The Caribbean Genealogy Library has launched the Oral History Project, an effort to recognize the oldest members of the community and capture their stories, members learned on Saturday when the organization hosted its annual meeting virtually via Zoom due to the pandemic.
The Oral History Project is one of the projects the organization discussed during its annual meeting. Participants in the project reach out to centenarians and their families.
“We interview them about their lives, their family, education, their memories of what St. Thomas was like when they were growing up, if they went away to school the experience of leaving St. Thomas to go away to school [and] coming back to work, their adulthood and family life and again their memory of different parts of the community life and history of St. Thomas and the Virgin Islands,” said Sophia Aubin, president of the group and host of the meeting.
Part of the mission of the Caribbean Genealogy Library is to identify, preserve and provide access to Caribbean genealogy, history and cultural heritage information resources for the Virgin Islands and the Caribbean. That is reflected in a second project Aubin highlighted, Teaching Virgin Islands History Using Original Sources. Several members and volunteers reintroduced the availability of material, particularly about the Danish West Indies, to teachers in the territory. The project digitizes and presents original material such as photographs, artwork, cartoons, maps and audio, as well as narratives, worksheets and teaching activities for use in the classroom.
The library’s collection is full of books and records, most of which are related to the Caribbean and the U.S., according to Aubin.
“The records we have of microfilm are largely related to the Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands,” she said.
They also have a subscription to ancestry.com.
Another project presented at Saturday’s meeting was the Images of Our Past Project. It consists of more than 700 postcards from the late 1800s and 1900s, submitted by Michael and Jane Sheen, that highlights activities and cultural aspects of the Danish West Indies and the United States Virgin Islands.
The Caribbean Genealogy Library’s annual meeting is typically to organize the board, share the past year’s activities and give updates on new and occurring projects. There is also usually a guest speaker giving a presentation on a topic related to history, culture or genealogy but, “This year we choose to focus on CGL,” said Aubin.
Early in the meeting, Library Treasurer Robert Upson said during the past year the organization faced financial difficulties and continued to work out from under the consequences of the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. However, he also said the organization has made some gains that will allow it to host more events and projects.
“There’s still lots of programs we’d like to do. [But] we can’t always get grants for those,” Upson said.
Not only do members of the Caribbean Genealogy Library maintain records of historical happenings that occurred decades ago and present those happenings, but they also look forward to hosting events that discuss recent activities.
“Of course something huge and historical happened in 2020, and maybe one day CGL will make a display with face masks and posters for vaccines and newspaper articles about COVID,” Aubin said of the worldwide pandemic that continues to plague the Virgin Islands and the world.
The Caribbean Genealogy Library celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. Organized on July 31, 2000, with founding members Elisabeth Swinson Sharp, Grace Swinson Martin and Susan Laura Lugo. In September 2000, Sharp donated $50,000 to create the library, which opened at Al Cohen’s Mall in Havensight.
“Sharp was the driving force for creating the CGL,” Aubin said. In 2007, the library transitioned to Al Cohen’s Plaza on Raphune Hill, where it remains today.
Aubin has been president of the organization since 2014. Her interest in genealogy started as a teenager when she began working on her family tree. When asked why she thinks it is important for people to pay attention to genealogy, she replied, “There are lots of reasons to conduct genealogy research that are valid and important, but for me, one of the strongest is that family stories are also community stories. We are all part of the place we live in. We all contribute something whether it’s small or great. In studying genealogy and family history it helps you to better understand your community’s history, it is all connected.”
The organization has 53 members and is always looking for more. The Caribbean Genealogy Library is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization operated solely by volunteers. Through membership dues, donations and fundraising the organization is able to operate and offer programs and services. Membership starts at $40 per year and day passes are available for $5.
The organization has scheduled three workshops in March: “Workshop: Danish National Archives – Tips and Tricks for Danish West Indies Genealogy Research;” “Disaster and Disruption in 1867: Hurricane, Earthquake and Tsunami in the Danish West Indies;” and “A Transfer Day Genealogy Story.”