80.3 F
Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, December 10, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesNot for Profit: Caribbean Genealogy Library

Not for Profit: Caribbean Genealogy Library

March 12, 2007 – There may not be eight million tales in the tiny room in Al Cohen's Mall, but there are thousands of stories lurking inside, there just for the exploring.
The Caribbean Genealogy Library doesn't have the millions of tales from TV's vintage "Naked City" show, but it offers the tools to unravel thousands of Caribbean islander's own stories, with an accent on the Virgin Islands.
Through a vision, persistence and sheer hard work, a handful of volunteers has brought to the territory an untold treasure trove of information. The library was founded by Elizabeth Swinson Sharp, her sister Grace Swinson Martin and Susan Lugo, president. Elisabeth Sharp is president emeritus. The library is staffed by about five volunteers who juggle hours to provide the community with access to its past.
Standing in the library, Lugo is almost dwarfed by the looming shelves stacked with hundreds of volumes of people's lives as recorded on paper, maps, census records, birth documents and hundreds of rolls of microfilm. She talks about the relatively brief life of the library and how it has grown.
Elisabeth Sharp's private genealogy library initially established the CGL. Raised on St. Thomas, where her father served as once served as Rector of All Saints, Sharp was one of the founders of the Immigrant Genealogy Library in Burbank, Calif., a nationally recognized resource for German-immigrant research materials.
In a short seven years, the library has become the only known library in the Caribbean devoted entirely to genealogical research. It is a licensed branch of the prestigious Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, in Salt Lake City, Utah, with that library's vast resources available to CGL patrons. The LDS library has the world's largest collection of genealogical information, with more than two billion names in databases.
Any quest for your lineage begins at home. "You have to start with yourself," Lugo says. "I'm Spanish, Mexican, Scottish and German. I am the sum of my parts, memories of ancestors, descendants and all their connections. But I am only as long as I am alive or remembered." This is the mantra Lugo cites when she makes presentations to historical societies, organizations or educational institutions.
"I have always wanted to know about my past," she says. "In 1983, I flew to see an elderly great aunt to talk of family history. Whenever I traveled, I always spent time in libraries."
To say the library is Lugo's passion, is only to scratch the surface. "It opens a whole new world," Lugo continues, "with one foot in the past and another here using the technological materials to explore. It's a dynamic time to get involved with the Internet now. If I could, I'd do this full time."
Her interest in the past has remained a constant.
"I was a language major in college, but I loved history," Lugo says. "I couldn't get enough of it."
Before opening the library, Lugo returned to the States for more preparation: "I took a year off and left to get a master's degree in Library Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus."
The library now holds about 4,500 books and publications, including 60 newsletters and journals, and hundreds of rolls of microfilm, microfiche and CDs. All of this largess cannot possibly fit into CDL's present quarters, and it won't have to. Lugo shares welcome news.
On May 1, the library will move to a new location at Al Cohen's Mall off Weymouth Rhymer highway next to Mango Tango Art Gallery. "It's three times this size," Lugo says. "We will be able to use the new equipment we've had donated — two copier-scanners from Business World, and UVI donated a microfilm reader from its library in January."
Ancient Tomes
Meantime, the shelves behind Lugo beckon. She reaches for some books and hauls down a volume, part of an eight-part set, Caribbeana, edited by Vere Langford Oliver and first printed in 1914. His findings are from a newsletter, limited to 100 copies. Oliver called the volumes "miscellaneous papers relating to the history, genealogy, topography and antiquities of the British West Indies." They include calendars, transcriptions of parish registers, pedigrees, extensive notes on families and a host of illustrations — faithfully reproduced replicas of the originals.
The materials cost dearly. "This cost $1,000," Lugo says. She pulls down a rare three-volume, folio-sized set, History of Antigua, also by Oliver, which cost $2,000.
"We have resources no one else has, in addition to being a branch of the LDS library," she says.
The CGL got very lucky in a purchase of microfilm rolls on Caribbean history from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Lugo says: "We bought them one day for $35 a roll, and the next day they went up to $60 per roll. That was $12,000 worth of microfilm." They include "Selected Records of the Danish West Indies, 1672-1917: Essential Records Concerning Slavery and Emancipation."
The library has Danish West Indies census records available on microfilm from 1841 through 1911. She goes to the microfilm scanner, nestled between the books at the back of the room. "Here, I'll show you what they look like," she says.
Before us sits a record in meticulous script. Recorded in 1840, it is a census sheet from Estate Rust op Twist. The top of the page shows a listing for the Nelthropp family, starting with a Henry Nelthropp, followed by a listing of the Edge families. Beneath that comes a listing of first names only.
"No last names means these people were either servants or slaves," Lugo says. "These pages begin to tell stories. You learn who lived in proximity to whom."
The library was very fortunate recently when St. Thomas Graphics closed its doors, Lugo says. "They gave us their whole collection from the '70s: political booklets, obituary booklets, pamphlets we couldn't otherwise obtain."
The library is funded by its membership fees and tax-exempt contributions made to the Caribbean Genealogy Library Fund of the Community Foundation of the V.I. "We have some wonderful benefactors," Lugo says. "A lot of good people have been very kind to us."
Obscure History Unveiled
Unveiling the mysteries of one's own ancestry is the library's major lure, but not the only one. As a natural offshoot of the research, Caribbean history is revealed in edifying and unusual glimpses. For instance, did you know that at one time Tortola had a Quaker colony?
John Pickering, a Quaker and lieutenant governor of Tortola in 1741, recorded in meeting notes, "there now is a Quaker awakening in this obscure corner of the vineyard (Quaker community)."
And, from a paper about the migration of French folk from St. Barthelmey to St. Thomas, translated in 1992 by CGL board member Aimery Caron: "… a small island, small population, unknown historically. In spite of hurricanes, drought, invasion and evacuations our ancestors clung to the rock of St. Barthelmey, a faithful French child, the Swedes did not know how to keep."
Lugo makes presentations to local organizations, historical societies, and schools. Last year she conducted a free genealogy workshop for beginners at the University of the Virgin Islands. She talked of pedigree charts, descendant charts, research forms, census records, Internet resources and first steps to documentation.
What if someone comes to the library looking up information on a long-lost grandmother, with a name but no date of birth? Where to start? "You could begin with a look at censuses, tax lists, real property records, probate wills or church records such as baptismal certificates," Lugo says. "Maybe she was a pensioner. You could look at military
These are what's called primary documents. If these fail, you can go to secondary documents: church records, tombstones, funeral booklets. "These are not evidence, but they can be helpful," she says.
A regular newsletter and website are on the library's agenda before the year is out. The CGL hopes to get the newsletter out before the website, because "some of our patrons are older and are not web-friendly," Lugo says. "We need to target both older and younger markets."
The CBL board consists of Lugo, Sharp, Edie Clarke, Aimery Caron, Pedrito Francois and Shirley Lincoln.
A small cadre of volunteers man the CGL desk from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays. Call 714-2136 for a daily schedule. The library is open to the public for $5 a visit. Membership starts at $25 annually, $30 for family (two or more persons at the same address) and $10 for students under 18. Members have Internet access to ancestry.com, including all U.S. censuses, historical newspapers and the UK-Ireland birth-death index.
Lugo says the library's dream "is to own at least one digital microfilm reader-scanner-printer: "Even though they are terribly expensive, they would be so useful."
For more information, call 714-2136 or email CGL.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.