TRINIDAD & TOBAGO FAMILY HISTORY: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

 

The task and techniques used in researching Trinidad & Tobago family histories are more demanding and time consuming than

researching families from some other parts of the Caribbean, such as Barbados, Martinique, Jamaica and nearby Grenada.

Documents, which are available elsewhere in the Caribbean, may not have survived in Trinidad & Tobago or their whereabouts

may be unknown.

 

Many of Trinidad & Tobago’s historical and family heritage records have been lost through fire and neglect, fates familiar to

researchers worldwide. Some of the losses in Trinidad & Tobago, however, are due to two major factors which are not

experienced by other researchers: the lack of adequate archives legislation to provide guidance to government departments and

the lack of professional support to record keepers ensuring optimum record-keeping practices, thereby preventing future losses.

 

Important Family Heritage Records

 

The surviving records assume greater importance but not all of them are cared for adequately, compared with the practice found

in the best repositories in the Caribbean.

 

The civil registration records (births, marriages and deaths) and the church registers (baptismal, marriage and burials) are the

most valuable of all of Trinidad & Tobago’s family heritage records yet there are still no unified indexes available. Where partial

indexes exist, they are either not made accessible to the public, in any form, cf the Civil Registry, or, in the case of the

incomplete church register indexes, they are not being maintained and are not easily accessible to family history researchers.

 

Family Search [Genealogical Society of Utah] (GSU) Microfilming

 

Importantly, no Trinidad or Tobago family heritage registers/documents have been microfilmed by Family Search/Church of

Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints and, consequently, Trinidad & Tobago family history research is especially difficult for all

researchers, whether living in the country or non-resident.

 

Nevertheless, inspite of periodic frustrations, researching your own family history in Trinidad can be a very rewarding and

enjoyable pastime.

 

National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago (NATT)

 

The stated role of the National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago includes identifying, acquiring and making accessible private

and public records of enduring value and national significance; establishing standards for the management and protection of

public records; and serving as the permanent repository of records of government and other agencies. Unfortunately, there are

major difficulties in achieving these aims. In respect of the oldest records of the Municipal Corporations, the last reports,

received by this website, indicate that NATT has still not identified those documents and volumes, currently housed in

Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Arima, where their value is still unrecognised and only 'appear' to be taking up valuable

space, required for current administrative records.

 

The Registrar General's Department Civil Registry and Land Registry holds some very valuable 19th and early 20th century

volumes. Search clerks have reported an extreme lack of care in handling them. It is difficult to comprehend why the records

over 100 years old, hardly better protected now than when they were housed in the vaults of Red House, have not been

transferred to NATT.

 

Read the comments of Professor Carl Campbell (1979 & 1999) Trinidad's Spanish Deed Protocols and Wills.

 

These rarely researched and very difficult to access records have not been identified by NATT and should be included in

UNESCO's Memory of the World Register.

 

Read Profiles (Page 24): Fr. Anthony De Verteuil, interviewed by Chad McDonald:

http://uwihistory.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Historical-Tides.swf

 

The National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago has, surprisingly, very few Tobago records and, moreover, is unable to provide

information on current historic document locations in Tobago, eg the Land Assessment Rolls, so valuable for researching

family history. The result is that researching Tobago family history is even more complex and daunting than that of Trinidad.

 

In view of the Government’s stated policy of achieving developed country status by the year 2020,

there needs to be an action plan and new guidance to prevent further losses of the nation’s family heritage.

 

Comprehensive archives legislation must be adopted without further delay.

Additional funding is also required to protect the many documents, not yet transferred to the National Archives.

 

Microfilming, Scanning & Digitisation/Indexing of Historic Family Heritage Documents (Trinidad & Tobago)

 

Registrar General’s Department

 

In 2000, the Registrar General’s Department arranged for the scanning and indexing of various paper-based records:

 

Civil Registry

Birth and marriage records were transferred into a digital form for events from the 1890s. At this time death records were only

made available in electronic form from 1969. However, the installed software provided backfile conversion services to capture

historical data including deaths and adoptions from the years 1934/1938. Since 2001, it is unclear what additional historical

death records have been scanned and indexed.

 

Land Registry

In 2001, only partial scanning and indexing of records was undertaken and the Real Property Ordinance transactions were

excluded. Consequently, the Search Clerks were obliged to continue using the hard copy Town Books and Country Books in

respect of the Trinidad records, many being in a very poor condition and not being restored.

 

Companies Registry

In 2001 the scanning and indexing of records, pertaining to active businesses was undertaken. Historical records, where they

survive, were not given any priority.

 

 

Ministry of Finance, Inland Revenue Division

 

It has been reported that in 2010, the Ministry of Finance arranged for the scanning and indexing of all the House Rate Books

and Land Assessment Rolls from 2006.

 

Historical records, even as recently as the 1980, have, at the present time, been disregarded.

 

It has been reported that neither the National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago, the National Library's Book Conservation

Laboratory, nor the West Indiana Library (Special Collections Division) have been consulted on the conservation/restoration

issues in respect of any of these 'vault'-based Trinidad-based historic records or those still languishing in limbo in Scarborough.

 

See: Frequently Asked Questions (No. 5)

 

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