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3 Oct 2014
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Tracing Family History

Idle curiosity was just one of the things that drove Paul Crooks to research his family roots - roots which go all the way back to 1777 and Africa...

Paul Crooks and Maureen in the studio
Paul Crooks and Maureen in the studio

Paul Crooks has written a novel ‘Ancestors’ inspired by researching his family history in Jamaica. His parents had emigrated from the West Indies to Britain and settled here. His father arrived here in 1957, aged 17, and found his way to the East End to live with a cousin he'd never met. He had come looking for work, eventually met Paul's mother and had three children.

Paul remembers being interested in his family roots as a child, following a conversation with his father about the Crooks family having come from Westmoreland in Jamaica. He recalls asking his father "Who was the first Crooks?" to which his father had no answer. Paul's father had been only seven when his father had died, and the youngest in his family, so he didn't really have a lot of information about family history.

As a person Paul has always felt rather rootless - not truly accepted in Britain because of his colour, and yet still very much a foreigner when he goes to Jamaica - and this is part of what prompted his research into his background. Part of it is also about trying to understand family historical events that led to him being here in Britain.

Paul began by speaking to the oldest members of his family, his aunt Iris in Jamaica for example, and found out that his grandfather was born in 1886. He sought more information from the Family History Centre. Eventually Paul was able to trace his family as far back as a woman called Ami Djaba, who was born in 1777 and would have been Paul's great great great great grandmother who was originally African and taken to Jamaica as a slave. He also traced another African. "I don't know his original name, but he was given the name John Alexander Crooks and was her son-in-law". Many, though not all, Africans who worked on plantations were given new names and this is what happened in the case of John Alexander Crooks.

John Alexander Crooks would have probably farmed in the hills, making a living by selling his produce in the larger coastal towns. The family eventually acquired some property. Paul's grandfather moved to Black River and became a civil servant, managing to educate his eldest son and older daughters but died before Paul's father could be educated.

Paul's father was encouraging when Paul began his research, without being really probing. "He first registered signs of interest when I find his father's Birth Certificate, which he'd never seen. That was quite a surprise to him, and he wanted copies to send to Jamaica to his sisters and brother".

Though Paul now knows what his original name was he is not inclined to change his own name back - "Crooks has been with me for so long now...I'm not quite ready to take that leap, I think that is quite a step to do that - a spiritual one as well". Coincidentally, whilst Paul was doing his research his brother was coming into contact with other Crookses by chance. "One family member came into his workplace to deliver a parcel. He signed his name P Crooks. It turned out that the cousin my father had stayed with in 1957, with whom he had lost touch, this was his son".

Paul has spent eleven years researching his roots, and decided as he was coming to the end of that process, that he wanted to find a way of sharing that with his family. In the end he brought together all the facts he'd found in a fiction format, and wrote a novel. "There's more than data here, there's more than information, there's actually a story here. Geneology's more than about names, dates, places - it's about what happened".

Paul Crooks continues to research his African, Caribbean and European roots. A detailed family tree with photos of his ancestors can be found at his web site.

Have you looked into your family's history
and discovered skeletons in the closet? Do let us know...

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