Connecting with family history abroad as a Black Brit

Be the person who connects the branches to your family tree.

There is so much more to us than just being Brits.  We are Black Brits and for some of us, our identities derive from a variety of countries – which we should be visiting – at least once.  As the Christmas season creeps up on us many Black Brits are choosing to fly out to their country of ethnic origin to reconnect with their roots.  Visiting family, exploring the countries history and culture provides a perfect opportunity for tourists to trace their ancestry and depict where and who exactly they come from.  Advertisements and ancestry programmes on TV, also play a massive part in enticing many people to discover their family tree.  This can be a significant form of self-discovery for black brits allowing us to connect the pieces to our identities.

Why is it important to go abroad?

Considering that Britain has a large diaspora population (including Black Caribbean’s and Black African’s), many of us Black Brits have to deal with a sense of double consciousness – fundamentally feeling as though our identity is fragmented.  As a result, it is important for us to travel to our ancestor’s homeland in order to gain a generational sense of self and to become one with our roots.

Ethnocentricity in education is still a fundamental issue in the UK which means that many black pupils are isolated from knowledge about their own history.  Usually, when black history is taught in schools it is often narrowed down through portrayals of us as subjects of Empire.  However, there is such a vast number of events that our ancestors contributed to and some are actually documented.  Transferring information about your family tree to the next generation can be extremely beneficial as it can exert a sense of belonging, the pride in knowing their ancestors’ contribution to society and their achievements.

Most of our parents or grandparents are migrants which means that some documents may be left behind in their home country, making it difficult to track our family tree in the UK.  Many people seek information from ancestry websites, however, this can be difficult and lengthy without accurate information from documents.

It’s always nice to know where you come from but knowing who you come from holds more of a significance.  Contacting family members for details can give you the best of both worlds by providing you with documentation and insightful stories about your ancestors to go with it.  There are so many interesting facts that you can potentially find out about them; they could be soldier’s, plantation owner’s, revolutionaries, you’ll never know unless you ask, listen and find out.  When I visited my Great Great Aunt in Barbados, she showed us postal stamps of my Great Great Grandfather, who was honoured by the government for his contribution as a Commander in the Landships.  Yes, fame runs in the family.😊

How to connect with ancestry through family members abroad?

  1. In order to save time and to prevent any stress, get in contact with your family members in advance. An email or a message on social media won’t hurt, however, if you’re willing to call them it may hurt your phone bill.
  2. Explain to them your intention properly, concisely and clearly so that they don’t get suspicious, since they may not have had relatives abroad seeking information about their ancestors before. On the other hand, they could be perfectly happy to be the provider of information like my Great Great Aunts were.
  3. Before your arrival, write down a list of questions to ask your family, as proper preparation prevents poor performance. Your questions can either be different for each member or the same for all.  It all depends on whether you already know what type of information you can trace from certain relatives.
  4. If possible, find out if there are any family members who have the most knowledge and documents about your ancestors. You should still visit multiple family members as some may recall things differently.  With regards to my experience in Barbados, we found it quite tricky to get to an accurate name of some of our ancestors as most were only known by their nicknames.  However, if they can provide you with documents such as birth, death certificates or baptismal records, then this can be a perfect way to reinforce the validity of your findings, making it easier for you to correctly track down their names and information online.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions if some come to mind, as they can uncover more discoveries about your family tree and ancestors.
  6. Of course, you’ll be writing down the information as you go along, but what happens if worst case scenario you lose the sheet. This is where back up must come in.  Recording your family as they speak can prevent any inaccuracies when tracking down your ancestry when you get home, as you will have a word for word recording that you can go back on.  All you need is a free voice note app and you’re all set.

Other ways to further explore the nation’s history

  1. Going on historical tours can be a fantastic way for you to experience the history and culture first hand. Visiting spots where pivotal events took place can give you knowledge and understanding about how they shaped your ancestor’s nation.  It’s also great to hear the stories behind monuments, statues and buildings.
  2. If your relatives do not have your ancestors’ documents, it may find it useful to visit registrar offices or churches for parish records. It’s always good to keep your options open.

All in all, the most important part about going on holiday is having fun and creating wonderful memories to cherish forever.  Whereas it can also be a massive bonus and a rewarding experience to be the one to gather information about your family tree.  You may encounter some stumbles and time may not always be on your side, however, it’s an attempt that’s worthwhile and you can uncover some amazing facts about your ancestry and keep their legacy alive.