Tag: Ancestry

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.

THOSE WHO STAYED Arrives in Nassau June 10th: Pre-Order Your Copy Today

I’m excited to announce that we’re introducing Those Who Stayed in Nassau on Saturday, June 10 with a book signing at Logos Bookstore.

Having been a Logos customer for years, I’m beyond thrilled that my own book will now be part of their great Bahamian history section. Plus, I’m looking forward to meeting some of you Green Turtle Cay and Abaco descendants at the event and discussing our shared ancestry!

A tip for Little House by the Ferry readers — Logos is now accepting pre-orders for the book. Given the volume of inquiries we’ve had, and since I’m bringing a limited number of books with me, I’d recommend that you drop by the store as soon as you can and get your order in. 

If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with Logos at (242) 394-7040 or info@logosbahamas.com. And of course, you can always contact me directly.

I’d be grateful if you’d forward this blog post to anyone you think might be interested in Those Who Stayed, or in attending the June 10 event at Logos.

Hope to see you there!

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A Family Mystery Solved

Often, in genealogical research, we encounter things that don’t make sense. Dates don’t match up, name spellings differ between sources, records are incomplete or illegible (you’d think our ancestors would have put someone with legible handwriting in charge of record keeping!) Unfortunately, records are no more perfect than the humans who keep them.

Pa Herman Grave StoneOne mystery from our own family was my great-grandfather, Thomas Herman (“Herman”) Curry. The headstone on his grave indicates that he was born April 20, 1890, and passed away March 5, 1958. Seems pretty straight forward. Except that several sources show a Thomas Herman Curry in Green Turtle Cay who also died March 5, 1958, but was born in 1887.

I  was tempted to just accept the 1890 birth date. After all, you’d think Pa Herman’s wife and daughters – who presumably ordered his gravestone – would know his correct birth date. However, I learned that there existed records showing that Thomas Herman Curry was baptized in 1887. How could a child born in 1890 be baptized three years earlier? For months, I thought this might just be one of those questions whose answer is forever lost to time.

Herman Thomas Curry (1890 - 1958)

Thomas Herman Curry (1890 – 1958)

But then, two things happened…

First, my cousin, Evan Lowe, who writes a blog called Out Island Boy, forwarded a link to an online listing of Bahamian births, deaths and marriages between 1850 – 1950. (Be warned: this is a terrific resource but it takes a great deal of patience.  There’s no index, meaning you have to click through hundreds of pages to find what you’re looking for.)

Then, a few days later, while assembling information about Pa Herman and Ma May’s descendants, I noticed that their youngest daughter, my great-aunt Belle, had exactly the same name – Agnes Mirabelle – as her older sister (known as Mirabelle) who died the year before Aunt Belle was born.

It got me wondering about Pa Herman, so I hunkered down to search the Bahamian birth and death records. A couple of days later, I had my answer.

Turns out there were two Thomas Herman Currys. And, like Aunt Belle and Mirabelle, they were siblings. The first Herman was born to my great-great-grandparents, Thomas Wesley Curry (“Pa Wes”) and Lilla Carleton on August 14, 1887.

Herman Curry Birth - 1887Sadly, the records show that, on June 30, 1888, the infant Herman died from “teething.”

Herman Curry Death 1888On (or around) April 21, 1890, Pa Wes and Lilla had another son, whom they also named Herman.

Herman Curry Birth - 1890This was my great-grandfather, Pa Herman, who passed away March 5, 1958.Herman Curry Death - 1958

I did some digging and discovered that, strange as it seems today, naming a child after a recently deceased sibling was common in years gone by. Parents knew that one or more of their children likely would not make it to adulthood. When a child died, his or her name was simply passed down to next child of the same gender.

In fact, I’ve since learned that professional genealogists suggest that when searching birth records, you not stop when you find the name you’re seeking. Rather, they recommend searching a few more years of records, since the first child may have passed away, and your ancestor may in fact be a subsequent child with the same name.

Related: Out Island Boy: The Unknown Curry

A Hard but Happy Childhood

Lurey Merlee (Curry) Albury
1919-2010

My grandmother, Lurey Merlee Curry, was the oldest of Pa Herman and Ma May’s four daughters. She was born in Green Turtle Cay in 1919 and lived there until moving to Nassau at age 17.

Tomorrow (December 16) would have been her 94th birthday.

Even in her later years, my grandmother’s memories of Green Turtle Cay remained vivid. “I can remember more about what happened to me as a child than I can remember day-to-day,” she would say.

And so, whenever I visited, we’d sit together in her front porch and, over the creak-creak of her gliding rocker, she would tell me about life “over home.”

Lurey Curry c 1933

Lurey Curry circa 1933

More often than not, her stories were about the adversities her family faced – the sudden death of her six-year-old younger sister, Mirabelle, the loss of their family home in the 1932 hurricane, the poverty they endured during the Great Depression. “They were hard times,” she would say. “But people were happier. We were happy.”

And indeed, despite their many hardships, the love between my grandmother and her family and the simple pleasures they derived from everyday life were always evident in her stories. In honour of her birthday, I wanted to share two of her many Green Turtle Cay memories.

The Cane Mill

“When we were children, there was a cane mill at The Bluff. On the days that Daddy went to The Bluff to cut canes, we wouldn’t go to school. We would go with him to make the syrup. The boat would be loaded down with sugar canes. They were so soft and had long joints. Children used to come to buy them.

 You’d have to push the mill around and around. Someone had a horse that would pull the mill. Mama used to bake something for us to carry down there to eat. If she had coconut, she’d bake coconut bread.

 We used to chew on the sugar cane and drink the cane juice, which made us crave something salty. So when we got home, we would fish on the rocks for those yellow grunts. Mama would cook sweet potatoes and stew the grunts for us under the wild dilly tree where she used to cook.” 

 The Watermelon Farm

“You know in Black Sound, where you go up in and meet mangroves? Daddy used to grow watermelons on the north side of that harbour.

He had two boats. One with a well, that he went fishing in, and another small one.

Just about every Saturday afternoon when watermelons were in season, when he got through cleaning out the boat with the well and he chopped up fat pine – that’s what we used to start a fire in the wood stove outside – he would say, “Lurey, you want to go over to Black Sound? Let us go see if any watermelons are ripe.”

We would go in the small boat and coming back, we would sail. Daddy would cut up a watermelon and I would sit up on the bow and dip it in the salt water and eat it.

 Daddy sold the watermelons when he could, when anybody wanted one. Sometimes, the young boys would buy one and go out on the dock and cut it up.

 When I came to Nassau, the Priscilla (the mail boat) used to run every two weeks from over home. Daddy would always save the best watermelon to send down here to me. Sometimes, though, the rats would eat them on the trip. So I told him, ‘Daddy, keep them and sell them.’”

Though we lost my grandmother almost four years ago, not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and her stories of Green Turtle Cay. I hope she’d be happy to know that Tom and I are restoring the little house where she and her family shared so many sweet memories.

My grandmother and me

My grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury and me

Bahamas DNA Project – Untangling My Family Roots

DNA vials 5

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.

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.

Genetic Makeup

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:

214px-King_George_V_1911_color-crop

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.

220px-Jesse_james_portrait

Jesse James

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.

To participate in the Bahamas DNA Project, visit the project website, their Facebook page, or the Bahamas DNA Project Page on the Family Tree DNA website.

 

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Who Do You Think You Are?

r"Ma May" Marion Mayfield (Gates) Curry 1902-1984 Photo date unknown

My Great-Grandmother
“Ma May”
Marion Mayfield (Gates) Curry
1902-1984

Last Tuesday evening, I watched a terrific TV show on TLC called Who Do You Think You Are. It’s not a new program, but somehow, I’ve missed it before now.

Each one-hour episode features a celebrity who’s interested in learning more about his or her family history. Featured celebrities travel around the U.S. (and in some cases, internationally) meeting with historians, visiting libraries, local archives, museums and cemeteries, and retracing the lives of their ancestors through birth, death and marriage records, newspaper archives, court documents, military service records, etc.

Though I found much to like about this show, two concepts in particular resonated with me, probably because I’ve found them to be true in my own genealogical research.

First, address one question at a time. Rather than taking a shotgun approach, the celebrities on this program seek to answer one specific query or research one particular ancestor. Christina Applegate wanted to learn more about her paternal grandmother, while Kelly Clarkson focused on her great-great-great-grandfather.

Putting Names to Faces

A few years back, while visiting the Albert Lowe Museum in Green Turtle Cay, I shot pictures of some of the many photographs that line the museum walls. No special reason. I just love old photos from the cay.

Later, while editing the photos I’d taken, I came across the picture below. One face in particular — the girl in the back row, second from left — caught my eye. She looked a lot like childhood photos of my mother and I wondered if she might be a relative. One of my mom’s aunts, perhaps, or maybe even my grandmother. I asked around and emailed the image to various family members. Nobody could identify her.

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