Family Research, Introduction

Some years ago, Donna Campbell Kenny, a cousin who lives in Australia, asked for information about my immediate family—she planned to publish a book about our Jamaican branch of the Campbell family. After sending her some basic information, I began to wonder at how few members of my large and geographically dispersed family I had kept in touch with over the years. That led me to use the Internet to locate some of those with whom I had lost touch. Within only a few weeks I found several relatives, some of whom I had never met in person. And, as the months passed, my interest in my family roots grew.

During that period, some stories I had heard about my Campbell family’s history turned out to be myths, which got me wondering about my true family origins? This question nagged at me, and over time I developed an increasing need to fill the void in my personal history. It was then only a matter of time before I launched a project to trace my ancestors.

As I gathered names and dates, it struck me as sad that so little knowledge about people’s lives remained for only a generation or two after their deaths. I found that few of my family and acquaintances even knew the names of their great-grandparents. This seemed especially true of Jamaicans who descend from British or European families and who have, to a significant extent, immigrated to far-away places such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

How delighted I would have been if I uncovered diaries or other personal journals describing their trials and tribulations, their politics, their ambitions and their descriptions of everyday life. How sad that the sum of one’s life should be a few words chiselled into the face of a tombstone. I believe I owe it to my grandchildren to tell them something of their family roots.

Let me add a few words about truth. When writing about a sketchily documented past, truth can be a relative term. And while I plan to tell my story truthfully, my truth—my understanding of and belief in past events— may not match that of others because each of us sees the past from a unique perspective. Besides, while I want my story to be historically accurate (names, dates, etc.), I make no apology for my interpretation of events, some of which may very well differ from the recollection of others.

As to timing, I cannot vouch for one hundred percent of the accuracy of the chronology of the earliest parts of my story. And, although the events happened more or less as I describe them, some of their time frames may be off a bit.

Finally, I come from a middle and upper-class Jamaican family, which meant more in the Jamaica of the 1940s and 1950s than it does in the Canada of today. Colonial Jamaica did not cause me the hardship and disadvantages suffered by many less fortunate Jamaicans. As such, I was a product of my time and saw things and interpreted events from a specific perspective.