Caribbean Research Tips

It is my opinion that the Caribbean is the most difficult of any other genealogical research area. Your search may take you to Scotland, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, the United States, Africa, or island to island following the migration of an ancestor. Records of the indigenous Caribs and Arawaks are nearly non-existent, which makes a complete lineage impossible for many genealogists. Records have been destroyed by hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, slave rebellions, fire, and the frequent changing governments in the islands. Yet enough records are available to make this a very interesting genealogical search! Good luck!

One of the most important things to remember when researching in the West Indies is that you will not find the traditional birth, death, census, and marriage statistics that you might find in the United States. Remember that there are many different kinds of records. Utilize them all. Remember church records, diaries, school records, census, land sales, deeds and titles, and criminal records to name a few. (Many Islanders were considered criminals for violating the smallest law…such as a Black woman wearing a silk slip! Only White women could wear silk! Slaves or servants could be arrested for whistling in public. So, don’t overlook this resource. Your ancestor just might be listed as a criminal for doing something very minor.) If you don’t find what you need in traditional records, keep looking…but try more creative genealogical records, too!

RELIGIONS by Nationality

Many of the records in the Caribbean are contained in the church records. A good place to begin is by determining the nationality of the person, then looking through the church records on that island, for the religion noted:

DANISH- Lutheran (state religion of Denmark)
DUTCH/GERMAN -Dutch Reformed Church
ENGLISH/BRITISH – Episcopal/Anglican
SPANISH – Catholic
FRENCH – Catholic
FRENCH HUGUENOTS- most joined the Dutch Reformed or Lutheran Church

  • 1736-Moravian Missionaries established Plantation-Churches to minister to Negroes
  • 1757–Lutheran began to minister to Blacks
  • 1667-Catholics, through an agreement with Puerto Rico, for returning runaway slaves, are given permission by the Danish Government to minister to Blacks

This Info is VI specific and Caribbean in general

Contributed by Anne at

Some CHURCHES in the West Indies

  • The Church of England or Anglican Church. Great Britain.
  • Moravian Church. Originally Czechoslovakian and German. Came to West Indies to preach Christianity to the Islanders.
  • Non-conformists. Originally those that refused to conform to the rules of the Church of England. Most are now known as “Methodists.”
  • Missionary Societies
    • Baptist Missionary Society 1792
    • London Missionary Society 1795
    • Scottish Missionary Society 1800
    • Methodist Missionary Society 1813
  • After conversion to Christianity, many blacks were Black Baptists.


Many plantation owners kept a “stock book.” This was a list of slaves or indentured servants, or hired servants, that he/she “owned.” Stock books contain the name, occupation, and general health and condition of the slave. Not all slaves in the West Indies were African. Irish prisoners were shipped to the islands to work as slaves. Indentured servants, those who worked off a debt or the price of passage to the W.I., were “slaves”. (The general treatment of Africans were far worse, however, than Anglos.) And, the “Deficiency Act” caused many Anglo or Europeans to be slaves. The “Deficiency Act” was a law that required a plantation owner to hire one “white” for every ten black slaves or servants. This was an attempt to reduce the ratio of blacks to whites in the islands. When researching in areas other than standard census and church records, or when you suspect that your ancestor was a slave, indentured servant, or hired white, attempt to find the plantation owner’s Stock Book. Most have been destroyed. But, many are still in existence. Look under the history section, genealogy, or architectural listings in libraries of your specific island. Sometimes you can find information about specific plantations on that island and find Stock Book information. 

Common NATIONALITIES by Island

Other NAMES of the Islands

This list is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all nationalities who may have resided on any island. This list only attempts to indicate where the most common nationalities lived. If unable to locate an ancestor, try researching one of the islands with the same nationality as your ancestor. Other names an island has been known by is also included. (I’m working on this as time permits.) 

Anguilla: British, French, African.
Antigua (Santa María de la Antigua): British, African.
British Virgin Islands:
Cayman Islands:
Dominican Republic:
French Antilles:
Netherland Antilles:
Puerto Rico:
San Andrés y Providencia:
St. Kitts and Nevis:
St. Lucia:
St. Vincent:
Turks and Caicos:
U.S. Virgin Islands: Dutch, Spanish, French, Danish, African, American.

The following information taken from A Historical Account of St. Thomas, W.I., by John P. Knox, New York, Charles Scribner, published 1852.

The West Indies had inter-colonial steamship routes which carried mail and passengers. Passenger lists are available in some of the individual country archives. To my knowledge, these lists were never filmed by the LDS Church. The ease at which someone could travel from island to island often causes much difficulty for genealogists. It is sometimes helpful when attempting to figure out where an ancestor went, to know common travel routes from the known location.

  • Twice a month, the Atlantic to Chagres route:
    • From Southhampton to St. Thomas, 3622 miles
    • St. Thomas to Santa Martha, 690 miles
    • Santa Martha to Carthagena, 105 miles
    • Carthagene to Chagres, 280 miles
    • Chagres to Grey Town, 240 miles
    • Grey Town to Chagres, 240 miles
    • Chagres to Carthagena, 280 miles
    • Carthagena to St. Thomas, 795
    • St. Thomas to Southhampton, 3622 miles

    Round trip was 9874 miles.

  • Once a month, the Jamaica to Mexican Route:
    • St. Thomas to Puerto Rico, 65 miles
    • Puerto Rico to Jamaica, 643 miles
    • Jamaica to Vera Cruz, 1118 miles
    • Vera Cruz to Tampico, 295 miles
    • Tampico to Vera Cruz, 205 miles
    • Vera Cruz to Jamaica, 1118 miles
    • Jamaica to Puerto Rico, 643 miles
    • Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, 65 miles

    Round trip was 4062 miles.

  • The Jamaica to Havana Route, once a month:
    • St. Thomas to Puerto Rico, 65 miles
    • Puerto Rico to Jacmel, 388 miles
    • Jamel to Jamaica, 255 miles
    • Jamaica to Havana, 740 miles
    • Havana to Honduras, 500 miles
    • Honduras to Havana, 500 miles
    • Havana to Jamaica, 740 miles
    • Jamaica to Jacmel, 255 miles
    • Jacmel to Puerto Rico, 388 miles
    • Puerto Rico to St. Thomas, 65 miles

    Round trip was 3895 miles.

  • Barbados to Demerara Route, Twice a month:
    • St. Thomas to St. Kitts, 151 miles
    • St. Kitts to Nevis, 11 miles
    • Nevis to Montserrat, 33 miles
    • Montserrat to Antigua, 32 miles
    • Antigua to Guadaloupe, 70 miles
    • Guadaloupe to Dominique, 45 miles
    • Dominique to Martinique, 40 miles
    • Martinique to St. Lucia, 45 miles
    • St. Lucia to Barbados, 100 miles
    • Barbados to Demerara, 392 miles
    • Demerara to Barbados, 392 miles
    • Barbados to St. Lucia, 100 miles
    • St. Lucia to Martinique, 45 miles
    • Martinique to Dominique, 40 miles
    • Dominique to Guadaloupe, 45 miles
    • Guadaloupe to Antigua, 70 miles
    • Antigua to Montserrat, 32 miles
    • Montserrat to Nevis, 33 miles
    • Nevis to St. Kitts, 11 miles
    • St. Kitts to St. Thomas, 151 miles

    Route trip was 1833 miles.

There were also intercolonial Voyages (fares in silver dollars only) which ran monthy with ports and “stops” at the following locations: Antigua, Barbados, Carriqacou, Carthagena, Chagres, Demerara, Dominica, Grenada, Guadaloupe, Grey Town, Havana, Honduras, Jacmel, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Nassau, Nevis, St. Juan’s Porto Rico, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Santa Maria, St. Thomas, St. Vincent, Tampico, Tobago, Vera Cruz.

WEST AFRICAN slaves taken to the West Indies 1451 – 1870

Number of live slaves taken from West Africa 1451 – 1870. For every slave that arrived in the W.I. alive, one died on the way. This table is far from a comprehensive total of West Africans taken to the Caribbean, but representational only.

Island or Area Number of slaves
Jamaica 747, 500
Barbados 387,000
Leeward Islands 346,000
St. Vincent, St. Lucia,
Tobago, Dominica
Trinidad 22,000
Grenada 67,000
Other British Dependents 25,000
St. Dominque 864,300
Martinique 365,000
Guadeloupe 290,000
Dutch Caribbean 500,000
Danish Caribbean 28,000

From P.D. Curtin, “The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census,” University of Wisconsin Press, 1972.

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