By now, you may have noticed I’ve paid quite a bit more attention to my maternal ancestry than my paternal heritage on this blog. I would hate to give the impression to anyone, especially to my father’s side of the family, that I am not interested in exploring my paternal lines as well. As I mentioned in one of my first posts, I started out researching the surnames of my Martinican and St. Lucian predecessors because theirs were much more unique than those of their Bajan counterparts. It makes sense to reach into the smaller haystack first, right?
Discovering the names of the places my great-grands most likely called home before leaving Martinique and St. Lucia was an exciting breakthrough. I have not quite gotten there with the Thomas, Beckles, Lewis and Lewis surnames. I’ll share more about what I have found in future posts, but here I will just focus on what may have appeared to look like a typo in the preceding sentence.
I have four great-grands from Barbados to research, but just three surnames. Let me explain. A few years ago when I began the process of applying for Panamanian citizenship I asked my parents for my birth certificate so that I could make a copy. In going through their files I discovered copies of my paternal grandparents’ birth certificates as well as some other documents related to my parents and maternal grandparents.
A quick scan of my paternal grandparents’ birth certificates led me to my first discovery concerning my father’s family – half of Afro-Panamanian American me is one hundred percent Bajan (I’ll explain my genealogical equations another time, they’re crazy and make no sense but I love them). My parents had always been under the impression that my grandmother’s parents were from Jamaica, an island that also sent a large number of migrants to Panama. Nope. Clear as day Grandma Daisy’s birth certificate reported that both of her parents were from Barbados. Same deal for my grandfather Kenneth. Great! This means I only have to do research concerning three islands instead of four. This is, as I like to say, fantabulous.
However, I found my grandmother’s birth certificate to be less helpful in terms of surnames. Daisy’s mother’s married name, not her maiden name, was reported. I was immediately peeved with whoever had recorded the information, ruing the administrative laziness and/or communication difficulties that likely produced this mistake. Daisy Lewis-Lewis?! As the West Indians say, “Chuh!”
Somehow I had never gotten around to discussing this Lewis-Lewis business with my father until it came up a few months ago on our last trip to Panama. As part of the never-ending expedition to get my cedula (Panamanian ID card), I found myself at El Registro Civil with my parents. Since we were there we inquired about getting certified records of birth, marriage, and death for my grandparents and their parents. We were out of luck as far as my great-grands were concerned as there was nothing pertaining to them on record in the database. We did get a few documents relating to my grandparents and on Grandma Daisy’s birth certificate I saw it again: her parents were listed as James Lewis and Drusilla Lewis. I pointed this out to my father and said I had noticed this same “mistake” on the copy of her birth certificate he had at home. Nonchalantly (remember how I said it’s always nonchalant?) he waved it away, saying that her parents had the same last name.
Clearly, this simple explanation not occurred to me. You might be thinking I’ve discovered what so many people fear they find in their family tree: those durn kissing cousins. My father and, in a separate instance, one of my uncles were quick to explain that Great-Grandma Lewis and Great-Grandpa Lewis were not related. They just had the same last name. Genetic risks and social taboos aside, I found this to be a bit of a letdown in retrospect. Why? Well, if they were related, that would give me one less family line to research!!!!!!
I know what may be running through your head at this exact moment (besides, “She’s crazy!”): just because people in the family say they were not related doesn’t mean that’s the real story. I agree. Oral history is a crucial and priceless source of genealogical data, but it still requires substantiation. Having academic training as a researcher I will let the evidence, as it is gathered, speak for itself.