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* Introduction
* Caribbean
*Tracing Caribbean Roots
*Life Events
*Land and Property
*Slavery Records
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* South Asian


In this section * * * * *
Births, Marriages and Deaths*   table of civil registration dates* local registry offices*   
Censuses*   contact details for local archives*   
Slave Registers*    
Probate Records*    

These provide the primary sources for family historians since they record the major events in the lives of individuals - their births, marriages and deaths. Included in these records are censuses and the *probate and the administration of wills. Click here for basic information on tracing life events in England. The following pages describe the main sources in the Caribbean.

*Births, Marriages and Deaths*top of page

Civil Registration

Pupils leaving Trench Town Comprehensive School, Kingston
Pupils leaving Trench Town Comprehensive School, Kingston, Jamaica.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (PRO) INF 10/147/002
  • Births, marriages and deaths are now recorded by the state and are commonly known as civil registration. They may also be recorded by religious authorities.
  • Civil registration was begun by all the Anglo-Caribbean countries at different times from the mid-19th century. Click here to see the table of civil registration dates*.
  • The registers can be quite detailed. For example, registers of births give name, sex, name of mother and her maiden name, and the name and occupation of the father. Marriage registers usually provide name, marital status, occupation, age, address and the father's name and occupation. Death registers will give name, age, sex, address, occupation and cause of death.
Civil registration records are to be found in the local registry offices*.

Church Registers

The headquarters church of the Seventh Day Adventists in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad
The headquarters church of the Seventh Day Adventists in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, March 1955.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (PRO) INF 10/363/3
  • Prior to the establishment of civil registration the church handled such matters. The Anglican Church was the dominant church in the older British colonies but, in the countries captured from the French, the Roman Catholic Church was more important.
  • From the 1780s other Christian churches were established. The churches are often termed Nonconformist and include Moravian, Baptist and Methodist churches.
  • Church registers may have been deposited in the country archive or register offices but many still remain with the individual church.

Slave Registers

These are an important resource showing births, deaths and marriages for the period between about 1812 and 1834. They were compiled to establish legally held slaves and provide information not only on the slaves but also their owners. Although dates of births, marriages and deaths are not usually recorded in the registers, *registration was carried out approximately every three years and show changes to the previous registration and therefore can be useful in approximating the dates of the events in the absence of church registers or other evidence.

The information recorded for slaves is:

Although these are rarely dated they give the age of the individual and it may be possible to approximate the month of birth; occasionally the mother's name may be shown.
Deaths and the Cause
The date of death is not usually recorded or the age at death.
Freedom or *Manumission
The date and reason for the manumission is not given but it should be possible to check the local deeds registry for the details.
The information on owners includes the following:

  • On death the register usually states that the owner is deceased and the slaves were being managed by a named *executor - who may be related
  • Slaves were property and were therefore bequeathed to family members, and the registers show changes in ownership and may record the relationship with the deceased
  • On marriage slaves were often given as a dowry and transferred from wife to husband - the property of the wife became the husband's property
Click here for further information on the slave registers, slave registry and slaves compensation commission.

Points to Note

Article from the Jamaica Times, 09 January 1904
A notice from the Jamaica Times, dated 9 January 1904, for the wedding of Mr Henry Hunter and Mrs Eleanor McDougall.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (BL) 025JATM19040109
  • Marriage does not always precede births. Common-law (cohabiting) relationships were common in the West Indies and any children of these relationships were usually registered with the mother's surname. At some point in the child's life he or she may adopt the father's name. Therefore, these children may marry and die under a different name to the one they were born or baptised with.
  • Slaves were the personal property of their owner and most records affecting slaves are to be found among the personal papers of their owner. Read more about slave births, marriages and death and other records.
  • Most records relating to births, marriages and deaths are to be found in county archive and register offices and many have been microfilmed by the *Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, there are some sources in the UK: some 18th-century returns were forwarded to the Colonial Office and are to be found in Colonial Office returns at the National Archives. Slave registers may provide some information on events affecting slaves and their owners.
  • Colonial newspapers and gazettes sometimes have notices of births, marriages and deaths, especially of prominent citizens.

*Censuses*top of page

The British government showed an early interest in the populations of the American colonies - not only to show the growth of the populations but more importantly for the economic wealth and military strength.

There were very few returns before 1670 but with the establishment of the Council for Foreign Plantations in 1670 regular reports from the colonies were sought. The information required included:

  • Numbers of men, women, children, servants, free people and slaves
  • Numbers in the militia
Some colonial governors sent regular returns while others waited for specific requests.

The majority of the returns received by the government were in the form of head-counts of varying information:

  • The most basic returns only gave the total populations broken down into the numbers of males and females and degrees of freedom
  • In more detailed censuses the population was broken down by sex, age group, marital status, degrees of freedom, and colour or race
  • There were a few censuses giving names, and most of these only provide the name of the head of the household with the numbers of women, children, servants and slaves in the household
Nominal censuses may survive in the local archives although many pre-19th century ones that were forwarded to the Colonial Office can be found in Colonial Office Original Correspondence Records. Find contact details for local archives*.

Statistical information may be found in original correspondence series or published in Blue Books of Statistics, Government Gazettes for the relevant country and occasionally in British Parliamentary Papers.

  • Details of pre-1776 American colonial censuses, with demographic analyses, are described in R.V. Wells' The Population of the British Colonies in America before 1776 (Princetown University Press, 1975)
  • For analysis of 1901 censuses for Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands, Grenada, St Lucia, Trinidad and Belize with comparisons with UK and other Empire censuses see Census of the British Empire. 1901. Report with Summary (London: HMSO, 1906), Parliamentary Papers , cd 2660, 1905 cii p. 1
  • For analysis of 1940s Caribbean censuses see R.R. Kuczynski, Demographic Survey of the British Colonial Empire (London: Oxford University Press, 1953; reprinted by August M Kelley, 1977)

*Slave Registers*top of page

A section from a slave register of 1817 from Antigua
A section from a slave register of 1817 from Antigua. The system of registering slaves in the West Indies was set up between 1812 and 1817 and continued until the abolition of slavery in 1834.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (PRO) T 71/244
Although not compiled specifically as a census, the slave registers (1812-34) can be used as a census of slave owners and their slaves. The following link provides more information on slave registers.

Most free people of even modest means would have owned at least one slave as a domestic or to hire out. The majority of slave owners were white but there are references to free blacks also owning slaves. The information on the owners is usually limited to the name of the parish but for slaves the information includes:

  • Parish
  • Name
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Place of Birth
In some countries the slaves were registered in family groups and sometimes the relationship with other slaves (for example sister, cousin, aunt etc.) if on the same return is recorded.

*Probate Records*top of page

The probate of Caribbean wills and grants of administrations were handled through the local courts and should survive in the local archive, register office or even with the courts. They were often copied into the deeds registers or separate wills registers.

The types of records are:

Bequeathing property to immediate family and friends; these usually give information on the *testator's property, including slaves who may be named
Letters granting administration of an estate to the next of kin, or creditors, in the absence of a will; letters of administration do not usually give much information beyond the name of the administrator or administratrix
List of the testator's estate with estimated value; these may include lists of slaves
Most Caribbean wills were probated locally; however, if the deceased was normally resident in the UK or had estate in the UK the will would usually be proved in the UK church courts until 1858 (1875 in Scotland), especially in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury.

Creators: Guy Grannum

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