Sadly, I got a big NO to my request to see the original record of my great-great-grandmother’s birth at the Cathedral of Sts. Pete and Paul here in Charlotte Amalie. My contact emailed me that the Monsignor “is in the process of trying to get the records preserved and until that time cannot allow anyone to handle the records.” This was after being told that a staff member would do the search and I asked just to be present to see. I’ve reiterated my request of course, but received no further response.
This is the first time in my 25 years of family history research that I’ve been denied access to original documents. I sat in a vault in the basement of a church in Philadelphia and paged with reverence through 225-year-old registries. In a city archive I was handed carefully wrapped books of 19th century handwritten court records and told to unwrap them; they would be rewrapped in fresh acid-free paper when I was finished. I’ve dug through archival boxes at historical societies, libraries, state repositories. Records are for a reason. They preserve names and events for posterity and that means they must be open and shared. To say I am disappointed is to not even scratch the surface. This place, this birth, this ancestor, Marianne Riou, represents a turning point in our family’s history that put us in one place rather than another, whose journey to Philadelphia from here meant her descendants are American rather than Haitian or French or West Indian, perhaps why we are white rather than black. I came a long way to see her birth record, not just in sea miles but in years of the painstaking, often tedious work of family research. I am crushed.
Several years ago I was working on Jack’s family and needed to get copies of some birth records from Romania. But Romania does not allow microfilming or photocopying of the records. They are available nowhere except in the official archives which you can visit in person with prior permission, but you will only gain access to those specific books and pages that you request ahead of time. Paging through a parish record to find the complete picture of a family is not allowed. In order to get the records we needed we had to write a letter to the government of Romania asking for specific records and giving our reasons for wanting them. The letter was then translated into Romanian and sent to the appropriate agency. We were granted permission through an agent who went to the archives, found the records we needed and the officials created an abstract of the record because no photocopying is allowed. We have never seen what the original looks like but just have a paper with the information and a lot of stamps and signatures on it.
So the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul is like Romania and their attitude goes against the very purpose of archives. Archives are by definition old and many are delicate, especially in challenging environments like the Caribbean. But they are either preserved or not preserved. If they are not preserved they will crumble into dust one day all on their own whether someone looks at them or not. And it would have been nice to see Marianne’s baptismal record before they are lost forever while the Monsignor denies access to those of us seeking to interpret and share the stories they tell.
Well, remarkably the watermaker, which we thought had comprehensively blown up, had locked up by sucking air into the feeder pumps due to the violent motion of Escape Velocity on our long windward passage. The pressure gauge needle broke off because of metal fatigue and while we had the guy out on the boat he stopped some annoying leaks that had developed in some hard to reach places. Whew!
So we decided to blow the budget in a different way and get as much of the orange canvas finished as we could. Miss Janice’s canvas shop was recommended to us and she’s conveniently close, but still a rough and bouncy dinghy ride away. We’ve pulled the trigger on that long awaited project and while we’re at it the dodger had a few bad zippers near the instruments so we included that repair as well. With a third of the dodger off the boat we were feeling a little exposed during this morning’s rain storm.
We rigged this boom canvas in place of the side curtains. Thanks to Jim for passing on that piece of kit. We knew it would come in handy.
The new external sun covers are included in this project and it looks like the original covers are crumbling so we couldn’t have pushed this much longer. During squalls I’ve found them pealed back and ready to abandon ship!
Janice fixed up the dodger in a day and we got it reinstalled just in time for another rainfall.
A few years ago I was researching Jack’s family history and found mention in a distant cousin’s diary of “wine land near Vienna” that the family supposedly owned. We couldn’t find any other reference to it, and it’s become our persistent joke whenever we wish we had more resources to do the things we want to do: “Gotta find that wine land!”
Here in St. Thomas I’ve been digging through tax records to find where our various family groups lived and when. I found some success with one branch and with the help of Rob at the Caribbean Genealogy Library and some early maps Jack and I located the house my Liggett family lived in. It’s now a jewelry store in the middle of the main tourist shopping district in the oldest part of town. My heart went pitterpat to see the house my great great great grandfather was born in. How cool is that!
We also climbed the hill to Bluebeard’s castle, similar to Blackbeard’s castle, also built by the Danes as a lookout over the harbor. It’s now part of a hotel and not open for tours, but the significance for me is that our ancestor Alexander Liggett briefly owned it in 1856.
It was a very steep hot walk but the view was worth it. Escape Velocity with the yellow canvas is visible just to the left of the pirate ships.
Right across from where we’re anchored is a gathering of more or less permanent tented stalls of various touristy stuff, t-shirts, island clothing, handbags, jewelry and so on. On Saturdays there’s also a farmer’s market. The produce in the grocery stores is fairly good here but we definitely prefer buying from the growers. I managed to roust Jack early last Saturday to see what we could find at the market.
I bought the smallest wedge of West Indian pumpkin I could find and still it’s a huge amount. We had pumpkin quesadillas for Cinco de Mayo and it barely made a dent. The next night we had a lovely black bean and mango salad with rice and fried plantains. I’m open to any West Indian recipes you can share with me. Oh, and Jack did not buy any fish. You can take it up with him.