Did My Jamaican Kin Descend From British Loyalists in America?

Tracing Your Roots: How to track down ancestors who fled to Jamaica after the Revolutionary War.

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Once you have gained more information about this side of your family, you can then expand your research into other areas.

Searching Jamaican Records

Most Loyalists left America in the 1780s, and one of the biggest obstacles you will have in confirming your family’s story is determining how long your family was in Jamaica. If you are able to find evidence that your direct ancestors lived in Jamaica, you will then have a better idea of which surnames to research and the approximate time period in which your ancestors lived there. Using this information, you can look into several sources to see if you can find any records of your family.

The free genealogy website FamilySearch has a collection of Church of England Parish Registers from 1664 to 1880. If your ancestors were Loyalists, it is likely that they were members of the Church of England. Most births, marriages and deaths were recorded in the parish registers before the Assembly in Jamaica enacted civil registration in 1843. This collection contains transcriptions of the original records, so they can be searched by surname.

If you have a name of a specific ancestor who lived in Jamaica, you will want to search by that name to see if you can find any records. If not, you can search this collection for your great-grandmother’s maiden name. Although this will probably not lead to definitive records of your ancestors, it will give a general idea of whether anyone with your family name was living in Jamaica.

In the Parish of Saint Elizabeth, some of the loyalists were allotted land to settle. The website Jamaican Family Search has a transcription of a list of Loyalists who settled in St. Elizabeth, though many of those who settled in that parish emigrated from the Carolinas.

Another useful source is the manuscript Abstracts of Jamaica Wills 1625-1792. This is a compilation of Jamaican wills and probate records that were once housed at the registry in London. Given the time period, many of these records pertain to Loyalists who immigrated to Jamaica. This collection is available only on microfilm, but using WorldCat, you can find the library closest to you that has this item.

Searching American Records Before the Revolutionary War

In tracing your Jamaican ancestors, you can also search for records of your family before the Revolutionary War. If you are able to determine which branch of your family owned the plantation, you can do a broad search of records to see if you can find any evidence that they were Loyalists who went to Jamaica.

For example, you can do a broad search of published collections in the book Loyalists in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. This three-volume set contains extracts of various records pertaining to Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, including muster rolls, petitions and other service documents. The volumes are fully searchable by name on Ancestry.com and are also available in the New England Historic Genealogical Society library (AmericanAncestors.org). You can put in a photocopy request if you know the names you would like the researchers to look up.