January 1st, 2014

Jamaica: Land of Food, Water, and Relatives

Jamaica is known as the land of food and water, but few realize that Jamaicans, according to national census records, are the third largest West Indian immigrant group in the United States, and the largest in Canada. The United States Census of 2000 reported that 736,513 Americans claimed Jamaican descent; the 2001 Canadian census revealed that 211,720 Canadians did the same. New York is the preferred destination of Jamaican immigrating to the United States; those moving to Canada prefer Toronto.

The number of Jamaicans that have immigrated to the US and Canada may be even greater however, as prior to the 1960’s, all immigrants form the Caribbean were classified as a single group and categorized as West Indians. Such a generalization makes it impossible to determine the number of Jamaicans who immigrated to North America before that time. It is estimated that approximately 100,000 Jamaicans immigrated to America between 19o0 and 1924. After the Second World War began, around 40,000 Jamaicans were recruited to do work that supported the war effort, though many returned home at the war’s end.

When Jamaica gained its independence it qualified for an increased immigration quota, and between 1922 and 2002, the average amount of Jamaican immigrating to the US averages around 16,000 per year. In Canada, mass Jamaican immigration didn’t begin until the 1970’s, and of the 120,000 Jamaicans registered as living in Canada at that time, over 100,000 had arrived post 1970. The Jamaicans who immigrated to the United States and Canada were generally well educated, and most achieved greater economical and social success than other immigrants of African heritage. US Secretary of State Colin Powell is perhaps the most well known public figure of Jamaican descent.

How to Find Jamaican Relatives

After reflecting on those figures a bit, I couldn’t help but think that there are many individuals who may appreciate knowing where to find resources for tracing Jamaican ancestry. I did a bit of research and found a few very valuable websites that may be of immense help to the Jamaican family historian.

Jamaican Family Search Research Library – This site is a actually what it says it is – a virtual genealogy library for anyone researching their Jamaican heritage, especially for individuals born before 1920. The website contains transcriptions from a variety of documents including 19th century Jamaica Almanacs listing property owners, civil and military officials), Jamaica Directories for 1878, 1891 and 1910, Civil Registration, Wills, selected extractions from Jamaican Church records, Jewish records, and excerpts from books, newspapers, and other sources. There is also a wealth of information on immigration and slavery.

Jamaica Archives and Records Department – This is the site of the official National Archives of Jamaica, and they have an entire section dedicated to genealogy research. There are two major sources of information here – Parish registers and Church Collections and they provide information on baptisms, marriages, and burials. You will also find deeds, adoption records, as well as Slave registers, estate inventories, and plantation records.

LDS Family History Centers – The Family History Library of the LDS (Latter Day Saints) Church has amassed a great collection of Jamaican records which can be found on microfilm in their worldwide Family History Centers. A complete listing of their Family History Centers and locations around the world can be found online at their Family History Center Locator.

If you are researching your Jamaican family history and know of any great resources, please let us know by leaving a Comment below.