Sometime between 1983 and 1984, my older brother Frank and I visited the Records Office in Spanish Town, Jamaica. We spent the afternoon leafing through stuffy, dusty volumes in search of our ancestry. Frank created a family tree. We questioned older relatives, but we didn’t know the right questions to ask. Plus, we didn’t want to appear too nosy. The past, some said, was best left where it was. We persisted and found ourselves with snippets of family stories that we couldn’t put together. Amidst all this, we began putting the family together and something tangible started to emerge.
Somehow, as years passed, we forgot about the family tree. I married and moved to the United States, but through the years, we all talked about getting back to searching our family history. Why were we so interested in finding out about our history? Most people we spoke with didn’t seem to care. Or maybe they already knew who they were. Some, perhaps, were afraid of what they might find. Or is it possible that some did not think they would find anything? One thing we knew was that our last name was no ordinary name. Being a ‘Hazle’ meant you probably were the only one on your class list, or any list for that matter, with that last name. With the stories our uncles told, we knew that the ‘Hazles’ were different.
Throughout my journey of finding my roots and as technology became more advanced, I discovered that I could rely on more than the whispered snippets of information from my relatives. The reluctance to divulge family information, perhaps secrets, has dampened many a potential genealogist’s enthusiasm. I was not about to give up that easily, especially when I discovered the website www.jamaicanfamilysearch.com. When I typed the name Hazell (the original spelling) in the search box, was I shocked to discover a list of White families who had arrived in Jamaica in the 1700s! This matched the stories that had been passed down in our family. As I continued my search, I discovered another website that practically handed me my ancestry. www.familysearch.org became my shopping center as I discovered my grandparents and great-grandparents. I became an Indexer and an Arbitrator and was practically screaming at what I was finding.
One discovery on my journey is that too many of us refuse to are or are afraid to step into the past. The website https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/ awakened me to the importance of knowing your history. On this site, I input my last name and discovered a Hazell who had been awarded £292 14S 5D in slavery compensation, a sum he never received. As I continued my research, I received communication with copies of the compensation documents that had been found in a box labeled “Not Paid Out.” I believe this is the scenario for many a family in the colonies. According to David Olusoga’s documentary Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, in order to get compensation, an owner had to be present in London at a specific time and place. I believe that if more Jamaicans delved into their history, they would find more than they bargained for. After all, King George had designated the lands to the newly arrived whites and their “heirs and assigns.”
Searching your roots can be a tedious process, but it can be rewarding. There are more and more genealogists, both amateur and professional who can help you along your journey. A plethora of groups are on social media, especially Facebook, that can direct you where you need to go. Ask questions. Record the oral history. Put the pieces together. Future generations need to know.
I can definitely say that I can write my history, pleasant or not. I honor my ancestors by reaching to the past and bring them to life so that I can understand a little better who I am.
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