I’ve been in family history heaven this past week. St. Thomas is home to the Caribbean Genealogy Library, a wonderful repository of official records and local research projects where I’m hoping to answer some long-time questions, bridge some gaps and knock through some genealogical brick walls.
The library is volunteer-run and has limited hours so our days in St. Thomas are scheduled around when it’s open. After years of digital research I’m back to where I started, in front of a microfilm reader, this time plowing through early 19th century parish records, in French, looking for my great great grandmother’s baptismal record. These early records are rarely indexed and different scribes recorded the information in a different order so the only thing to do is go all zen-like and read every word.
I had an idea of an approximate birth date, 1818-1820, so I started in 1818 and worked forward. I got almost to the end of 1820 and was about to give up when a name caught my eye. Yes, there she was, my ancestor, Marianne Riou, recorded here as Claire Marie, a woman whose life story is legend in our family (you can read it here if you’re interested.) The record confirms her parents’ names, and with that I move back a generation in my research. For a family historian, this is huge.
As you can see, the microfilm is barely legible so we did what any researcher would do, go to the source. The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul is farther than we’ve walked before and there’s a serious map deficit in this town but eventually we found our way.
I was pretty sure this was not the original building but I know my ancestor was baptized on this spot, and probably some of the art and accoutrements were here when she was here. Researching family history always makes me feel connected to everyone before me and sitting in this space gave me chills. After a while we went next door to the parish office and I talked to the person in charge of the archives. She told me the records are very delicate and she’d have to ask the Monsignor for permission to let me see them. It will take a few days. Fingers crossed.