Category: Heritage Backup

Hunting Hodge Heritage with Dale Hodge

Captain Thaddeus Hodge and his wife Josephine. (Photo courtesy of Joycelyn Curiel)

Dale Hodge first became interested in her family tree about 30 years ago. Some of her older family members had done research already and were sharing it with the younger generations. Since then, she’s spent over 20 years exploring her family history.

Over the years, she’s built a family tree that includes about 6,000 people. It is an incredible achievement that took a lot of hard work. St. Martin’s unique history means searching in five languages in a variety of databases in different countries. It includes names, dates, occupations, marriages, births, deaths, gravestone locations, photos, stories and more.

WWI exemption card for Thaddeus Hodge from the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. (Courtesy of Dale Hodge)

When asked about challenges in building her family tree, Hodge said it was hard to find photos of people. Finding out occupations of ancestors was also hard. Sometimes, getting relatives to open up was hard, too: “Some of the older generations seem to have difficulty talking about difficult situations. It was a different culture and expectations were different back then. These stories are vital for filling in gaps in any large family tree. Over time more people see the historical value in honoring their great grandparents, but it takes time. And people will only open up if they know their info will be respected!”

One small branch of Hodge’s extensive family tree. (Courtesy of Dale Hodge)

For those getting started on their family tree, Hodge has some suggestions. First, know that government records like birth, marriage and death dates are public records and free to access. It is also important to verify your information: “don’t be lazy about research, type the full names.” And, although the data itself is public, family trees are personal and “each person has to choose to share their tree with you.” While Facebook isn’t a primary tool for developing a family tree, it “can be a good tool in contacting lost cousins.”

Over the years, her family tree work has rewarded Hodge with many great experiences. A few highlights she mentions are “Seeing the face of my great-great grandmother for the first time, being able to help lost cousins find family connections through our DNA matches, and having people contact me from all over the world— that just found out they were adopted—and helping them discover family members.”

Although some things were hard to learn, Hodge isn’t afraid of her family history. “Many people ask me if I am afraid of finding something in my past or my ancestors past. I think this is a huge mistake in how society sees the past. I want to know everything! Good, great, boring, stupid, sad, the horrors, as this is what made each of us. Hiding the past serves no one. And yes, not everyone has the maturity to deal with many of the findings. But hopefully in time, we all can learn from our past.”

In the meantime, Hodge has one bit of advice for all: “Stop throwing away old pictures! Give them to family members instead.”

Do you have a question about how to researchyour family tree? Let us know by writing to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or The Daily Herald.

Memory Lane Online

Even during a pandemic lockdown, there are places to go where people can go to share memories about St. Martin. It’s like being on a shady front porch or a cafe terrace with friends, looking at old photos and talking about days gone by. Of course, these places are online and instead of a few friends, there are thousands.

On St. Martin, the most popular spots for this kind of sharing are Facebook groups. They have become a unique medium for sharing heritage. It is easy to see elements of oral tradition, storytelling, scrapbooking and journaling. It has a lot in common with the ways St. Martiners have shared and saved their culture for generations.

Communities sharing heritage on social media are also different from what came before. They can be very large. Some have thousands of members, who make dozens of posts and hundreds of comments every day. Strangers can interact with each other, united in a common interest. The conversations are also recorded. Members can go back and view old posts and even add their own memories to past discussions.

Over time, these groups have created a new kind of heritage collection. The topics and views come from ordinary people. Anyone can share the memories that they find meaningful. In a twist on the old way of documenting culture, people often post materials from books or articles and give their thoughts and critiques. No one needs credentials to share their story. No one needs to be consulted by an “expert.”

These groups are an amazing place to connect, share and interact. They are also a tremendous resource for preserving heritage. They are a chance to transform and enrich history by including the stories of far more people. We are only beginning to explore their potential.

These are resources as valuable as any book or archive. It is worth considering how to protect and preserve them. Facebook doesn’t offer the ability to back up or export the contents of a group. Users can delete the posts they made, and all their material disappears if they delete their account. A world of history is a the mercy of the users, group managers and Facebook itself.

Facebook groups often have a member who can name any person, house or tree in a photo. (Barbara Cannegieter Postcard Collection)

Facebook’s group feature wasn’t created to build archives. It is wonderful to follow and contribute in real time, but groups aren’t easy to organize or search. This material deserves to be more accessible to the public, to students and teachers and to local scholars. It should be on an equal footing with more traditional research resources.

We will surely learn to harness the potential of this amazing tool. In the meantime, why not join in the fun? The group We Are St. Maarten/St. Martin is very active, and every day amazing old memories and photos are posted. Discussions are fascinating and touching.

Do you have a favorite Facebook group for sharing St. Martin memories? Let us know by writing to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or The Daily Herald.

History Hunters

There are history hunters on St. Martin. They are resourceful and dedicated. They’ve unlocked hidden facts and pieced them together. The webs they’ve woven connect much of the island.

Genealogy is the study of family lines, and these history hunters on St. Martin have been doing it. They have built family trees that connect them to their past. Some include a few dozen people, others contain thousands of family members stretching back centuries.

Anyone can become a history hunter. We all have ancestors. It is a way to connect with living family members, and also to explore more distant connections.

Marriage records are a key resource for building a family tree.

If you are starting your own family, the first information usually comes from your family members. Asking around, you may find that one of your relatives has already been working on a family tree. There are also Facebook groups for many St. Martin families. Members share details and help name people in old photographs.

On Facebook, family members work together to identify people and homes in old photos

There are a few online databases that contain quite a bit of information about St. Martiners. Geneanet has many records of births, marriages and deaths for both sides of the island. You can search for free and limit your results to Guadeloupe or Sint Maarten to focus on local records. WieWasWie is a similar website for searching Dutch records. It’s also free to search, and you can limit results to Netherlands Antilles to make it easier to find local records.

Basic government records for St. Martin, like births and marriages, are available. But some other valuable resources aren’t as easy to find here. Newspaper archives are a huge resource for family tree research. On St. Martin, archives of The Daily Herald are available going back to 2006. Most older newspaper archives are not online, and it’s unclear if they exist at all. An effort to locate and digitize newspaper archives would be a huge boon to history hunters.

If you are ready to become a history hunter, head to the Heritage Backup page on lesfruitsdemer.com for links to tools you can use.

Are you a history hunter who would like to connect with others on St. Martin? Do you have resources or a family tree online you would like to share? Let us know by writing to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or The Daily Herald.

Exploring Your Family Tree

Archival records from French Quarter, 1859.

Researching your family tree can be a very rewarding experience. Many of us want to learn more about where we came from and who our ancestors were. This project can also be a chance to connect with relatives and learn new stories.

Most people know their closest family members: parents, sisters and brothers, children. Most people can start to map out their family tree with the names and dates they already know. Even basic information like the date and location of births, marriages and deaths can start to give form to a family history.

Stretching back through time, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, and great grandparents can show the roots of your personal heritage. For St. Martiners, this might mean seeing connections between different families or roots on nearby islands.

It can be more challenging to develop a family tree that goes beyond the details you can get from family members. Most genealogy databases are light on information from the Caribbean, especially St. Martin. But there are some tools you can use.

FamilySearch.org is a free family tree research site. Although it doesn’t include records from St. Martin, it is possible to follow St. Martiners as they moved to other places. FamilySearch includes immigration data from the Dominican Republic. You can see dozens of St. Martiners moving there in the first half of the 20th century: Charles Blake Lake, Muriel Coralita Richardson, Edward Carty the list is long. Most were born between 1870 and 1925 and arrived in the Dominican Republic by the early 1950s.

There are also French colonial records available online at the national archives of the overseas territories. They include birth, death, marriage and other records from the 1770s until the beginning of the 20th century. They aren’t searchable by text, but you can view images of the records themselves.

An entry like the birth record of Anne Marie Hodge in 1859 contains quite a bit of information. She was born to Catherine Hodge, a 28 year-old clothing maker living at Union plantation. Her father was unknown, at least on the birth record. Later, a note was added to the page recording Anne Marie’s marriage to Jean Joseph Rohan when she was 21.

Anne Marie Hodge’s birth record from 1859.

From close family to the distant past, exploring family trees is a process of exploring personal heritage that connects each of us to a larger story. Yet that larger story is always grounded in the lives and loves of individuals. Connecting multiple family trees has the potential to reveal an even bigger picture and transform our knowledge about St. Martin history.

Have you researched your family tree? Would you be interested in sharing your family tree or helping others discover their past? Let us know by writing to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or The Daily Herald.

Heritage for a New Future

St. Martin’s heritage is priceless. It is an irreplaceable part of the human story. It should be preserved simply because it makes the world richer. It adds stories, language, art and culture to the grand tapestry of civilization.

But what is the practical value of St. Martin’s heritage in the modern age? How can it contribute to the future of life on the island? Is it even possible to predict during today’s uncertain times?

Boat building and racing traditions could be part of a heritage economy.

One area where heritage has clear value is in the tourism industry. Beautiful beaches and easy access by ship and plane turned St. Martin into a booming tourism destination in the 20th century. Tourism continued to grow during this century, but at great cost. The mass tourism of cruise ships and big resorts brings in less money, and profits fly off the island to international corporations. Meanwhile, natural beauty and the well-being of residents have suffered.

Whatever tourism looks like in the future, it will be different. For St. Martin, this could be the chance to pivot to more sustainable tourism. The island could use nature and heritage to develop an experience that is more unique and rooted in authentic island life. Jobs could depend on local knowledge and locally-owned companies could keep more of the profits on the island. From the Grand Canyon, to wine country to the pyramids, nature and culture are the foundations of tourism that are rooted in a place and its people.

Restoring heritage buildings with could be a fine career.

Investing in heritage could provide opportunities in other areas. Restoration of heritage buildings using traditional techniques is a great way to preserve heritage and provide careers. Farming traditions could contribute to local agriculture initiatives. Local arts and literature could become more economically valuable on an island that promoted them.

Heritage should also be a bigger part of education. Textbooks should be written about local heritage. St. Martin culture should become a required part of the curriculum. People should be paid to study heritage and teach it. Those people should be local people as much as possible. When imagining alternatives to a tourism economy, it is easy to overlook the advantages of a more local education system.

Surely there are many other ways to use heritage as one of the building blocks of a stronger, better St. Martin in the future. How can St. Martin’s past improve its future? Let us know by writing to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or The Daily Herald.

The History of Now

St. Martin’s history is unique. It is influenced by the island itself. The salt ponds attracted colonizers and the beaches attracted tourists. It is influenced by the climate. The lack of rain-catching mountains influenced agriculture and hurricanes have transformed the island. It is influenced by the politics and economics that split the island in two and controlled its fate from afar.

St. Martin culture comes from its people, and their interaction with that history. It pulls from deep roots in Africa that are still alive in kitchen gardens, folktales, music and more. St. Martin culture reflects the horrors of slavery and the fight for freedom. It retains the spirit of cooperation and self-sufficiency of the Traditional Period, the time between emancipation and the rise of tourism.

Rooftop COVID-19 garden beside Hurricane Irma repair scraps.

Today, we are in a unique and difficult moment. And it is a historic moment. The coronavirus pandemic is global, but on St. Martin, the experience is unique. Our pandemic is influenced by the island’s unique history and culture and this experience should be recorded.

At the island level, the current divide between the North and South is historic. The two sides have taken different approaches to slowing the pandemic. Some border crossings have been closed and the rest are tightly controlled. The frontier that is normally so easy to ignore is very real today.

St. Martiners are well-served by their experience living through disasters. They have survival skills. People know how to make meals from the foods they have. They have turned time at home into a chance to plant vegetables.

At the same time, this disaster is very different from a hurricane. Houses have water and current and stores have food. But the virus has forced people to stay apart instead of coming together to help each other. This crisis also exposes the huge gap between rich and poor on the island. A hurricane destroys houses both big and small. The reality of this confinement is totally different for those who have and those who do not.

The pandemic experience on St. Martin is also unique because it may mark the end of a historical era. After sixty years of a growing tourism economy, the future of the island is unclear. We don’t know how long this crisis will last or what tourism might look like after. Ten or twenty years from now, will we look back on the era of mass tourism the way we look back at the decades when sugar or cotton drove the economy?

This is a moment worth documenting, especially on St. Martin. It doesn’t have the visible destruction of a hurricane, so we must record our thoughts and feelings. It is the rare chance to describe a great change as it happens.

What is your experience during this crisis? How has it been influenced by your history, culture or family? How do you see St. Martin’s future? Let us know by writing to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or The Daily Herald.

Decoding the Past

Old shopping lists and bank statements are not usually considered fascinating reading. How many weeks of isolation would it take to make them interesting? If we’re lucky, we won’t ever find out. On the other hand, imagine being able to look at this year’s quarantine grocery orders in 2090. Think about how much will have changed and how odd some of them may seem.

Thanks to the preservation work of the late Pierre Beauperthuy, we can do almost the same thing right now. A ledger he preserved from the late 1940s and early 1950s is like a time capsule. It reveals everyday transactions from that time. Many things still seem quite ordinary. Paint, rope, nails and flour are bought. Other entries reveal how different St. Martin was a lifetime ago.

One of Dellie’s pages.

The ledger is nearly 500 pages thick and it begins with an index of names. Familiar family names appear in alphabetical order: Arnell, Barry, Bryan, Carty, David, Flanders, Fleming, Glasgow, Gumbs, Hyman, Illidge, Laurence, Maccow, Petit, Richardson, Vlaun, Wescott, York and many more. Each name is followed by a page number, where their account is recorded in the ledger.

There are plenty of simple transactions recorded. $6.60 for a sack of flour or 3 tins of “varnish for chair” at Fls 6.00. But sometimes more information is recorded. A purchase for 4 rolls of barbed wire and staples is followed by payments for “men cutting post” and “men running wire.”

The personal nature of relationships can also be seen. Pages may use the full name as a header, but the pages titled Arrindell Johanas are full of the nickname Dellie. “5 gallons paint for Dellie house” and payment for work done by “Dellie n other man.”

Other fascinating entries include livestock. One note reads “If the following mares served does not sell me the mule they will have to pay me $6 each.” It is followed by a list of ten owners who presumably had mares inseminated by a very valuable donkey.

The pricing of cattle is also quite interesting. In 1952, 28 cattle, weighting 6,404 kilos were sold for 24 carats of gold per kilogram of cow. In the ledger, the value was listed in “Dutch currency” instead of gold. It seems that the transaction was not a literal trade of gold for beef. Gold was just used to set the price.

Gold for beef.

These ledger entries are like a clouded view into the past. It is a St. Martin that most people today can’t really understand. But there are still some people living on St. Martin today who know exactly what was happening. They could decode the mysteries of this ledger and help the past come alive.

Do you want to help? You can take a look at the ledger, share what you know or ask an elder about certain entries. Find a link to the whole ledger by going to Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook or http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/projects/heritage-backup/.

The Roots of the New Routine

The roots of local cuisine at Marigot market in 1982. (Photo by Hélène K. Sargeant)

Lockdown has changed the daily routine for people all over the world. For many, long days are spent at home. A daily trip to the bakery seems like a luxury from a long-lost past. Many are worried about the sustainability of modern life. It’s a valid concern. Modern life changed almost overnight.

We adapt. People are baking bread again, or learning to do it for the first time. Vegetable seeds and sprouting potatoes are being put into the soil instead of the trash. Traditional recipes are popular. They provide comfort and often only require pantry basics.

These new ways are often old ways. A hundred years ago, St. Martin was a remote place. Goods arrived after long trips by sea. People worked ground, raised animals and ate from their kitchen garden. Fresh produce was not coming in on planes from France and barges from Miami every day. The shopping list was flour, sugar and salt fish.

Purchases recorded in a ledger in 1953: flour, salt fish, corn meal, sugar, kerosene, a crate of potatoes and a box of prunes.

The St. Martin of a hundred years ago seemed impossible to imagine a month ago. Today, it is a little easier to contemplate. Everyone, from recent arrivals to members of old St. Martin families, is closer to the roots of St. Martin culture today.

Of course, the modern world has not disappeared completely. We might learn to cook a traditional dish by watching a live stream instead of side-by-side with a grandparent in the kitchen. People are asking for planting advice on the brand new Kitchen Garden Club Facebook group, which grew to over 250 members in just a few days.

As we learn, live and share in this new world, we have the perfect opportunity to document traditional knowledge and oral traditions. There is even a new urgency to do so. A month ago, documenting St. Martin heritage was largely a matter of preserving the past. Today it is a chance to relearn how to survive on this island.

Now that we are living and sharing these traditions, let us also preserve them. It is a way to honor those who lived on St. Martin during much harder times. We can’t let their legacy drift into oblivion in the endless scroll of the Facebook timeline.

Share your voice and your stories. We are building an archive where these stories can be saved and enjoyed for years to come. Send an email to info@lesfruitsdemer.com or record a voice message and send it to Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook. Get tools and learn more at: http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/projects/heritage-backup/.

Pumpkin, sweet potato, corn, cassava and pigeon pea in a traditional garden in 2020.

Heritage Jollification

St. Martin has traditions that go back centuries. (Barbara Cannegieter Postcard Collection)

For thousands of years, history has been written by the few, for the few and about the few. St. Martin is a perfect example. During the colonial period, most records were written for and by the colonial powers that ruled the island. During the modern period, most published writing about the island and its people was done by academics from other places.

Thankfully, there are some exceptions. There are history books by the late Daniella Jeffry, a wealth of literature, poetry and nonfiction published locally by House of Nehesi Publishers and the early issues of Discover Magazine edited by Sir Roland Richardson. Books and articles by St. Martiners are surely the most important works about St. Martin. They are the work of talented authors and dedicated publishers. But this small group of people can’t record and publish hundreds of years of St. Martin’s undocumented history and culture.

On St. Martin, history and culture have been passed down through the spoken word. These oral traditions are every bit as important as any written history. But a written history can live on forever, especially if thousands of copies are printed. In the past, oral traditions were vulnerable.

What was the market like 30, 50 or 100 years ago? (Barbara Cannegieter Postcard Collection)

That doesn’t have to be the case today. Most people have a tool to record oral traditions right in our pocket: our phone. Just as importantly, we have the ability to share and preserve those recordings online. Today it is possible to build a lasting history of the people, by the people, for the people. And it we can do it in a way that embraces St. Martin’s oral tradition.

Right now, many of us have time to do this work. As we stay at home, we can tell the stories of our lives. We can reach out to our elders and preserve their experiences. It is a perfect time to connect with family and reflect on where we come from.

Preserving the stories of those who lived during St. Martin’s traditional period, before the rise of tourism, is the most urgent task. But everyone has stories worth saving. What was the island like during the huge changes of the 80s and 90s? What was it like to survive hurricanes Luis and Irma? What is your personal experience as a St. Martiner on a changing island? Or as an immigrant making a home here?

Even scenes from St. Martin’s modern era can seem distant today. (Barbara Cannegieter Postcard Collection)

Preserving heritage is important work, and it is time to come together to do it. It is time for a heritage jollification. Every voice matters. Every story matters. Start recording today and encourage your friends and family to do it, too.

The Les Fruits de Mer association is working to help people document their stories, and to create an archive where those stories can be saved. They hope to share many of these stories as well, but only when permission is given to do so. Get tools and learn more at: http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/projects/heritage-backup/. Let’s make this the legacy of our time of confinement.


Looking for inspiration to get started recording your memories? Here are a few places to get inspired:

The St. Martin Image Collection features photos and postcards of St. Martin going back over 100 years. Find landscapes that inspire memories and much more.

The First National Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) Inventory of Sint Maarten is the first collection of much of the cultural heritage of the island, from foods and craftsmanship to arts and festivals.

This 1940s and 1950s Ledger contains the accounts of purchases by dozens of St. Martiners. Take a look to find family members and explore what they were buying 75 years ago.

Watch St. Martiners tell their own stories in oral history films recorded by Les Fruits de Mer.

Tools of the Trade

During this time of confinement, we have an opportunity to make history. In many cases, we are stuck at home with our personal heritage collection of photos, letters and other items. If not, we still have our memories. You also have the tools you need to turn those raw materials into a lasting part of history.

In last week’s column, we learned how to identify and catalog our personal heritage collection. This week we will learn to start documenting those materials using the tools we have at hand. If you want to review any previous steps in our Heritage Backup, you can find the articles and worksheets online here: http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com/projects/heritage-backup/.

The first thing you will need is a workspace. Pretty much any table and chair will do, but if you have the option, there are a few things to look for. Beware of hazards that could damage precious materials, like a gust of wind that could blow papers around or rain from a nearby window. You need light. The best is indirect sunlight without bright glare or harsh shadows, but any light will do.

Next, you will need tools to document the items and your own memories about them. A camera for documenting and a pad and pencil for recording memories will work. If you have a scanner and a computer, that’s great too.

If you don’t have those things, a regular smartphone can do all you need. You can use it as a camera, a notepad, and a voice or video recorder. You can even use it to share what you have documented.

Want to make St. Martin history? A phone is all you need.

Use the phone’s camera to take a photo of the item you are studying. For a printed photo, lay the photo flat on your table and use your phone to take a digital picture of it. Try to keep the phone steady: resting your elbows on the table can help. You can zoom in on your phone to make sure it came out well. If you are having trouble, try to find a location with more light. If there is information on the back of the photo, take a picture of that, too.

You can use your phone as a voice recorder to save your memories about your item. The iPhone comes with an app called Voice Memos, and Google makes a free program called Recorder for Android phones. Set the phone on your desk, start a new recording and record your memories about the item. It is a good idea to start with a description of the item so you can match your voice recording with the picture of the item. End the recording and start a new one for the next item.

To get started, find a couple items that have meaning to you and use the tools you have to save an image of the item and your memories about it. If you want to share your item and memories, find Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook and send us a message with the photo and your audio recording. If you’re having trouble with any of the steps, maybe someone in your home can help and you can work together.

Are you ready to change history? Send us your photos and stories! Get in touch by writing in to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Heritage Backup

On St. Martin, history and heritage have been lost over and over during disasters. Fires, floods and hurricanes have destroyed public archives, private collections and personal photo albums. It is normal for a crisis to happen quickly and perhaps to separate people from their homes. In the aftermath of a hurricane, preserving heritage is well down the list of urgent needs.

The current global coronavirus pandemic is a bit different. Most of us are at home. We may suddenly have more time than usual. Perhaps it is the perfect time to conduct an island-wide heritage backup.

The past is the past, and we can’t change it. But we can change history. History is a record of past events, and it is never complete. Every home on St. Martin holds a bit of the island’s history. That bit can either be saved and shared, or lost forever. The history of the island and its people will be determined by each person’s decision.

In your home, there may be a photo album. It may hold the best or only existing photo of a relative. It may hold photos of homes and or businesses that don’t exist anymore. It may hold images of landscapes that have been changed forever. It may hold moments in time like the finish of a race or a wedding.

Part of St. Martin’s history is sitting in your closet.

You may have journals or letters. You may have documents that trace your family tree. You may have film, video or tape recordings. All of these items should be treated as if they were unique and irreplaceable historical artifacts. Because they are.

Your history, and the history of your family and friends is important. It is valuable and it is something that should be passed on to future generations. Why not take the time we have now to start the process of recording, preserving and cataloging your part of the island’s history.

The first step is to see what you have. You may be at home with other members of your family who can help you identify these treasures. This can be a chance to discover your shared history together.

Items you have saved may be links to shared memories.

Make a list of your personal historical collection: photos, videos, letters, journals, newspaper clippings, event programs and documents. Find all these materials and make sure they are in a safe place. Write a description of each item. What is it? A photo album, or box of letters. Who did it come from? What years does it cover?

This inventory of your collection will help you in the coming weeks as you work to explore and preserve your history. You can do this project at home with whatever tools you have available: your phone, your computer, or just a pencil and a piece of paper.

Are you ready to change history? Do you have questions about how to get started? Get in touch by writing in to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.