St. Philip Parish, Barbados
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Dear Professor Gates:

I am doing my husband’s genealogy. His grandmother was born Ethel (Etherea) Chantilla Pounder on March 23, 1898, in St. Philip Parish, Barbados, West Indies. Her father was Arthur Pounder and her mother was Avis Jordan. How can I find records on Arthur and Avis? —Patricia L. Blackwell

There are plenty of resources available to you! However, before we list them, we want to remind you that the first step to tracing relatives of an immigrant ancestor is to gather as much information as you can from documents in the United States, such as passenger lists and U.S. census records.

Search by Family, Not Just the Individual

Beyond the information included for immigrant ancestors, passenger lists and census records often list other individuals with which they may have immigrated or settled in the United States. Usually this indicates a close relationship prior to their immigration—often a familial one.

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You can search Ancestry.com passenger records (for a fee) and see that an Aditha C. Pounder is listed on a passenger list from Barbados to New York, N.Y., July 12, 1922. The record states that Aditha C. Pounder was 20 years old, which places her birth at circa 1902. Her “ethnicity/nationality” was listed as black. She was traveling to Brooklyn, N.Y., to visit her sister, Eudoria Perryman, at 661 Franklin St. Her next of kin was listed as her father, Arthur Pounder, of St. Philip, Barbados.

Could this record possibly be for Ethel (Etherea) C. Pounder and they misspelled her first name as Aditha? Or was Aditha a possible sister of Ethel? Searching the entire passenger list for others traveling from St. Philip to Brooklyn, or who share Ethel’s surname or her mother’s surname, may indicate a relationship that you could note when searching for other records.

Since you also know from the passenger record that she was in the United States by 1922, you could search the 1930 census for more information about Pounder. We found an Ethel Ponder living in Manhattan, N.Y., in the household of Lyod Bolden as a boarder. Ponder was born in 1898 and is also a likely match for your Ethel Pounder.

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When reading census records, pay attention to the families living near the individuals you are researching, since they may reveal relationships that could lead to further records. In this census, Ponder was living in close proximity to a number of individuals who were also born in the British West Indies and who immigrated between 1920 and 1922, namely Jestina Harrison, Robert Christian and Millicent Christian. Keep these names in mind when searching through records in Barbados, since you may see these names again, revealing additional clues about her ancestry.

Ethel Pounder Blackwell is included in the California Death Index, which states that her mother’s maiden name was Jordan, her father’s surname was Pounder and she was born on March 23, 1898, in “Other County,” which means she was born outside the United States. It tells us that she died in Los Angeles on May 2, 1983. You could search for an obituary or newspaper article on her that may reveal more about her parents and other relatives. If you have or are able to locate information about any of her siblings, it may help you determine if you have located the correct family in the Barbados records.

Check These Databases and Records for Barbados

FamilySearch has a number of collections for Barbados and the Caribbean islands that are searchable online, including Caribbean births and baptisms. If you search for Arthur Pounder, you’ll find a record for an Arthur Augustus Pounder, born Nov. 8, 1862, at St. Philip, Barbados, the same location as Ethel’s birth. This Arthur would have been about 36 years old when Ethel C. Pounder was born, making it possible that this is a record for her father. According to the record, his parents were William Augustus Pounder and Georgianna Cox.

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A search for Avis Jordan presents a number of results, some of which were of people born too early or too late to be Ethel Pounder’s mother. But there is one record for an Avice Beatrice Jordan born Sept. 27, 1874, at St. Philip, Barbados. She would have been about 24 years old when Ethel Pounder was born, making this a possible match for her mother. According to the record, Avice’s mother was Phoebe Ann Jordan, but it does not list a father, suggesting that she may have been born outside of a marriage. Further research into these families will help you determine if these are your husband’s ancestors or other Pounder/Jordan families residing in Barbados.

You can use these databases to cast a wider net for records on the Pounder and Jordan families. If you use the database Barbados, Baptisms 1739-1891 and search for the surname Pounder, the return will be all records in the collection for that family. Since most of the records include the parents’ names, you can begin to sort out family groups, which may help you identify some of Ethel Pounder’s siblings or cousins. You could do similar searches for the surname Jordan and expand the search to some of the other databases, such as Barbados Marriages 1854-1879, Barbados Church Records, 1637-1887 and Caribbean Births and Baptisms, 1590-1928. Compiling a family tree of the Pounder and Jordan families in Barbados may help you determine how Ethel Pounder relates to these individuals.

FamilySearch also has a number of Caribbean records available on microfilm. You can view these films at a Family History Library location near you. Start by looking for collections that contain years close to when Ethel Pounder was born or when she may have been living in Barbados, since they are more likely to include information about her or her known relatives. For example, one collection that might be helpful would be Parish Register Transcripts, 1900-1931. While this collection may not include Ethel’s birth (since she was born in 1898), it may include the births of other children born to Arthur Pounder and Avis Jordan. You could also search Barbados wills and administration records for the Pounder and Jordan surnames to see if Ethel or her parents were mentioned in a relative’s will.

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Since there are not many records for the British West Indies available online, you may need to search for records in offline repositories in Barbados. The Barbados National Archives (Department of Archives) holds parish records, deeds, manuscripts, letters, photographs and wills that will likely be valuable to locating your husband’s ancestors. This does not necessarily mean you need to travel to Barbados. If you are unable to visit the archives yourself, you could contact them to see if they hold any information on the family. Staff members do not conduct research, but they will provide you with a list of researchers who could search their archives for you.

You may also benefit from contacting the Barbados Museum & Historical Society to see if it holds any collections that may be valuable to your search. You can contact the library directly with a query about the Pounder/Jordan family.

You could also check online forums and databases specifically for Barbados genealogy. GenForum at Genealogy.com has a forum for Barbados research. You could search to see if other people are also looking for the same families or have additional information that may help guide your search. You could also post your own query with the information you have already. This may help you connect with other extended family members who could provide clues on where to look for more information. Ancestry.com has a similar message board for Barbados research where you could also post your query.

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There are a number of books that may also help you locate more resources for the Pounder/Jordan family. Geraldine Lane’s Tracing Ancestors in Barbados: A Practical Guide, published in 2006, is a comprehensive guide to the repositories and resources available when conducting research on Barbados families. The book not only includes a list of collections and the institutions that hold them, but also provides information on how to access collections and gives tips for searching through documents. Published more recently, My Ancestors Settled in the British West Indies: With Bermuda, British Guiana and British Honduras, by John Titford, has a chapter dedicated to Barbados collections, as does Tracing Your West Indian Ancestors, by Guy Grannum.

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 editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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

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This answer was provided in consultation with Meaghan Siekman, 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.