17 February 2015

Tracing our roots in Jamaica

As a young girl growing up in the Bronx, all my friends had parents from the Caribbean, I was no exception.  Although my parents were both born in the US, they barely qualify as first generation americans.  We held strong to Caribbean culture and tradition, only losing accents, which were easily attainable when needed.  My mother side from the USVI and my father's side from Jamaica made an intense mix of Caribbean pride.  
My paternal grandfather's history was always a mystery, with his children unsure about his parents and his exact lineage.  He often told stories of traveling the world as a merchant marine and learning Spanish while helping build the canal in panama and working the cane field of Cuba.  It wasn't  until 2008, 20 years after his death that I was able to verify some of this information through ancestry.com.  I found so much! It was thrilling.  I found the shipping port documents that noted each time he sailed in and out of NY Harbour to many parts of Europe and the Caribbean.  However when it came to his birth certificate from 1889 there was a dead end.  The only way to find that info would be to go to Jamaica's vital records department in Jamaica.   So 6 years ago that became my plan, go straight to the source to get the info I needed.  As soon as I shared all this with my father, he was all in!  It wasnt until today that we were able to make that dream a reality. 

 At about 9am this morning saturday, February 14, 2015, we boarded a plane to Montego Bay, Jamaica to trace our roots. 
Before our arrival I found that theJamaican  government has a genealogy department that will do all the research for us for $15 an hour recommending payment enough for 4 hours, approximately $60.  At first I was skeptical that it was scam.  That was until I spoke to the department itself.  They sounded legit, the website and email addres all ended in "gov.ja", the address was in a government building.  It wasn't  until we started talking about payment that i knew it was definitely a government agency. 

Me: ok so can I pay over the phone with credit card?
Genealogy dept: No, our credit card machine has been down for some time. We only accept money by mail or in person.

Of course you do... Scam artist would have the machine ready to steal my money. The government however would be 3 steps behind at making a profit.

So thanks to the genealogy department our plan became a little bit easier.  Get to one of their many offices to pay, instead of searching through records ourselves, we could use that precious time to find family on the old farm my grandparents owned and lived on when they returned after retirement.  With the experts doing the research life would be much easier.  They emailed me the forms I needed to fill out along with the addresses where I could pay for the service.  The main office in kingston is were the researchers are located and as much as I wanted to meet them face to face, if just made more sense to pay in Montego Bay which is just one parish over from our old family home.

I found a decent place for us to stay at $65 a night on airbnb that raved of the helpful and kind property manager and the nearby beach.  I knew I definitely would need someone helpful to help us on this journey.  I arranged for us to make our payment Monday morning before our departing flight so Sunday would be spent finding family and enjoying the beach. 

My dad is 83 years old and I am honored to walk this path with him to trace our roots.   The ancestors are with us and will guide our journey to find the buried treasures of our family history. For that I invite and thank them for their help.  Because they were, I am. 

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