3 Things to Know Before Researching Family Heritage

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

You can’t explore your family heritage if you don’t know why you want to know about the past!

I am the product of a family who immigrated to the UK in the early 1953s.  They arrived from Guyana which is the only English speaking country in South America and as such, considered part of the Caribbean Diaspora due to its culture and multi-heritage peoples.

We moved away from London and a large Caribbean community to the outskirts of London and I spent 10 years in a town where we were the only family from a Caribbean background,  this formative experience shaped my future life.

Researching My Family Heritage

Many of us with similar experiences of ‘not-belonging’ to the majority group, share in common a sense of isolation and dislocation from our culture even when our parents do their best to share traditions with us.

The three things that I had to think about before I started researching my family heritage……

Why did I want to know more about my ancestry?

What was I going to do with the information?

Where would I start?

Not everyone wants or need to know about their family lineage, so its important to ask yourself why you want to know more.  For example is it to give you a sense of closure about something? or to fill in gaps in your knowledge about key members of your family past or present?

 A Colonial Past

Mural Barbados Mount Gay Rum Distillery

My parents had lived  in the UK since the 50’s and as children of a colonial past were comfortable with a lot of English culture.  I on the other hand always had the sense of not feeling quite ‘complete’ within myself, I was always searching for identity and belonging, something that never quite arrived.

The inter-relationship of colour, culture, ethnicity, immigration and tradition can impact on a young psyche and create ‘trauma’.  This can result in ‘entanglements’ in relationships and I spent many years reconciling my childhood experiences as an adult.

Asking Hard Questions

When I started researching my family line, I talked to many people, within and outside my family members and asked some hard-truth questions.  I found out that this wasn’t just ‘my issue’, (although the path may be different) the feelings of disconnection from family and community was true for many of us in the diaspora .

​It seems like in this modern, fast paced world, many of us feel seperated and disconnected from our family history.  There is a feeling of loss and connection to the pasts. We are often separated from communities and traditions.

What I Learnt!

I realised that I wanted to go back, in order to go forward.  I needed to fix things in the present that weren’t working well for me.  Issues in my relationship with my parents and myself.  Both of these things stopped me going from going forward in the way that I wanted.

I knew that I had to do something about it and I was willing to be open to what that might be. I thought about where to start and decided to begin with a letter from my uncle to my mother that outlined their family ancestral line.  More on ‘the letter‘ in future posts!

Not many people want to go back into their family history just for the information, there is usually something that is shaping that search.  It helps if you are clear about why you want to find out more about your family heritage, even if you are not sure about what you will do with the information.

Think about what you may find and how could it help shape the present? Then reflect on what difference it will make to future generations?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *