INSPIRATION: Elaine, Adrian’s mother with a family photo book. She was the inspiration behind his genealogical journey, which started in 2008
MY GENEALOGICAL journey began in 2008, after my mother was suddenly diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, rendering her paralysed and unable to communicate.
My siblings and I were devastated and it was at that moment I realised, without my mother Elaine – the matriarch of the family – there would be a missing link. What did I know about my Jamaican family? How am I related to my extended family?
So many unanswered questions were bombarding my mind sitting in the intensive care ward whilst visiting my mother.
It was then that I decided to embark on my quest to discover where she came from, where was I going and the way forward, going back to my roots.
I was born and raised in Bristol, within a predominantly Jamaican community and educated at Cotham Grammar School, where I was one of eight black pupils in the entire school.
From a young age, I was very aware of the cultural differences in my area and witnessed various uprising on my doorstep, including the 1980 riots in the St Pauls area of Bristol.
My identity was questioned on a conscious and unconscious level, but I was proud of my heritage and maintained a strong sense of patriotism to the birthplace of my parents and grandparents.
Hubert McCarthy, my grandfather, born in 1927, was an agricultural labourer, a small farmer.
PROCESS OF DISCOVERY: Adrian Stone’s cousins examine some of the research he has uncovered
I discovered that in 1955 my grandfather, just a few months after he married my grandmother Leonora Robinson, came to England, as many Jamaicans did at the time, to build a new life for his family.
He was an ambitious young man and left his wife and children to seek greener pastures. It was common among the post-Windrush generation for one member of the family to arrive and prepare the way for the rest.
My mother and her siblings arrived in Bristol in 1957 – she was just two years old when she came to England.
This journey was the beginning of a sense of disconnection from Jamaican and African culture.
I began my efforts to piece together my family history by collecting oral accounts from family members to establish a basic family tree.
The first relative I spoke to was my cousin Scotty McCarthy, who my grandfather helped to come to England when he was 15.
HERITAGE: Stone traced one of his Nigerian ancestors, Anne Smith, or Eboe Venus, back to the early 19th Century. This was the breakthrough moment in his research
He came to the hospital almost every day to visit my mother and it was there he explained the basics of the McCarthy tree.
After speaking with him I wanted to know more of my grandmother’s side of the family, the Robinsons in America.
At this point I decided to concentrate on my research on the Robinson line, my mother’s maternal lineage.
Speaking with my Aunt Lucille I realised she was actually my grandmother’s sister - which clearly demonstrated my lack of knowledge of my family ancestry. She provided me with the names of my grandparents – before this time, I had only known them as ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’.
Aunt Lucille also gave me the names of Lenora’s parents – my great-grandparents Gilbert Robinson and Georgiana Lewis. Now I had a basic outline to work from.
There were so many things on my doorstep, it just never occurred to me to ask.
Gilbert’s photograph was placed inside the family photo album for years – little did I know this was my great grandfather.
They called him Bacchus, a name deriving from the slave master who was called Buckra, as he was fair in complexion. I was unaware of any Caribbean records available in the UK, as there was a myth that Jamaican records were destroyed and births were hardly ever registered, which is why I initially collected oral accounts.
However, I soon realised that through the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) the public were able to access more than three million records held on microfilm in their Family History Centre, now located in the National Archives.
The collection comprised copies of a number of historical records such as the Mandatory Civil Registration (1878 -1930) and Parish Church Records (1664-1880) which were held in Jamaica.
CHILDHOOD: An eight-year-old Adrian Stone, growing up in Bristol at a time where racial tension was high
I started with the Civil Registration which holds information about Births from 1878 -1930, Marriages from 1880 -1950, and deaths 1878 - 1994. There would of course be some small variations, depending on the specific Parish. As the records were still on microfilms, I had the task of going through thousands of indexes and registers. Oral memory isn’t always perfect.
Finding the Mormons’ records together with the names I had already been given by family helped me to confirm the information I had for the family tree.
There were many complications I encountered when trying to decipher the information I was coming across, such as finding the mother’s maiden name, pet names, spelling variations as well as interpreting old hand writing, which I’ve now become quite proficient at!
All of these challenges made it extremely difficult for me and I would often have to go through hundreds of records in order to find one or nothing at all.
One of the first records I came across was the birth certificate of my great-grandfather Gilbert Robinson, which was issued in 1901.
I was overjoyed at this discovery and could not believe I had unearthed something none of my family had ever seen before.
I could not wait to speak with my mother so I could share this discovery with her. Later, I was able to find Gilbert’s marriage record to my great-grandmother Georgiana Lewis in 1931 – marriage certificates state the names of the father of the bride and groom.
This allowed me to move a generation further back and trace the names of my great-great-grandparents who had to be born in the late 1800s – I was just a few generations away from finding an ancestor who lived in the period of enslavement.
Slavery ended in 1834, and my great-grandfather was born in 1901. This would make him only 67 years out of slavery, making that only five generations away from me. The impact of that was huge on my mind.
I discovered in the church registers that Gilbert’s great-grandmother Peggy Anne Smith married William Smith on December 25, 1858 in Clarendon.
I was able to confirm through the death records that Peggy Anne Smith died when she was approximately 70 years old in 1901.
I say approximately because often in those days records were not as accurate, so I estimated she born somewhere near 1831.
But a problem I then came across was finding a record that would go back far enough to show Peggy’s birth. There was no record of a baptism in 1831 for Peggy in the parish records.
It felt like a dead end until it came to light that there was a mandatory government order where slave owners had to register the enslaved Africans they owned.
They wrote the names of their slaves in ‘Slave Returns’.
The British Colonial Slave registers were mandatory in Jamaica and collated every three years from 1817 to 1832. So I visited the National Archives in London to look through the plantation records.
The register for 1832 showed Peggy Anne Smith as a child born on the plantation in the period of African slavery.
It was customary that when a child was under 10 years old, the record would show the name of its mother too.
Peggy’s mother was noted in the remarks column as being Anne Smith, with the name ‘Eboe Venus’. Eboe was a reference to the tribe she came from in Nigeria which is the Igbo tribe.
I was ecstatic and suddenly felt I had discovered my genesis, my origins and my African roots.
Finding my direct link to Africa was an unbelievable feeling that I never thought possible. I stared at the documents I had been searching for, over the previous five years, and realised that this was the first of my ancestors to travel the Middle Passage to Jamaica. It made all the years of research, going through the records worth it.
I want to learn about Nigerian culture and visit the country.
I now feel more rooted and can embrace my African identity whereas before, I saw so many negative images growing up. I want to make more connections through DNA to see if I can find people related to me.
This knowledge makes me feel whole. It makes me embrace my Caribbean and African roots and that I own my history.
I can look at other people, as possible brothers and sisters, instead of simply a family name. I look at things so differently now after tracing over 5000 people across nine generations.I know that we are all connected.
My mother has had a chance to reunite with family and is able to share family memories. My research just bridged the gap by knowing that my journey will be similar to other peoples.
I have since helped and advised others on how to approach their family tree by demystifying where to start. It’s all about empowerment, and that’s something you don’t keep to yourself.
If you would also like to trace your family history or are interested in genealogy services and workshops you can contact Adrian Stone at email@example.com