Tuesday, December 17, 2013

St Croix Death Records on Ancestry.com

imageWhen I began searching for my family there were very few records available online for St Croix. 

The best online collection was the St Croix census.  There were indexes at the Danish Demographic Database (http://www.ddd.dda.dk/ddd_en.htm) and VISHA (http://stx.visharoots.org/db.html) and images on Ancestry.com. 

There were a few church records on FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/) and the copy of NARA’s Colored People records M-1883 on Fold3 (which has since been posted to Ancestry.com). 

That was about it.
After exhausting the online sources, I then moved to microfilms.  The Family History Library has microfilms of some church records and NARA has a large microfilm set M-1884 of genealogical records.  These held a wealth of baptismal records, some marriages, and relatively few death records.  Figuring out when my people died was a detective story of combining evidence to narrow it down.  For example, my 3rd great grandfather Johannes van Beverhoudt was alive in the census of 9 Oct 1860 and missing from the 1870 census taken 10 Oct.  His wife, Mary Alletta Quickly was listed as a widow, so he must have died between 9 Oct 1860 and 10 Oct 1870.  Although he was baptized Lutheran, he had converted to the New Jerusalem (Swedenborgian) Church.  Since the Swedenborgian church was a small group in St Croix, with no churchyard for burials, I felt that it was likely he was buried Lutheran.  The FHL has several microfilms of Lutheran records so he should be there. 

Unfortunately, the records don’t actually include burials.  Lots of baptisms, plenty of confirmations, some marriages, but no burials. This turned out to be a recurrent theme.  I found plenty of evidence of birth, but precious little of death.  NARA had some listings for some years, but not a lot.  It seemed that I would never be able to locate the death dates.

Until recently. About a month and a half ago Ancestry.com posted a giant collection of records (see St Croix Records Back on Ancestry After a Year).  According to the site, there are over 33,000 pages of unindexed records.  This is a daunting collection indeed, but it is well worth perusing. One of the best features of the collection is their death records. 

There are 13 collections of civil death records from the Danish Archives and the VI Vital Statistics.  The collections span Christiansted, town and country, from 1836-1902 and have most years.  The Frederiksted records run from 1836-1892.  They also have over 50 collections of death records from churches, including the NARA M-1884 images, images from the RigsArkivet (Danish Archives), and some churchbooks.  Thousands of pages.  One of these, a register from 1861 showed my 3rd great grandfather’s date of death (or more likely burial) as 1 July 1861 at 57 years of age.  He was listed as Lutheran, by the way.

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So, I’ve been going through thousands of pages of records, most written in Danish to find as many family members as I could.  Reading them is very tedious and they are often difficult to understand.  Here is part of Johannes’ line in the register, showing his occupation, his religion, his wife’s name, and his cause of death

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This says he was a “Handelsbogholder" (commercial bookkeeper), his religion was “Luth” (Lutheran), his wife was Mary Quickly, and his cause of death was “Mavesyge” (Stomach ailment, diarrhea).  Not easy to read.  These may be indexed in VISHA’s collection, but they have not made the index available off-island.

So, for us, then, it’s the tedious work of page-by-page review of the enormous collection.  But that’s not such a bad thing for us serious family researchers.  By doing a page-by-page and line-by-line review we can find things that get lost in indexes.  Not only do we gain an understanding of our ancestors’ neighbors, we occasionally run across treasures we weren’t even looking for.

This is a page from the Dutch Reformed Church of St Croix for the year 1822, filed in January of 1823.  It shows the death of one white and one free-colored person during the year.  That’s right, just two people.  It was a very small church by 1823.
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The record shows the death of my 2nd cousin 7x removed, Maria Danielson fodt (born) van Beverhoudt, but that’s not the interesting part (ok, I admit I did put it into my tree software). The interesting part is the person who recorded it.  It is in Danish and signed by Johannes van Beverhoudt CZ.

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Johannes van Beverhoudt CZ (Claudizoon, or "Claudius' son") was my 4th great grandfather.  He was a church official in 1823.  In fact, I had no proof that he was still alive in 1823.  Since the signature matches other documents I found, I’m confident that this is my Johannes.  Still haven't found his death, by the way, I'm figuring it was about 1830-1831.

Johannes CZ filed the 1823 record as well, showing two free colored and no white deaths (yep, two more in a year).  In 1824 there were a total of seven deaths, but interestingly it is in English.

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Although one of the dead is Engel van Beverhoudt, I don't know who that is yet. There were 3 distinct branches of the family on St Croix at that time. What’s more, the document isn’t signed by Johannes CZ.  The signature says
Christiansted 10th January 1825
for Johs v Beverhoudt CZ
warden of the Dutch church
E J C v Beverhoudt
This is Johannes’ son, Engel Johannes Claudius van Beverhoudt (1807-1861), my 3rd great grandfather, and the person whose death date I found above.  Confusingly, in later life he used the name Johannes as well.  Johannes CZ was born on St Thomas and probably about 65 years old in 1825 so perhaps his son, a teenager, was helping him out. Maybe his hand was getting shaky.  Maybe he just talked his son into doing it.  The 1827 record, the last of the Dutch church records, is also in EJC’s hand and bears the same commentary.
 
I wouldn’t have found these four documents by using the index (ok maybe I would have gotten Maria Danielsen’s).  Only by paging through the colossal collection. If you are a member of Ancestry and haven’t looked at the collection yet, carve out some time and look into them.  They are unindexed, often poorly organized, bear inscrutable source citations, and come from many sources, but they are indeed diamonds in the rough.  I have found many records of my family and I have quite a ways to go.

3 comments:

  1. I haven't spent time looking at the Ancestry docs because my people are mainly on St. Thomas. Have you found the documents to include St. Thomas records as well or are they only St. Croix?

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    Replies
    1. HI Jilian. Unfortunately, no, the records are pretty much St Croix. I, too, have family from St Thomas (in fact we were originally from St Thomas), so it's been a struggle finding much there.

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