West Indian Soldiers, illustration of article “Cast-away in Jamaica” by W.E. Sewell, in Harper’s Monthly Magazine, January 1861
Wikimedia Commons

Dear Professor Gates:

I am British-born to Jamaican parents and now residing in Miami. I have been working on my family tree for the last couple of years and have hit several brick walls. My mother’s paternal grandfather, David Emmanuel Molloy, was baptized in Newcastle (British military camp), St. Andrew, Jamaica, in 1885, according to the Catholic records. He was born in December 1884. His mother was Ida Eugenia Downer, and from other records, I have discovered that his father was Michael Molloy.

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I have been told that Michael was Irish and served with the British military stationed at Newcastle, St. Andrew, and that Ida was employed there. They also had another son, John Augustus Molloy, who was two years older than David. On the site Jamaican Family Search, there is a listing of British regiments that served in Jamaica with dates. I narrowed it down to the Royal Scots (First Regiment of Foot and later Lothian) but still cannot find Michael Molloy in that time frame (1881-1884). Do you think it’s possible he may have been there earlier and maybe stayed over?

It is said that my mother’s maternal grandfather is also descended from British military. He is Walter Augustus McCausland, born in 1888 in Free Town (Mount Olive), St. Andrew, Jamaica. His father is also Walter Augustus McCausland, born about 1861 (I couldn’t find any birth record, so I do not know where he was born). His father is recorded as John McCausland. Was John British? The 1861 Military Almanac at Jamaican Family Search lists a Lt. Col. McCausland (commanding officer) as serving with the Royal Engineers stationed at Up Park Camp, Kingston, Jamaica. Could this be John? I was not able to find a first name for the lieutenant.

I have searched the British National Archives online as well as Ancestry.com and have not been able to come up with anything. Any direction you can give me would be a great help. —Patricia Donaldson

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As, of course, you know, the Caribbean island of Jamaica is a member of the Commonwealth, a voluntary group of 53 nations largely made up of former territories of the British Empire. Inhabited first by Taíno Indians, then settled by the Spanish, Jamaica came under British control in 1655, where it remained until its independence in 1962. During the window of time that you describe, Jamaica was under British control, and so many of the records that you will be looking for pertaining to military service will be British records. Our recommendations of the best British record sources appear below.

Searching Jamaican Civil Registration Records

First, however, we made plenty of headway with your McCausland forebears by searching the Jamaican Civil Registration Records (1880-1999), available for free at FamilySearch. We cross-referenced the name John McCausland with Walter McCausland and were able to find the second marriage of Walter McCausland, who was born circa 1860 (Jamaica, Civil Registration, 1880-1999, Index and Images, 004886002, image 1,084 of 2,210; Registrar General’s Department, Spanish Town).

The surname is spelled “MacCousland,” and it shows that on April 7, 1904, Walter MacCousland married Mary Jane Davis in St. Andrew. Walter MacCousland’s father was named John MacCousland, and Walter was a 44-year-old widower and small planter. Mary Jane Davis was also a widow, age 34, and her father’s name was Thomas Haase. There was no mention of John MacCousland’s military rank or military service on this marriage record, unfortunately.

Using this information gleaned from the marriage record, we searched for a Walter McCausland in St. Andrew after 1904 and found that he died Dec. 17, 1905, at the age of 45 from a fever that lasted two weeks (Jamaica, Civil Registration, 1880-1999, Index and Images, 004884372, image 1,685 of 2,066; Registrar General’s Department, Spanish Town).

His death record states that he was a carpenter at the time of his death. His wife is not listed on this death certificate, although it states that Walter McCausland was married. The informant was listed as Thomas Walker.

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We next found the marriage of Walter’s son, Walter Augustus McCausland, who married Christianna Douglas on Aug. 16, 1913, in St. Andrew (Jamaica, Civil Registration, 1880-1999, Index and Images, 004886003, image 1,760 of 2,381; Registrar General’s Department, Spanish Town). (You mentioned a Michael Augustus Molloy in your question, but perhaps that information was misstated to you and really referred to your McCausland side of the family.)

Walter Augustus McCausland was 25 years old at the time of his marriage in 1913, placing his birth in 1888, just as you said. Christianna Douglas was 22 years old, and her father’s name was Daniel Douglas. They were both in the “cultivation” business, and this was their first marriage.

The birth and death records of Walter McCausland (who was born circa 1860) state that he was in the district of Woodford in the Parish of St. Andrew, Jamaica, for those events. Using this information, we were able to find Walter Augustus McCausland’s birth record (Jamaica, Civil Registration, 1880-1999, Index and Images, 004005254, image 694 of 2,395; Registrar General’s Department, Spanish Town). The last name was spelled slightly differently on the birth notice, as “McCauseland.” He was born in the district of Woodford in the Parish of St. Andrew, Jamaica, on May 30, 1888, to Walter McCauseland and Elizabeth Bennett.

His father, Walter McCauseland, was a carpenter at the time of his birth.

Going back to your question about whether John McCausland was British, we were not able to determine his place of birth. We searched through St. Andrew’s baptism records for mention of Walter Augustus McCausland, hoping to find more information about his father, John McCausland, but unfortunately could not find any records. However, there are many English records available to search for John McCausland’s birth. Without knowing a more specific area of England, we can recommend these English historical record collections, available online for free at the FamilySearch website from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

What About Michael Molloy?

We searched Ireland Births and Baptisms, 1620-1881, since you were told that Michael Molloy was born in Ireland. These records are available for free at the FamilySearch website. There were many men named Michael Molloy born between 1850 and 1868 all over Ireland. Without our knowing a more specific area to concentrate on in Ireland, this was the best search available. We recommend that you do what you can to find out more information about his origins in Ireland in order to help narrow down the results.

Further Research of Military Ties

We recommend that you consult Jamaican Ancestry: How to Find Out More by Madeleine E. Mitchell to further your research into your forebears’ military connections. Mitchell’s book gives great information about the military services that you are researching, such as where certain regiments are located and in which year. Using the information you provided that David Emmanuel Molloy was baptized in St. Andrew along with Walter Augustus McCausland, we can see the British regiments that served in St. Andrew:

We took the liberty of looking up this text up in libraries near your home of Miami and found that Mitchell’s text is available in Broward College’s library in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and also in the Miami Dade Public Library.

Other Sources That May Help Your Search

The British National Archives, which you mentioned checking in your question, are an excellent place to start. The archives’ website states that the records of the Colonial Office (CO) and Dominions Office (DO) are the primary sources of information for former British colonies and dependencies. These indexes, registers, colony books, calendar books, state papers and newspapers are great places to begin your research by area or by name. You have also already searched the Jamaican Family Search website, which houses many records online. We particularly recommend that you focus on the military sources at that site.

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There are several cross-referenced record collections on the FamilySearch website, run by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (which is different from the previously mentioned Jamaican Family Search website, which is run by an individual). The Family History Library holds online resources for free, such as the Jamaican Church of England Parish Register Transcripts from 1664 to 1880.

Another excellent online source that should be searched is the Digital Library of the Caribbean, which houses Caribbean cultural, historical and research materials currently held in archives, libraries and private collections. The periodicals, newspapers and maps that have been digitized regarding Jamaica may hold some hidden clues regarding the military activities of Michael Molloy or John McCausland, even perhaps telling of their origins.

The Jamaica Archives and Records Department is also an excellent source of genealogical information. It has online collections you can browse, such as parish registers and church records.

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Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also co-founder of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Send your questions about tracing your own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.

This answer was provided in consultation with Andrew Krea, 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, AmericanAncestors.org, 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 about researching African-American roots.