How Do I Find My Garifuna Ancestors?

Tracing Your Roots: Verifying ties to Afro-Caribbean people who settled in Latin America.

Garifuna women perform in Honduras. (Orlando Sierra/Getty Images)
Garifuna women perform in Honduras. (Orlando Sierra/Getty Images)

The Garifuna in Honduras who assimilated into the local culture mostly became Catholic. The Family History Library holds digitized Catholic church records for the parish San Juan Bautista from Trujillo, Colón, Honduras dating back to 1797 and as recent as 1948. The records for this parish and others throughout Honduras will be in Spanish, but can be searched and browsed online.

As early as 1825, the Wesleyan Methodist church (from London) sent missionaries to Stann Creek in Belize, as well as Honduras. Since the original missions left from London, you may be interested in searching the Methodist Collections held by the University of Manchester Library. There were some sets of papers for people affiliated with the Honduras mission work.

The School of Oriental and African Studies for the University of London “holds the largest collection of Christian missionary archives in the U.K.”

The United Methodist Archives and History Center in Madison, N.J., has a collection of Records of the Mission Education and Cultivation Program Department of the General Board of Global Ministries. This set of records pertained to mission work between 1882 and 2001. The archives also have a Guide to the Mission Geographical Reference File. Honduras appeared among the locations included in both collections.

Typically, baptismal and membership records are kept by the local church so it may be worthwhile to contact the Belize/Honduras District or individual churches within it.

Beginning in 1849, Moravian church missionaries established a mission in the Miskito kingdom and began preaching in Nicaragua and later in Honduras. According to Thornton and Heywood, the Moravians kept meticulous records of births and deaths.

One of the best repositories for Moravian records is the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pa. Most of the records pertaining to the missions in Honduras held by this institution date from the mid-1900s. There are also some earlier records from missionaries in Nicaragua. Many of the Moravian records are in German, but some also feature English translations. If you are unable to visit the archives yourself, there are research and photocopy services available. The archive is also affiliated with the Moravian Historical Society in Nazareth, Pa., which has more materials concerning the Moravian church and its activities.

Going back to St. Vincent, also holds general indexes for births, marriages and deaths in the Caribbean. Only the birth indexes seem to include early enough listings for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, thus far. These databases may be worth checking back at a later date. The Family History Library also features some microfilmed parish records for St. George parish in St. Vincent. This will only include Church of England records, but they do date back to 1765. As this was before the Garifuna were forced to leave, circumstances could have led to your ancestors having events recorded there.

You may also wish to check some genealogical journals pertaining to St. Vincent and its surrounding islands. These can often contain transcriptions or guides to records. One such journal is the French Généalogie et Histoire de la Caraïbe. The website features information about the former French colonies and even includes a list of names of St. Vincentians from the late 1700s.

For contact information to a variety of other Honduras and St. Vincent institutions that may have the kinds of information you seek, try consulting Caribbean Genealogy Research. In addition, this website features a Caribbean Surname Index which may help guide you.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

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This answer was provided in consultation with Kyle Hurst, a researcher from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website,, contains more than 300 million searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today.  

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