Family Tree, Island History

At the Museums Association of the Caribbean conference in Martinique last week, Hannah K Scruggs, Kamilah Stinnett and Doretha Williams from The National Museum of African American History and Culture gave a presentation titled Genealogy in Museums: Finding Family while Exploring Cultural Heritage. Their museum has a Family History Center that hundreds of people visit each day. They offer six sessions each day where people can come in and get help researching their own family tree.

Genealogy, the study of family history, is a way for people to understand where they come from. It is also a way to find one’s place in history and in a community. It connects people to their own family, but also to the world.

Usually, the starting place for making a family tree is asking other family members, especially older ones. Scrapbooks and memorabilia can also give key details. More and more, records are being digitized and may be searchable online. Public records, newspapers and archives are all important resources.

Local records, like this salt production journal, can give family history clues.

For anyone with ancestors who were enslaved, it can be hard or even impossible to trace family roots through this period. Not being able to trace family history is a part of the trauma of enslavement that still hurts people today. But many people find it rewarding to discover the family history that is available.

At the Family History Center, visitors can have access to databases and help learning how to research. On St. Martin, it would be very good to have a similar center. By helping individual people learn about their own history, we could enrich what we know about the history of the island as well.

On St. Martin, family research would surely reveal many connections between local families. It would also show how people from St. Martin are connected to relatives on Anguilla, St. Kitts and beyond. In these connections, we can find stories of survival and cultural connections. A handful of people researching their own family histories would enrich the lives of everyone interested in St. Martin.

A family history is like a map for the past. Combined with photos and documents that can be scanned at the heritage preservation station at Amuseum Naturalis, we can make that past come alive. The history of the island can be transformed to include the history of everyone on the island. This inclusive history has its roots in the family tree.

Are you interested in researching your family tree? Have you already started? Tell us about it by writing in to The Daily Herald or to [email protected].

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