Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Top 10 Sources for your Virgin Island Roots

Back when I began my search for my Virgin Island roots I found it hard to figure out where to start looking for information.  There are many books and blogs about record types and sources for US and European genealogy, but nothing that really talks to the wealth of documentation on the Danish West Indies.  In my work I have found and consulted a large variety of resources.  I have by no means exhausted them.  Below I list the Top 10 that should be on the "must read" list for anyone researching their Virgin Island family, and where these resources are.  Many of these records are available at the St Croix Landmarks Library at Whim and the Caribbean Genealogical Library in Charlotte Amalie, but as I am off-island, I have indicated where they can be found from the mainland.
1857-Company St. 52 C (Medium)1. Censuses
Danish West Indies Census (Ancestry.com, FHC), U. S. Census (Ancestry.com, Heritage Quest, The census is a staple of genealogical research.  Censuses in the DWI were held in 1835, 1841, 1846, 1851, 1855, 1857, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, and 1911.  The St Croix censuses have been indexed and digitized and are available at Ancestry.com.  Indexes are available at VISHA’s visharoots.com.  The St Thomas censuses have not been digitized, but are available through microfilm rental at Family History Centers.  Some centers, like the Caribbean Genealogical Library have the collection permanently on loan and can be viewed without ordering.  All years except 1890 have been filmed.  Like the US census, the 1890 St Thomas census has been lost. 

Since 1917, the Virgin Islands have been part of the decennial US Federal Census.  In 1917 a special census was completed just for the islands. Unfortunately, most of the St Thomas pages are lost here as well.  St Croix is complete.  Since the census was done in early 1918, they used these returns for the 1920 US census.  Most census collections for 1920 actually contain 1917 pages.  As a result, calculated fields (dates of birth) are therefore off by 3 years.  The censuses for 1930 and 1940 are available at several sites, including Ancestry.com, Heritage Quest, and Findmypast.com.  Indexes are available on FamilySearch.org.

1777-Baptism-Bertrand Peter Beverhoudt-IMG_65172. Church Records (FHC, FamilySearch.org)
Censuses only date to 1841, but church records go back to the 1600's.  They typically record baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials.  Often they list church members or other church activities that may mention your ancestors.  The availability of records varies by church and not all are available.  Very few are available on-line, but FamilySearch.org has Anglican records for St Thomas and St Croix, Lutheran records for St Thomas, a few Catholic, and Methodist from St Thomas.  The FHL has microfilms from both St Thomas and St Croix.  The rolls cover Lutheran, some Catholic and some Dutch Reformed.  It's quite a large collection.  see the Family Search Index

1908-Baptism-Mariel Irone-Archives-IMG_6348 (Medium)3. Quarterly Reports
For St Croix records between1852 and 1895, there is another source for church records: NARA microfilm publication M1884.  Each church submitted a copy of the registers for baptisms, marriages, and burials to the government quarterly.  While not complete, there are 17 rolls of microfilms of these reports (over 4,000 pages).  Since this was required of all churches, you can find records here that are not available elsewhere. This is the only easily accessible collection of Moravian records outside of the Moravian Archive in Bethlehem PA.


1773-R40S02-IMG_9156 (Medium)4. Matricals (NARA microfilm publication M1884)
This is a rather large set of annual property and head tax documents located at NARA Archives II in College Park, MD.  They are part of the M1884 microfilm.  There are 65 rolls of matricals for St Croix and 17 for St Thomas and St John. They are in Danish, but since they are mostly names, they aren't hard to understand.  Additional comments are in Danish, so they can be difficult.  These documents show addresses and owners of properties, house by house in the towns and summaries of the plantations.  They take some learning to interpret, but I have found them of very high value. House numbers were fixed around 1803 and I have found them to be pretty consistent even before that.
   
1831-Register of Black Women-Quickly-p 87-88 (Medium)5. Free Black Registers (NARA microfilm publication M1883, Fold3.com)
In about 1831, the Danish government wanted to get a full register of free colored people.  They did a thorough census, first by administrative region (St Thomas and St John, Christiansted Jurisdiction, and Frederiksted Jurisdiction).  These spanned both free blacks in the towns and on the estates.  Further, they recorded men, women, and children (under 16)  separately.  They record basic information, often including parents of children, race, religion, and whether free-born or manumitted.  They are in Danish, but mostly comprehensible.  These censuses are at NARA and were filmed for M1883 across 6 rolls.  The collection can be found online at www.Fold3.com with membership.

1889-Death-Maria Barnett Pentheny (Medium)6. Death Records (M1884) There are nearly 3 rolls of municipal lists of deaths and burials from the late 1800s on in M1884.  These registers are in good condition for the most part and list age, spouses, parents, occupations, cause of death, and burial location.  the biggest hurdle here is the archaic Danish cause of death.  Sometimes you can figure it out, but other times it helps to have a reference.  A good one is the Archaic Medical Terms website. 



1849 Voters-a-R26S03-IMG_2424 (Medium)7. Voter Lists (M1884)
If your ancestor was a burgher (citizen) then he had voting rights.  Lists of voters were frequently published in the newspapers.  This collection lists all eligible voters, sometimes with notations.  Some are newspaper pages, some are handwritten lists.


1791-Head Tax-Gertruyd Beverhoudt Queen St. 07-p35-68. Slave and Head Tax Lists (Ancestry.com) In the days before Emancipation, taxes were required of slaveowners based on the number and age of slaves owned.  Each slaveowner was required to submit a list of slaves owned each year, by name.  Many of these documents survive and are available at Ancestry.com.  These are helpful in researching both slave-owners as well as enslaved ancestors as they can help to establish identity and residence in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.

1816-Freedom Charters-Page 7-Amy McNobney (Medium)9. Freedom Charters and Emancipation Records (M1883) Records of free status and manumission are available in NARA M1833 and Fold3.  There are several types of documents in this set, from registers showing free status to emancipation declarations, to registers of slaves freed in 1848 as a result of emancipation.  Sometimes these records show former owners or residences in the days before any census information is available.




vifamilies (Medium)10. VI Families.org
Very little genealogical work has been done on Virgin Islands families, but one researcher is compiling extensive histories of many of the families.  Dr. Svend Holsoe maintains vifamilies.org, with genealogical information on over 2,100 surnames of families in the islands before 1900.  His list includes both well-known and less well known families.  The genealogies are fully sourced and usually based on primary documents. This is a work in progress, so check back often.  Dr. Holsoe also is continually looking for input, so if you have information he doesn’t, let him know and he will credit you as a contributor to your family’s page.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for your due dilligence!

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    1. Glad you're finding it useful. Props on your blog too (http://shelleyskyline.wordpress.com)! I really enjoy reading it.

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  2. I appreciate the information that you have been sharing.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. If I can make it just a little easier for someone to find their roots than it was for me, I'll be happy.

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  3. Hey Dave,
    Where are the pictures from paradise? We've been digging out what's left of our homes from Hurricane Sandy, miserable and depressed, and want to see how the other half lives.
    Signed,
    Battered in Brooklyn

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  4. For the NARA microfilm publication M1884 records, do you have to go to the National Archives to view these documents or is there a way to view them online?

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  5. Jilian,

    Unfortunately, M1884 is only on film. Copies are available in other places. I'm pretty sure that the Caribbean Genealogy Library in St Thomas has a set. There are probably sets on St Croix. Other NARA Regional offices may have sets.

    Let me know what you're looking for and I'll see if I can help.

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  6. Hi Dave,

    I'm in NJ so I was hoping the M1884 was accessible someplace other than just the archives at College Park and on the island. My primary search is for the parents of Ann Eloidia and Leopold DeWindt (bro & sis) in St. Thomas in the mid-1800s, but I'm also interested in the Hodges, the Nichols, the Cornieros, and the Brouwers all from St. Thomas as well. Thanks so much for your blog - it's helped me identify other places to look for things other than just Ancestry.

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  7. Hmm, I would begin with the St Thomas census from 1880. I blogged about it: http://200inparadise.blogspot.com/2013/02/new-online-records-st-croix-and-st.html

    If they were Lutheran or Anglican I would look on FamilySearch for those records. If you email me directly, I'll send you a document that indexes the M1884 so you can see if it's worth your while.

    St Thomas is harder than St Croix!

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