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Ainsley Harriott

Ainsley Harriott - how we did it

Slavery in Jamaica

Ainsley Harriott's parents were both born in Jamaica. Ainsley already knew a lot about his mother's side of the family, as his sister Jacqueline had researched it at some length. So he was interested to trace his father's history.

Ainsley's father Chester had travelled to London from Jamaica in 1950 on a music scholarship. Ainsley met his paternal grandparents, Mina Love and Oscar Chesterfield Harriott, when he was young, but knew nothing about their family background.

Oscar Chesterfield Harriott and Mina Love
Oscar Chesterfield Harriott and Mina Love

He headed straight to Jamaica to meet up with family members. Jamaica prides itself on its motto of 'out of many, one people' – and so it proved for Ainsley.

Great-grandmother: Alied Hibbert

Step 1 - Family stories

When starting to trace your family history, it is important to speak to as many relatives as possible, as they may know stories which offer invaluable clues to the past. In Jamaica, Ainsley met up with his aunt Marcianne, his father’s sister.

Marcianne related a family story about Mina Love's mother, Alied Hibbert, who was believed to have come from Bombay in India. Apparently Alied travelled to Jamaica with her family, met Albert Powell and settled in Jamaica.

Step 2 - Vital records

To try to find out about Alied's birthplace, we needed to know more about her parents. So Jamaican genealogist Dianne Frankson searched for a record of Alied and Albert's marriage at the Registrar General's Department (see Related Links).

To our surprise we found a record not only of Alied's marriage but also of her baptism. It revealed that she was born in the parish of Manchester, Jamaica, not in India as the family had believed.

When we followed her ancestry further back, it became clear that it was all Jamaican. So the Indian story was a myth, and there was no way to find out where it had come from. The Jamaican genealogy traced back to Alied's grandmother, Catherine Smith.

Step 3 - Slave registers

Catherine Smith was married in 1846, which means she must have been born during the time of slavery. We started looking for her in the slave registers. These registers are reports by slave owners listing the names of slaves who were sold, bought, born and died over the year. They often contain useful genealogical clues about slave ancestors, including their age and colour, and they sometimes even name a mother.

As Jamaica was under British rule for hundreds of years, some records of the island are duplicated in the National Archives in Kew, London. This is true of the slave registers, some of which are not intact in the Jamaica Archives and Records Department in Spanish Town. The Hyde Park Family History Centre holds a variety of parish registers from the 18th-20th centuries for many Caribbean islands, including Jamaica and Barbados (see Related Links).

We searched the slave registers available in both Jamaica and London and found Catherine Smith on a plantation owned by John Davy called Wear Pen in Manchester, Jamaica.

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Ainsley finds out his great-great-great-grandmother was a slave

The 'Pen' suffix means that the plantation was rearing livestock. The annual Jamaica Almanacs, which were published throughout the 19th century, detail the numbers of slaves and stock held by each plantation owner.

Step 4 - Finding the plantation

The almanacs and parish registers can reveal names and numbers, but finding the site of a plantation can prove tricky. Some plantation names survive today in names of settlements, but others have vanished completely.

Old maps of Jamaica, available in the UK in the British Library and the National Archives, can offer clues as to locations, as can the deeds and plans that survive at the National Library of Jamaica (see Related Links). The knowledge of people in the local area is also crucial to a successful hunt.

Wear Pen
Wear Pen

We found Wear Pen by identifying the area from old plantation maps, and then asking locals to help pinpoint the exact site. This enabled Ainsley to visit the place where his ancestor lived as a slave.

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