How to find key Jamaican family history records

By Guest, 11 June 2020 - 11:39am

Sharon Hintze reveals how you can trace your roots on this Caribbean island using online records, many of them free

Windrush passengers
Jamaican emigrants to Britain on board the Windrush in 1948 (Credit: Douglas Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)

The national motto of Jamaica is ‘Out of many, one people’, hinting at a remarkable diversity of cultures.

Almost everyone who has been there will tell you that Jamaica is special.

It also boasts an impressive wealth of records awaiting the family historian.

You can read the full version of this article for free by downloading the Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine iOS app

1. Church records and cemeteries

The earliest religious groups active in Jamaica were Catholics and Jews during the Spanish occupation.

The Church of England arrived with the English. By 1661 there were 15 parishes, and eventually 22, amalgamated to 14 today. The parishes came under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London until 1824 when the Diocese of Jamaica was formed.

Existing records of these parishes have been digitised and indexed in a collection called Jamaica, Church of England Parish Register Transcripts 1664–1880. Because the digitised records are copies sent from the parishes to the Registry Office in Spanish Town, they are like Bishops’ Transcripts. This origin is reflected in the title of the collection.

These transcripts continue to be revised in minor ways by FamilySearch, most recently in March 2020. The transcribed text is available on Ancestry without images, and Findmypast with images, but the most up-to-date version with images is on FamilySearch.

Almost every nonconformist faith has had a presence in Jamaica as have Roman Catholics, Jews and Quakers. The best online source for these records is Patricia Jackson’s site Jamaican Family Search.

There are a surprising number of memorial inscriptions and cemetery records for the country. Many of them exist as books or pamphlets, but the best online source is again Jamaican Family Search.

2. Civil registration

Civil registration began in 1878 for births and deaths and 1880 for marriages, but actually started as much as four years later in some parishes. As expected, the information provided on the entries is the same as that for English certificates.

The records that are available online are births for 1878-1930, deaths for 1878–1990, and marriages for 1880–1950, although some parishes have entries a few years later than these dates, especially for deaths. Some years are missing in some parishes.

Transcriptions appear on Ancestry, and you can find transcriptions with images on FamilySearch. The FamilySearch transcriptions and images have also been shared with Findmypast and MyHeritage.

You will need to contact the Registrar General’s Department in Kingston for later birth and marriage entries.

3. Newspapers

Newspapers have existed in Jamaica since the 18th century.

The Royal Gazette of Jamaica 1779–1840 is available on Findmypast to those who have a ‘Pro’ subscription – look for Jamaica as a country filter in the ‘US & World newspapers’ category; it is also on the British Newspaper Archive.

There are many transcriptions of personal items on the Jamaica Family Search website for 1793 and 1794, and for a handful of other years with useful genealogical information.

The Kingston Gleaner and sister title the Sunday Gleaner both started life in 1834 as the Daily Gleaner and have recently been added to the newspaper collection on Findmypast.

The Kingston Gleaner is full of the kind of treasures we all hope for: accident reports, names of people in a graduating class and legal notices, as well as the usual birth, marriage and death notices.



Read the full version of this article and much more expert family history advice in Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine July 2020, on sale now


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