Good news for those of you thinking about participating in the Bahamas DNA Project, or looking for unique Christmas gift ideas for family and friends (Bahamian or not.) Family Tree DNA test kits are on sale from now until December 31.
Since Family Tree DNA sells a number of different test kits, Peter Roberts of the Bahamas DNA Project offers the following guidance for Bahamians wishing to be tested:
“It would be helpful if anyone with any Bahamian ancestry ordered a Family Finder test for $99 (but don’t count on the included $100 Restaurant.com coupon due to poor reviews I see of Restaurant.com).
If you are male (and your direct paternal line is from the Bahamas) I recommend the Y-DNA37 test for $119, but e-mail me at email@example.com to be sure you don’t retest an already tested direct paternal line.
For males or females, if your direct maternal line is from the Bahamas (and we determine you belong to an untested direct maternal line) I recommend you order the mtDNAPlus test for $49 (but you will need to phone in your mtDNAPlus order at (713) 868-1438 because it is not listed during this sale period).”
While everyone with Bahamian heritage is encouraged to participate, the Bahamas DNA Project is especially interested in having Bahamians of African, Chinese, Greek, Lebanese and Native American ancestry tested. For more information, visit the Bahamas DNA Project’s website, their Facebook page, or the Bahamas DNA Project Page on the Family Tree DNA website.
NOTE: You do not have to be Bahamian to purchase/use Family Tree DNA kits. These tests will provide information about your lineage, regardless of where your ancestors come from. (I should also mention that, aside from being a happy customer, I’m not affiliated with Family Tree DNA in any way.)
Here are a few more photos from the albums of my grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury and my uncle, Cuthbert Albury. I suspect most of these were taken in Abaco, but aside from that, I know very little about them. I’ve included whatever information I have in the captions below each photograph. If you can help identify any of these people or scenes, please post a comment below, or email me.
If I had to guess, I’d say this was Cherokee Sound during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in the early 1940s. Anyone know for sure?
This group looks like the staff of a hotel, perhaps. I’m fairly certain that the man seated in the front row third from left is my uncle, Cuthbert Albury, of Marsh Harbour, Abaco.
I know this is the wedding of Dorothy Albury, daughter of Bissell and Jean Albury, but I don’t know who any of the guests are. Anyone know?
My cousin, Evan Lowe, and I wonder if this could be my great-great-grandfather, Thomas Wesley (“Pa Wes”) Curry, of Green Turtle Cay….?
Recently, I came across a Huffington Post article about the world’s bluest beaches. This piece is essentially a ready-made bucket list for me, since I love beaches of all kinds, in all seasons and in all sorts of weather. It’s entirely possible that I’m biased, of course, but I think the Bahamian out islands have some of the most spectacular, unspoiled beaches in the world. So does National Geographic, which named Abaco’s Treasure Cay beach (pictured above) one of the 10 most beautiful on the planet.
Below are a few more of my favourite Bahamian beaches. What about you? Where’s your favourite beach?
Some people’s family trees grow in neat, tidy branches. My ancestry is more like a twisted, rambling vine, or a set of tangled Christmas lights.
On the Bahamian side, my ancestors include Eleutheran Adventurers (English Puritans fleeing religious persecution in Bermuda, who settled on the Bahamian island now known as Eleuthera), British Loyalists who fled the U.S. and settled in Harbour Island and Abaco following the American Revolution, and at least one pirate.
Faced with a cholera outbreak, potato blight and political unrest, my Dad’s great-grandfather moved his family from Germany to Jamaica in 1834. My paternal grandmother’s heritage goes back to Curacao, Cuba and the Danish West Indies before bringing her to Jamaica where she met and married my grandfather.
Because of the relatively tiny communities in which many of my ancestors lived, I often find I’m related to the same person through different pathways. For example, I’ve discovered that three of my four maternal grandparents are direct descendants of Wyannie Malone, a Loyalist widow said to have settled Hope Town, Abaco in the late 1700s. Long story short, I’m the human equivalent of a Bahamian potcake.
Hard to believe that one of these tiny vials holds my complete genetic history!
One of the speakers at this year’s Island Roots Heritage Festival was Peter Roberts, administrator of the Bahamas DNA Project, a private, non-profit organization that connects people who share Bahamian ancestry and traces their origins in Africa, Europe, and North America.
DNA testing, Peter explained, can help determine whether others with your surname are related to you, and identify family connections that may not be traceable through other genealogical research methods. It can also scientifically verify traditional genealogical research, and locate relatives you never knew you had.
Peter also recounted some of the many success stories that have emerged from the Bahamas DNA Project. For example, DNA testing has shown that Bahamians with the surname Albury (i.e., my Mom) can trace their ancestry back to medieval European nobility. And though most assumed that the Bahamian Lowes (including my 2x great-grandmother, Jessie Lowe) were of British ancestry, testing shows that their roots are actually in Mexico, Portugal, Brazil and Tanzania, and their heritage can be traced back to pirates. Matthew Lowe, a well-known pirate in Bahamian history, was my 8x great-grandfather.
I’ve wanted to participate in the Bahamas DNA Project for a while, and after Peter’s presentation, I signed up on the spot. Submitting my DNA sample was easy. I just swabbed the inside of my cheek with a tiny brush (plus another one, for backup), sealed the brushes in the tiny vials provided in the test kit, and mailed off the samples.
My genetic makeup, from FamilyTreeDNA.com
I ordered two tests: mtDNA and Family Finder. The mtDNA test traces maternal DNA passed from mothers to their children, male or female. It traces your maternal line (i.e., your mother’s mother’s mother, etc.), and is best suited for revealing deep ancestry. (Men with paternal ancestry in the Bahamas can also order a y-DNA test, which traces your father’s father’s father’s line.)
Family Finder helps to locate more recent genealogical matches (i.e., within the last 10 generations or so.) It’s an autosomal DNA test that compares your DNA with that of others who’ve been tested, and identifies people who share parts of your DNA.
After about eight weeks, I received an email with a link to my results. Here’s just some of what I learned:
King George V
Genetically, I’m 86.6% Western European (specifically from the Orkney Islands in northern Scotland), 5.9% West African (from the Mandinka and/or Yoruba ethnic groups) and 7.4% Middle Eastern (Mozabite, Palestinian, Bedouin, Bedouin South, Druze, and/or Jewish ethnicities.)
I belong to Haplogroup T2, a subset of Haplogroup T. (A haplogroup is basically an ancestral clan, kind of like the Vikings or the Celts.) Haplogroup T is believed to have originated in Africa about 45,000 years ago. Over time, this group spread into northern Italy and eventually throughout Europe. About 10% of modern day Europeans, Palestinians, Turks and Syrians belong to Haplogroup T, which is found in particularly high concentrations around the Eastern Baltic Sea, Ireland and west of Britain.
Some better-known members of Haplogroup T (and therefore, people with whom I share maternal ancestry) include Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, American outlaw Jesse James, and Kings George the I, III and V of England.
As for more recent relatives, my DNA tests have revealed dozens of people world-wide with whom I share DNA — and therefore, at least one common ancestor. In some cases, the connections are quite far back in time and difficult to trace. But in many cases, the DNA test shows that the connection is fairly recent. I’ve been in touch with some of my newly discovered relatives and we’re comparing family trees and DNA results in an attempt to identify our common ancestors.
Though quite a few Bahamians of European descent have been tested since the Bahamas DNA Project began in 2004, the project is eager to have more Bahamians of African, Chinese, Greek, Lebanese and Native American ancestry participate. Depending on what tests you choose to have done, prices range from $49 to $199 plus postage, though if cost is a concern, you can request sponsorship.
As Bahamian performer Ronnie Butler sings, “Everybody wan’ go to heaven, but nobody wan’ dead.” But if you have to go, I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to be laid to rest than the cemetery in Green Turtle Cay.
Pa Herman’s grave and part of his previous tombstone, likely damaged by a hurricane.
The two-acre graveyard, located at the foot of the hill east of town, dates back to the late 1700s, though it’s been destroyed several times since by hurricanes. At low tide, you can still spot fragments of old tombstones on the beach below.
Overlooking the Sea of Abaco, Green Turtle Cay’s historic cemetery is a peaceful space where tropical flowers grow among the graves and dance in the breeze, and from which you can watch pelicans dive for their dinner and fishermen try their luck on the bonefishing flats.
I often wonder whether it’s coincidence that the Tiny Turtles Preschool is located right next door. There’s something sweet and life-affirming about paying respects to those who’ve left us while listening to a new generation of little voices laughing and singing.
Though most of their grave markers have been lost to time and weather, a number of our family members are buried here, including Pa Herman, Mirabelle, my grandmother’s sister who died at six years old, and their youngest sibling, a boy who was stillborn. One of my grandmother’s children, a girl born premature, is also here.
If your ancestors are buried in the Green Turtle Cay cemetery, the Find A Grave website includes a list of the interments for which there are existing markers.
My grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury was a wonderful and generous cook. Her fried chicken, stewed whelks, guava duff and banana pudding were among my favourites, and there was always enough for her children and grandchildren.
Like many Bahamians, though, my grandmother cooked strictly by taste and feel, which made obtaining her recipes a challenge.
At first, I’d ask her to prepare a dish while I watched, jotting notes and estimating ingredient quantities. This was how I learned to dress and bake a ham, and make potato salad, Bahamian pumpkin pie, tuna salad and guava duff.
By the time we got around to banana pudding, however, my grandmother was in her late 80s and rarely cooked. So, at the breakfast table one morning, she dictated the recipe, guessing at the quantities for each ingredient.
As I scribbled notes, she told me she’d been making this banana pudding for more than 50 years (no wonder she didn’t need a recipe!)
When she and my grandfather were first married, she said, they didn’t have much money, and sugar was being rationed due to WWII. At the time, however, my grandfather worked on the Anne Bonny, a freight boat that transported bananas from Haiti to Miami. When he returned from a trip, he’d bring bananas and a sack of sugar, and my grandmother would bake banana pudding.
Sadly, by the time I got around to using her banana pudding recipe, my grandmother had passed away. I followed the notes she had dictated, but the flavour wasn’t quite right and the texture was way off.
I searched my Bahamian cookbooks and scoured the Internet for a similar recipe, but all the banana pudding recipes I came across were in fact custards or just glorified baked bananas. None sounded similar to my grandmother’s sweet, sticky, bread-pudding-like treat.
Determined to get it right, I revisited her recipe. I added more flour and less liquid, and vice versa. I baked the pudding at 325F, and then 350F. I tried baking it for an hour, and then an hour and a half.
Since Bahamian cooks swear that Canadian flour is better for baking than American flour, I ignored the exasperated eye-rolling of a certain other member of our household and schlepped six pounds of Robin Hood flour home from Green Turtle Cay.
More than a year and close to a dozen tries later, I think I’ve got it nearly perfect. The texture isn’t quite the same as my grandmother’s banana pudding, (maybe because I’m using a different type of banana?) but the taste is spot on.
If you’d like to try it for yourself, here’s the (slightly amended) recipe.
Lurey Albury’s Banana Pudding
11 or so medium-sized, very ripe bananas
½ c. evaporated milk
1 ¼ c. brown sugar (you can use a little less if the bananas are very ripe)
1 – 1 ¼ c flour
2 beaten eggs
1 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla (this wasn’t in the original recipe, but I added it.)
Mash bananas thoroughly. Stir in all other ingredients. Pour into a greased 9 x 13 casserole dish and bake at 325 for 1 ½ hours, or until well-browned. Let cool completely (even overnight) before cutting.
If you can adhere to that last instruction, you’re a better person than me.
Since there’s so much to be done, we’ve divided the work into several phases. Phase one — constructing a new foundation directly behind the existing structure, raising and moving the house back onto it and adding a small, covered front porch — begins in early January. Winter is a good time for this work, since the weather’s cooler and rain delays are less likely.
Shifting the house back on the property will give us a little more privacy and allow room for a little porch from which to enjoy afternoon drinks and sunrises over Settlement Creek.
More importantly, though, it will provide extra elevation, which will hopefully translate into added protection against flooding.
In October 2012, during Hurricane Sandy, Settlement Creek overflowed its banks. Most of the eastern end of town, including the ferry dock and our street, were submerged. Though Fish Hooks is already a few feet above street level, the creek rose high enough that water seeped through our floor. Since it’s predicted that sea levels will continue to rise in future, we’re eager to achieve as much extra elevation as possible.
I won’t pretend that the idea of picking up and moving my grandmother’s childhood home doesn’t make me a little queasy. But our contractors Oral and Jason Bethel come highly recommended and we’re putting our faith in them.
Still, I’ve warned Tom that I may not have the nerve to watch, and I may leave him to oversee the move while I distract myself with some of the other items on our lengthy project list.
Since we want to keep as much of Fish Hooks’ original furniture as we can, we need to replace the settee cushions and make new covers for them, refinish a few lamps and repair/refinish the old wooden dining table and chairs we found in the cottage.
I also want to spend some time in Marsh Harbour, investigating what’s available locally in terms of furnishings, fixtures, appliances and housewares and figuring out what, if anything, we’ll need to import.
Now that our start date is confirmed, next steps include working with Jason and Oral to finalize plans for the new foundation and porch, and securing the necessary building permits. Fingers crossed, the latter process will be simple and straightforward.
In the meantime, here are a few “before” photos of Fish Hooks. Some of these images were shot in 2006 during Tom’s first visit to Green Turtle Cay. At that time, the cottage had been vacant for the better part of a decade and was in serious disrepair. Other photos were taken in 2009 and 2013, and they reflect some of the repairs our friends Mark and Caroljean Lowe made while using the cottage for their golf cart rental company, Kool Karts.
Since its July launch, Little House by the Ferry has had more than 16,000 page views by 6,000+ unique visitors in 48 countries around the world. A warm thank you to everyone who’s visited, commented on or followed LHBTF over the past three months. I’m having a great deal of fun writing about Green Turtle Cay’s past and present and getting to know other GTC lovers. It’s also been wonderful to connect with distant relatives I didn’t know before now.
I look forward to sharing more about Fish Hooks and Green Turtle Cay in the months ahead. In the meantime, if you’ve got historic GTC stories or photos you’d like to share, please get in touch.
Before they had access to local doctors, neighbourhood pharmacies or affordable transportation, many Bahamians relied on “bush medicine”, the practice of using indigenous plants and herbs to treat ailments and cure illness. My grandmother’s favourite bush remedies were aloe (for burns) and cerasee (for pretty much everything else.)
Though largely replaced in recent years by modern pharmaceuticals, bush medicine is experiencing a revival as people seek more natural and holistic remedies. To preserve and promote traditional practices, Richard (“Blue”) Jones has created a bush medicine garden at the Captain Roland Roberts Environmental Center in Green Turtle Cay. He’s promised to sit down with me next trip and teach me about bush medicine, and of course, I’ll share what I learn here.
In the meantime, I came across a simple, delicious-sounding recipe for hibiscus bush tea on the blog Everywhere with Eryn: “Cut up lemon grass and mint and pull flower petals from hibiscus and put in a tea bag. Put in boiling water and let steep until the color of the tea is a deep pink.” Add a squeeze of lime (and maybe a little honey to cut the cranberry-like tartness) and you’ve got a terrific treatment for colds and flu.
Eryn reports that this bush tea worked better than any over-the-counter medication for her cold/allergy symptoms. Makes sense, since according to bush medicine practitioners, mint is an effective treatment for congestion and digestive issues, lemongrass helps with fever and cough, and lime and hibiscus are both great sources of Vitamin C. Hibiscus is also said to be rich in antioxidants, and studies have shown that hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure in adults with mild hypertension. (It should go without saying that I’m not a doctor, and nothing you read here should be construed as medical advice.)
Turns out that many cultures around the world — from Africa and the Middle East to Central and Latin America and the Caribbean — make some version of hibiscus tea (also known as roselle, sorrel, flor de jamaica or karkade). Here are just a few of the many recipes I’ve found.
If you don’t have access to pesticide-free hibiscus plants, you can buy the dried flowers at health food stores or online (I found a number of suppliers on Amazon.com.) And if you try any of these recipes, let me know what you think.
As a result of your comments and emails, we can now put names to some of the faces in the photos I posted on September 19 and September 24. A huge thank you to Philip Sawyer, Jack Albury, Jack Lowe, Beth Lowe Sawyer, Priscilla Weatherford, Paula Weech Unhjem, Geanette Hall Albury, Emily Lowe Bethel, Robert Malone, Gloria Chiodo, Tuppy Weatherford, Gail Lowe and my mom, Carolyn Albury Diedrick, for the information they shared.
Thanks also to Eileen Hodgkins and Shirley Roberts, who provided names for all but one of the girls in the photo below. Apparently this was a sewing class in Green Turtle Cay in the late 1930s. (I wonder if it was taught by Miss Jones, who also taught the knitting class…?) If you’d like an unnumbered version of this image, drop me a note.
Back Row: 1 – Sybil Saunders Hodgkins (mother of ferry captain Curtis Hodgkins), 2 – Delores Saunders Lowe (sister of 1), 3 – unknown, 4 – Libby Saunders Lowe (wife of Sidney Lowe), 5 – Merlee Lowe Key (wife of Gerald Key), 6 – Audrey Saunders Semon (sister of 1 and 2), 7 – Merriel Roberts Cash (wife of Leo Cash), 8 – Annis Lowe, 9 – Mamie Preston, 10 – Lillian Russell, 11 – Hilda Saunders Hodgkins, (wife of Ritchie Hodgkins,)
Front Row: 12 – Betty Lowe (wife of Emory Lowe), 13 – Agnes Lowe Roberts, (wife of Doyle Roberts), 14 Olga Roberts, 15 Thalia Saunders Lowe (sister of 11, wife of Chester Lowe.)
Photo #1 – Unknown Girls (Possibly in Cherokee Sound during 1942 visit of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor)
A giant thank you to everyone who sent comments and emails about the collection of photos I posted earlier this week. I’ve received some promising leads and hope to be able to identify many of the faces pictured. Once identities are confirmed, I’ll post an update.
In the meantime, here’s a second batch of photos of unknown people. All I know about these images is that they were likely taken in the Bahamas (Abaco or Nassau) between the 1930s and the 1950s. For ease of reference, all images are numbered (see captions.)
For me, the best part of genealogical research is finding old photographs. It’s fine to read about ancestors — where they were born, when they were married, when they died — but seeing their eyes, their expressions, even their attire, makes them real in a way words never could.
Photo #2 Older girl is Virginia Curry – need to identify the two younger children.
Over time, I’ve amassed a collection of old Bahamian photographs, primarily from my late grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury in Nassau and my late uncle, Cuthbert Albury, of Marsh Harbour, Abaco. Though my grandmother was able to identify many faces, I’ve still got dozens of images of people I don’t recognize.
For the next while, I’m going to post small groupings of these photos in hopes that someone can help put names to faces. If the folks in the pictures are ancestors of mine, it would be great to know. If they’re not, I’d love to be able to track down their descendants so I can forward the photos to them.
Do you recognize any of these people or places?
If so, please comment at the bottom of this post or, if you prefer, email me privately. If not, I’d appreciate if you’d forward a link to this page to anyone who might be able to help. (To view full-size images and/or complete captions, just double-click on any photo.)
Finally, I’m always on the hunt for old Abaco photos, particularly of Green Turtle Cay. If you have any you’d like to share, let me know. I’d love to see them.
NOTE: I’m not sure, but I believe most of these photos were taken between the late 1930s and the early 1950s.
Photo #4 – Photo taken in Green Turtle Cay.
Photo #6 – Possibly taken in Abaco
Photo #7 – taken in Green Turtle Cay. May be a sewing group or class.
Much as Tom and I enjoy the time we spend on Green Turtle Cay, we suspect our dog, Wrigley, loves it even more.
Though he’s not exactly what you’d call a champion swimmer, Wrigley loves to splash around at the water’s edge, and he’ll gladly swim out to Tom or me for a bit of hot dog before paddling back to the sand. As you can see in the above video, though, his favourite Abaco activity is tearing up and down the beach, grinning ear-to-ear, spraying sand, digging holes and chasing sandpipers and seagulls.
Fortunately for Wrigley, at 14 lbs, he’s small enough to fly with us in-cabin. Fortunately for us, he’s a terrific traveler — far more pleasant and patient during the trip than either Tom or me. In fact, ticket agents, flight attendants and fellow passengers often ask if we’re sure there’s really a dog in his carrier.
Our dog, Wrigley, and I have a morning routine while we’re in Green Turtle Cay. Job one, of course, is to satisfy his physical needs. Then, we head down to the dock, so he can check on the boat and evict the seagulls from “his” dock — tasks he takes quite seriously.
Wrigley on Seagull Patrol
One morning, as Wrigley faced off against a pair of stubborn gulls, I stood on the dock, enjoying the cool air. At the sound of strange, wet breathing, I glanced to my left. Twenty feet or so from the dock were two dolphins.
Government Record of Deaths in Abaco September 1932
When the wind died down and the rain subsided, the residents of Green Turtle Cay were relieved that the worst was behind them.
But as they emerged from their battered, flooded shelters, they discovered what misery lay ahead.
Six of their own – George Lewis (85), Thomas Roberts (62), Alice Lowe (58), Insley Sawyer (5) and brothers, DeWees and Bert Lowe, (15 and 2, respectively) – had been fatally wounded. Countless others were injured.
Water from Settlement Creek had surged across the lowest part of town and out into the sea of Abaco, destroying the cemetery and unearthing corpses. (Even today, fragments of grave stones remain on the beach that borders the graveyard.)
There had been talk on Green Turtle Cay about a hurricane, but the only forecasting tools at the time were barometers. And though they were falling, indicating the approach of inclement weather, there was no way to predict where or when the storm would hit, or how serious it might be.
Thick, black storm clouds gathered in the eastern sky on Sunday evening. On Monday, September 5, New Plymouth residents woke to pelting rain and howling winds that intensified throughout the morning.
By afternoon, according to Bahamian meteorologist Wayne Neely in The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1899 and 1932, the first known and documented Category 5 hurricane ever to hit the Bahamas was battering Green Turtle Cay.
Sustained winds reached 160 mph, with gusts as high as 200 mph, and a storm surge of 20 feet.
For three days, the storm stalled over the cay, hurling boats and large chunks of debris around like toys. Houses flooded and were smashed. Some fell off their footings. Most collapsed all together.
Forced to abandon their disintegrating homes and peppered with sand, stones and stinging rain, families clung to each other to avoid blowing away as they crawled in search of shelter.
In the few structures that remained intact, the townspeople huddled together, singing hymns to comfort the children and to ward off panic as the settlement was demolished around them. There was no food, no light and but for the few who managed to reach the home of settlement doctor, Walter Kendrick, no aid for the wounded.
Below are two first-hand accounts of the ’32 hurricane – one from my grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury and the other from her first-cousin, John Lowe.
It’s unclear whether New Plymouth’s Loyalist settlers had remarkable foresight or just good fortune. Either way, the tiny settlement was well-situated to capitalize on a series of economic opportunities and by the early 1900s, New Plymouth was a vibrant, prosperous town of 1,500 residents. On September 3, 1932, however, these residents had no inkling of the terror and misfortune lurking beyond the horizon.
In the mid-1800s, Green Turtle Cay’s proximity to major shipping lanes east of the Abaco barrier reef made it the wrecking capital of Abaco. At one point, says Steve Dodge in Abaco: The History of an Out Island and its Cays, more than twenty wrecking schooners and forty fishing vessels were based in New Plymouth.
When the U.S. Civil War stifled the trade that necessitated shipping, locals turned to cultivating and exporting pineapples which, by the late 1800s, were the mainstay of New Plymouth’s economy.
Unfortunately, the cay’s soil was soon exhausted, fruit often spoiled due to weather-related shipping delays, and U.S. pineapple imports diminished with that country’s acquisition of Hawaii. But the economic gap created by Green Turtle Cay’s waning pineapple industry was soon filled.
Turns out one of the most memorable performers at the 2013 Island Roots Heritage Festival wasn’t even in the program. On the first day of the festival, Mother Nature made several unannounced – and unwelcome – appearances.
As an opening act, she whipped up a thundering downpour, trapping people indoors and delaying the festival opening by an hour or more.
Then, apparently not satisfied with the havoc she’d wreaked earlier, she resurfaced around dinner time. The eastern sky grew dark and heavy, and the winds picked up. A waterspout began swirling off the east shore of the cay.
Photo by Timothy Roberts
Festival goers took cover in nearby buildings as the funnel barreled toward shore and made landfall as a tornado at the north end of Gillam Bay.
Video by Timothy Roberts
Residents along the bay scrambled for shelter under stairwells and in shower stalls as their homes were pummeled. Though several houses and at least one vehicle sustained serious damage, no major injuries were reported and fortunately, the tornado dissipated before it reached the settlement.
For me, the festival does more than remind me of my grandmother’s stories. It brings them to life.
One way Ma May earned money for the family was by making and selling straw hats. My grandmother and her sisters collected the palm tops, dried and prepared them, and braided the raw strands. Ma May then stitched that “plait” into hats.
Though I’m lucky to have one of the straw hats she made, I never got to see her make them, so I love watching the craftspeople at the festival.
And while it’s now an entertaining festival contest, conch-cleaning was a daily chore for my grandmother. Hard to believe these days, when conchs are so precious, but back in the 1920s, Pa Herman kept them to feed his hogs. Each morning, my grandmother and her sisters would have to break a dozen or more conchs before school.
For a few days each May, tranquil New Plymouth pulses with activity as the Island Roots Heritage Festival takes over the settlement. Originally created to encourage islanders to renew ties with kin in Key West and beyond, today’s festival offers an authentic and entertaining island experience for locals and tourists alike.
Royal Bahamian Defence Force Band Marches Through Town
For visitors, Island Roots is a crash course in local culture. Bahamian artisans display native wood carvings, straw and shell work, fine jewelry and vivid paintings of tropical scenes. Traditional lime-in-spoon races, scavenger hunts, Maypole plaiting, conch-cleaning and conch horn-blowing contests and tug-of-war competitions delight kids of all ages.