Patricia Jackson and Jamaican Family Search

An interview with Patricia Jackson, founder of Jamaican Family Search

In January 2014, Patricia Jackson transferred the Jamaican Family Search website to UCL as a permanent home. This won’t affect the appearance of the site but ensures it will always be available for the many researchers who find its resources to be invaluable.

Over the last 15 years, Patricia has developed Jamaican Family Search into an extraordinary collection of transcriptions and articles including Almanacs, parish registers, censuses, indexes to wills, extracts from newspapers, maps, photographs and original articles. However you use the site you will always find new and surprising information. The home page is worth reading thoroughly as it gives an overview of the main categories and how to browse by hierarchy. The search function is particularly useful for the names of places and people (there are 297,000 names of people within the site). Most importantly, the site includes detailed information on the sources themselves.

As well as investing considerable time and skill of her own, Patricia’s site has provided a forum for other people to share their work; this generosity among family history researchers contributes to making the whole activity so enjoyable.

Recently, we interviewed Patricia about her work.

Q. When did you begin Jamaican Family Search and what were your aims in doing so?

I started preparing pages for the site in August 1999 and made them available to the public in March 2000. As a researcher I had seen how little was available online about Jamaica for those trying to trace their family histories, and I believed that with the assistance of other researchers we could help fill that void.

Q. Could you tell us a bit about how you developed the site over time? Have things evolved in the way you expected?

I started with pages from Jamaican Almanacs that listed property owners, and with information that I had found in Jamaican church records and civil registrations when trying to trace my own family surnames as well as those of selected families. I wanted to concentrate my efforts on records that were not easily accessible to researchers. I found “lists of people” in various books that contained sources in England of Jamaican documents, and I hired researchers in England to make copies of those documents for me. After a few months the archivist of the Roman Catholic archives in Kingston offered to allow me to copy documents there. Someone with access to old records of Jews in Jamaica did the same. Others with copies of old directories let me have copies. I was able to get Methodist baptisms microfilmed for me in Jamaica. As the site grew so did the list of people who contributed their work to the site, as you will see on the Announcements page.

Things evolved in the way that I had hoped, and even better. People responded by giving help in a way that exceeded my expectations.

Q. What have you enjoyed most about the process?

I have enjoyed connecting with people who are so interested in genealogy that they have been willing to share their time to help build the site. I also enjoyed hearing from readers that they had been able to find family members that they never knew about, including living people, and had made trips to meet new family members. Some told me that their lives have changed as a result of the site.

Personally I was contacted by people who had been to the site looking for a particular person, and that person turned out to be someone in my family line (for the most part my family tree is not on the site). I have been found by family members who live in several other countries, and I have had family gatherings with many new relatives. My own family tree has grown.

Q. Could you let us know about problems you encountered along the way?

It was difficult to get microfilms from certain depositories in Jamaica in a timely manner. My finally obtaining them was largely due to the persistence of a friend of mine in Jamaica.

Q. Do you have any favourite parts of the site?

The Jamaica Almanacs and the Search function. Having spent nearly 16 years building the site, while planting individual trees I sometimes lost track of the forest. Whenever I do a Search to find a particular name I am delighted to see how many times it shows up on the site.

Q. Do you have any advice for people currently researching their Jamaican families?

Another goal was to enable readers of the site to understand the background of Jamaican research, and to find helpful information on how to perform their research. On certain pages I tried to answer questions that had been asked me by readers. Those answers can be found on the Help page and in the Utilities pages listed on the Plan of the Site.

The Plan also contains a comprehensive list of all the Lead Pages on the site. The Lead Pages are important because they usually contain vital information on how to read and interpret the pages to which they contain links. The Lead Pages may also explain the circumstances under which the documents in that section were originally created. Be sure to read the Lead Pages.

Be sure also to read the headings at the top of each page on the site that you are reading.

In your research, “go from the known to the unknown,” by starting with the most recent generation and working backwards in history. If you start with inaccurate assumptions you may make it more difficult for you to find the truth. Embrace the unexpected. Your life may be enriched by it!

Q. What are your reasons for handing the site over to UCL?

I have handed the site over to UCL, which I am certain will survive me, so that the site will continue to remain available for those researching Jamaica. UCL will be a reputable and responsible caretaker of the site. I felt that UCL was a ‘good fit’ in view of all the work that was done on the LBS site, which is also being a great help to researchers.