARCH program:FamilySearch:Record Search This is an extremely ambitious effort to index and digitize the films stored in their vault. As of March 2010, they have posted the microfilm pages of Trelawny Parish Civil Registration,(see below) "browse images only" but not yet the index. You are invited to join the indexing group for the whole project which is larger than just Jamaica. This pilot program has been superseeded by the indexed and browsing program listed under added in February, 2012

If you are lucky to find something in the IGI pertaining to your family, remember that the IGI should always be regarded as a finding aid, and not an absolute source. Errors could have been made in transcription or by the people submitting the data. So the original records should always be checked. The source of records is given in the IGI, either as film numbers or batch and serial numbers. You need to record these if you are doing this by hand or it means a return trip. Your print out from the computer will give you these data if you request the computer to include details and ordinance data.

PRF and SSDI. Two other sources available on Computer CDrom at Family History centers are the Personal Resource File (PRF) and the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). You can also find these on line at:Search at the FHL These I have not found to be particularly helpful for Jamaican Ancestry except in certain circumstances.

PRF is a file of submissions from both Mormons and Non-Mormons in the form of pedigree charts of their own families. Non-Mormons are encouraged to contribute their files and there are instructions in many computer genealogy programs, on how to do this. You can also look at what others have contributed at the center. If you have English, American or Canadian ancestors you may find entries that are of interest to you, but not many people with long Jamaican ancestry have contributed to this file. A caution is advised on using these files, since they are submitted by individuals and may contain errors. All data should be rechecked for accuracy. You can find out the person who submitted the data, and thus you may find a new relative!

The SSDI is of interest to those whose forebears immigrated to the U.S. after the 1930's and started to contribute to Social Security. The Death index, starts in 1946, but really is sparse until about 1962. If your immigrant ancestor came in the early 1900's, they may not have made any contributions and therefore received no benefits when they retired. Their deaths therefore would not be recorded here. So this index is useful mainly for those who came from Jamaica in the middle part of the century. The death index can yield the location of the source record and social security number and hence the place and date of death. Application to the appropriate office can yield where the person was born, if the informant knew this well it might even reveal the parish in Jamaica where the person was born. Knowing the parish is particularly important for finding Civil Registration Records and Church Records.

Civil Registration of Jamaicans Civil Registration began in Jamaica in 1878 as opposed to England when it began in 1837 and Scotland when 1855 was the initial date. The Government as compared to the church, began to keep records of births, deaths and marriages. The originals of the Jamaican records are held in the Island Record Office in Spanish Town, Jamaica, however the LDS has filmed these records and they are available through Family History Centers.

Civil Registration is cataloged by Parish, so you need to know the parish of your ancestor, otherwise it will be a long but not impossible search. There are indexes for marriages and deaths and birth indexes for some parishes

To find the numbers of the index films, you look under Jamaica (not West Indies)/Civil Registration/indexes in the Family History Library catalog (FHL catalog). This is either on CDrom or microfiche. Some CDrom versions do not have the Civil Registration indexes, so check the microfiche. A finding aid for both Civil Registration and Church Records may also be found in the free samples at Patricia Jackson's jamaicanfamilysearch site: Patricia Jackson's SiteThe advantage of looking here is that Patricia has documented the missing record books which were not then available for microfilming

Indexes on film go from 1878 (in a few cases 1871) to 1950, however, the underlying films or the actual records only take you up to 1930. These index films are high density films, 42X, 16mm, so when you go in to the center to read them, you need a microfilm reader which will read this type of film. Where reservation of readers is necessary make sure you reserve the right kind of reader. So that you don't have to return to the index film, write down everything associated with the record.

After identifying the date and district of the record location, you need to return to the FHL catalog, to verify the correct film for the record. The actual record is on a film under Jamaica/Civil Registration/ and again is listed by Parish. There are separate records for births, deaths and marriages. The original records were individual certificates tied in bundles and the filming involved placing each on a surface and filming it. Within a parish, there were many districts, identified at the beginning of each film, so make sure you have located the right district, before you give up. There are stamped numbers and handwritten numbers on the certificates. Make sure you are reading the right number from the index. Some of the numbers on certificates overlapped between districts.

Births The following items will generally be found on a birth certificate. (Example: Year 1910)

Heading: Birth in the District of ____Parish of______
Date and Place of Birth
Name (if any)
Name and Surname and Dwelling place of Father
Name and Surname and Maiden Surname of Mother
Rank or Profession of Father
Signature, qualification and Residence of Informant
When Registered
Baptismal Name if added after Registration
Footer: Signature of Informant Name of Registrar District Parish

An abbreviated square copy of this registration containing the name of the child and date was given to the parents in later years, but it was not considered a certified copy if, for example, you wished to obtain a passport.

Marriages. The following items would be expected on a marriage registration (Example: Year 1893)

Heading: Marriage Register
When Married
Name and Surname of parties
Condition (e.g Widower, Spinster)
Calling (Occupation)
Age (years)
Parish and Residence at the time of Marriage
Fathers Name and Surname of each party
Footer: Married at_____ by or before me ________, a Marriage Officer of the Parish of _________
This Marriage was celebrated between us ________ (Signatures of each party) in the presence of us ___________ (Signatures of two witnesses)

Deaths. The following items would be expected on the Death Registration (Example: Year 1899)

Header: Death in the District of ______ Parish of ________
Date and Place of Death
Name and Surname
Condition (Married, single)
Age last Birthday
Rank, Profession or Occupation
Certified cause of Death and duration of illness (name of certifier)
Signature, Qualification and Residence of Informer
When registered
Footer: Signed by the said (informant) in the presence of__________Registrar of Births and Deaths________District, Parish of _____________

As you can see there is a significant amount of information on each certificate, so even if you already know the date of an event, it is well worthwhile collecting a copy of the certificate.

In Family History centers that have them, you may be able to make a photocopy from the film on a film reader/copier. If not, in the US you can fill out a form, available from the center, with the pertinent information, film Number, date, event, names and page number, and send to Salt Lake City for a copy. The volunteers will tell you what the costs are. Even if you have one entry it can be worth it, because they try to make the best copies even if the ink is smeared. And if you are not handy with reader/copiers you may make a few errors before you get a useable copy. From the new Browse Search (see above, added February 2012) you can save to your computer or print to your printer the images of registrations that are available.

Jamaican Church Records After you have exhausted Civil Registrations, you will want to look at Parish Church Records. The established Church was Anglican, Church of England or known in North America as Episcopalian. Again these records are cataloged by Parish. There are 14 current parishes, but an additional 7 parishes existed in the past. Some parish records begin as early as 1668, others start as late as 1804. On the Family History catalogonline catalog, CDrom or microfiche, you look under Jamaica/Church Records. Before the actual church record film listing begins, there are several paragraphs which explain the way parish records were recorded and hence filmed. It is well worth reading this preface to understand the system, because it gets fairly complicated after 1824. A finding aid for both Civil Registration and Church Records may also be found in the free samples at Patricia Jackson's jamaicanfamilysearch site: Patricia Jackson's Site This is particularly helpful for church records because it shows corrections to the Family History Library Catalog.

There are hand written alphabetical indexes for each parish which usually take up the first films in the series under each parish. Some of the indexes are tightly bound and the volume and page numbers (folios) of the entry of interest may be blurred, so look carefully at the page before and page after the entry of interest. In particular be sure to note if the volume (liber) is listed as New Series because this leads to a different set of films with perhaps the same volume numbers. Up to 1824, each parish had a separate book with baptisms, marriages and burials included. In 1824, the Diocese of Jamaica was established with its own Bishop of Jamaica and the system of recording changed with many parishes in the same volume and hence on the same film, but separate volumes for the vital events. Thus it is wise to look up the index volumes (there may be up to four) under each of births, death, and marriages lists for your surname. Strictly speaking the surnames are under the correct letter of the alphabet in the indexes, but they are not alphabetical. So you may have to search through all the "A"s to find your ancestor Anderson. However in later indexes, they will be divided by year or a couple years, reducing the search. A few of the index volumes (St Ann, Vol 1, Port Royal, Vol II) are missing and so could not be filmed. These are noted in the FHL catalog. As observed above Jamaican Family Search, Patricia Jackson's site has an even better update on the idiosyncrasies of the church records.

After determining the year, page and volume, you can return to the FHL catalog, and determine the film to order for the actual record. This can be the fun part, especially after 1824, because of the mixed parish volumes with overlapping dates. Also before 1824, births, deaths and marriages were in the same volume, but after there were separate volumes for these events.

Remember that for church records, as compared to civil registration, you are looking at christenings and burials rather than births and deaths. In Jamaica however, you can assume that burials took place either on the same day or the day after death, because there was no way of preserving the body for any length of time in the tropical heat. Christenings could be separated by a long time from date of birth. Sometimes the family waited until they had a son, before all the older girls were baptized with the son.

Law 6 Registers Church Records take you up to 1870-72, but overlap with what are called Law 6 registers. These are government registers and started in 1866 up to Civil registration. They are separated into births, marriages and deaths and have also been filmed. Again you look under Jamaica/Church Records for the listing of these films in the Family History Catalog. There are separate indexes for Law 6 registers, so you will have to use these first before you get to the original record. NOTE: As of Febrary 2012 I cannot find these registers online.

A Note on Bishops Transcripts (BT's) I am often asked if Bishop Transcripts for Jamaica exist, because some of the early parish records have been destroyed by hurricane etc. I wrote to Jeremy Gibson who has done extensive research on English BT's and asked if he knew of any place where there might be Jamaican BT's to fill in the gaps. The church in Jamaica was responsible to the Bishop of London, prior to the establishment of the Diocese with its own Bishop in 1824. Mr Gibson replied with a quote from a reference source, that said that there were holdings from some overseas places put no BT's were held in the Bishop of London's records for Jamaica and in fact he knew of no other likely source. Recently on the internet, I have seen suggested that Lambath Palace may be a potential source for BT's from the West Indies, not specifically Jamaica, but I have not yet explored this resource. Essentially all records preserved in Spanish Town after 1824 are Bishop's Transcripts, because they were transcribed by the Rector of the parish, and sometimes previously the curate, who sent them in to the Diocesan Office where the clerks transcribed them into books. This is something to keep in mind, because if three different people transcribed them, that always opens up room for errors to creep in.

A Visit to Salt Lake City to the Family History Library is a possibility. Visitors go from all over the world and North America, and summer is particularly busy. Some commercial firms and some genealogy organizations do arrange for 3 - 7 day trips for this purpose, arranging accommodation and air travel. You should be aware that because of crowding on the Latin American floor, Jamaican films are no longer housed in the open cabinets on the floor. Instead you need to request the films giving the numbers to the staff, who will get 5 films at a time from the high density storage which is not open to the public. Some of the most recently released films in the catalog may not even be in Temple Square, but still at the vault in the mountain behind Salt Lake City. It can take up to three days for them to be delivered to the library, so if you have a short time in Salt Lake, it is wise to a) do some index work at your local family history center before you go to determine the numbers of the films you might like to see; b) write to the library, so it will get there at least one week ahead of your visit, and let them know the films you would like to see when you arrive. Otherwise your short trip may turn out to be a disappointment. If you have a week to spend in Salt Lake, then read the catalog in the Library (for latest updates) early in the trip, in case the films needed must be retrieved from the vault. I think that it is worth the trip when you can't find an ancestor and need to search many indexes and films. If you do run into a disappointing situation remember that you can explore the Jamaican and West Indian books from which some of the films are made, housed on the Latin American floor on open shelves, though not the records whose originals are in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Also if you have ancestors who are of Germany, England, Scotland, U.S., Haiti, Mexico, Canada etc, you can look not only for your Jamaican families but also those of other countries.

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