Are You a Descendant of the First Families of Abaco?

Historian Betty Bruce and Artist Alton Lowe, founder of the Island Roots Heritage Festival

Forty years ago this week, the inaugural Island Roots Heritage Festival took place in Key West and then in Green Turtle Cay .

During the planning for the first Island Roots Festival, Key West historian Betty Bruce – whose ancestors were among those Abaco families who settled Key West – began gathering the names of other Floridians whose roots stretched across the Gulf Stream to the Bahama islands.

She posted a sign-up sheet in the Monroe County Public Library in Key West and put the word out.

Within just a few months, she had gathered several hundred names on a scroll, which now resides in the archives of the Albert Lowe Museum.

Reading through the scroll, you recognize many common Bahamian surnames, such as Pinder, Knowles, Kemp, Symonette and Moss, from the various Bahamian islands including Eleuthera, Spanish Wells, Harbour Island, Long Island, Nassau and Grand Bahama.

Names of Florida residents whose roots reach across the Gulfstream to the Bahamas.

By far, however, the majority of those listed descend from the first families of Abaco, with surnames such as Curry, Lowe, Key, Russell, Albury, Roberts and Sawyer. Not entirely surprising, since wreckers from Abaco were among the first settlers of Key West.

What about you? Were your ancestors Abaconian? If so, I’d love to know more about them!

I’m gathering information about the first families of Abaco and their descendants for a series of blog articles. Please feel free to send your family trees, old family photos or any stories you’d like to share to amanda(at)littlehousebytheferry(dot)com.

Also, just between you and me, there’s been some talk of arranging a giant homecoming/ family reunion for the descendants of Abaco’s first families. If you’re interested, drop me a note with your contact details and I’ll make sure you receive all the info once it’s available.

  18 comments for “Are You a Descendant of the First Families of Abaco?

  1. Reggie Pattweson
    November 28, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    I love the idea of a huge homecoming/family reunion. Where and when? Something like this would have to be planned at least a year out. As for the where, I suspect somewhere in FL would be the best. Simply because it costs so bloody much to fly to the Bahamas, and Florida is sort of a neutral location. Not too expensive for anybody to get to, except for someone like Cheri Petters, and lots of reasonably priced accommodation.

  2. Marvine Dethloff
    December 2, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    Hi Amanda. I see Reggie’s response and I too would be very interested in a homecoming/family reunion of descendants of the early settlers. My lines go back to Capt. Gideon Lowe. I love to visit Abaco and Green Turtle Cay. My last few visits were with four-generations of my family. Precious memories in a beautiful setting. I look forward to more details as this develops.

  3. Melinda Kemp Lyerly
    December 6, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    My family names from the Bahamas include Kemp, Lowe, Albury, and Villajelu (sp?)
    From what I understand, my father’s family had been in the Bahamas since 1651. My father was born in Key West in 1905, but his father (Kemp)and mother (Villajelu) were from Green Turtle Cay, Abaco. I would be very interested in information/connections/ a family reunion!

    Melinda Kemp Lyerly

  4. Bebe Sellers
    April 3, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Would love to get all information about a “homecoming” for my friend Albert Della Fave whose mother was a Lowe and whose family histoy includes “Curry,” Captain Gideon Lowe, and others. Thank you much. Albert’s uncle Walter Lowe, is a part of the Bahamain genetic study.

    • Tina Keene Peddie
      May 15, 2018 at 11:23 am

      My half sister Barbara Newton is from Curry, Lowe and Albury lines also. Email me if anyone wa ya to compare. She has done atdna at Ftdna and 23andme and Gedmatch. Thank you, Tina Keene Peddie. Email:

  5. Ann Carmel
    May 22, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    Hi Amanda: Was Betty Bruce looking for the descendants of First Families of Abaco in Key West? Or the descendants of the First Families of Abaco? Thanks, Ann

    • May 23, 2018 at 12:54 pm

      Hi, Ann. My guess would be descendants in Key West, since that’s where she’s based. I’ve been looking for descendants of Abaco’s first families worldwide.


    • Karen Mahlios
      April 13, 2019 at 8:03 pm

      Grandmother was Gladys Pinder

      Mom Joyce Boutwell

      Related to Tuggy Robert’s also

      Live on Siesta Key currently

  6. Christian
    June 8, 2018 at 6:21 pm

    Hello, I am a descendants of the Russell’s who were spongers on Cave Cay. Robert Seafield Russell was my great grandfather and Joseph Abinadab Russell is my 2x great grandfather. I believe them to be loyalist but I have also discovered that Russell’s were among the original settlers of The Bahamas. Do you have any knowledge on the origins of The Russell’s from Cave Cay?

    • July 9, 2018 at 7:27 pm

      Hi, Christian. I don’t have that information off-hand, but if you haven’t already, please consider joining the Bahamas Genealogy Group. I’m sure one of our group members will be able to assist with your search.


  7. Mike Howard
    June 18, 2018 at 9:35 am

    This is a great find. My lineage goes back through Gideon Lowe and would love to hear from anyone about his heritage.

  8. Martha (Wallace) Judge
    July 16, 2018 at 4:37 am

    I’ve just re-read this post and think the homecoming/family reunion would be wonderful! My maternal grandfather was Charles Aldelbert “Bert” Lowe, son of Jabez Austin and Adrianna “Ada” Ellen (Curry) Lowe of Green Turtle Cay. My mother, Edris (Lowe) Sheppard signed the scroll, and I was delighted to see her signature.

    Please keep me informed.

  9. Kim Saunders Roane
    January 28, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Hi Amanda. I descend from Saunders Albury and possibly Baker. I would love to be kept in the loop regarding any Bahamas/ key west ancestry reunions

  10. Paul Martin
    July 28, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    My great grandfather was crime Green Turtle Kay. I visited when I was very young. I’m trying all different avenues to reach out to distant family to gather as much information about my history.

    • Paul Martin
      July 28, 2019 at 6:09 pm

      Sorry that didn’t come out right. His name is Benjamin Howard Lowe and was from Green Turtle Key.

      • Marvine E Dethloff
        August 30, 2019 at 6:18 pm

        Paul, My great-grandfather, Thomas Wilson Lowe, was also born at Green Turtle Cay. Explore this site and I am sure you will find references to your family. Thomas was descended from Capt. Gideon Lowe through his son James. Do you know your line?

  11. Scott Pritchard
    September 18, 2019 at 4:19 am

    I have ancestors both maternally and paternally from Green Turtle. My mothers grandfather was Walter Lowe who migrated to Key West and on my fathers side Sylvanus Pinder was his great grandfather. My sir name is Pritchard and they came from New Providence. I also would like to visit Green Turtle Key during the heritage festival. Hope the rebuilding of Abacos goes quickly and folks can get back with their lives.

    May 7, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    My name is Richard John Sawyer ,my entire life my father Clifford john Sawyer has told me our family originally came from green turtle cay ,from there they were at plantation key florida then marco island ,florida, and now naples florida,my grandfather Richie Sawyer jr no middle name and Richie sawyer sr are buried on marco island not sure where my great uncle preston is buried but i think it is in naples florida.
    Im not sure of my great grand fathers fathers first name is but I think it was John.

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