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Lost and Found

I distinctly recall that Saturday afternoon, at least thirty years ago, when I sat on the veranda with my mother, and she answered my many questions regarding our family. As she spoke of relatives I was not acquainted with, I quickly jotted down their names in a notebook I had brought along. I admit that I was surprised when she told me about an uncle of hers, on her mother’s side, who, having left home and traveled to Santo Domingo, never returned to the Virgin Islands. “What was his name” I asked. “I can’t recall,” she sadly replied. I had never heard that story before, and I was intrigued.

While researching my family history many years later, I learned of two maternal great-uncles I had never heard of previously, and I surmised that one (or both) of them may have been the uncle whose name my mom had forgotten.

Well, guess what? I found Uncle Willy last week! I was fiddling through an online genealogy website when I came across a document from 1946 issued by the Secretaria De Estado De La Interior Y Policia in the Dominican Republic, evidencing that he had made application for the renewal of his Immigration Permit in that country. The additional documents I later discovered encompassed the years 1940 to 1949, with him receiving approval each year to remain in the country.

My great-uncle’s surname and Christian name had been typed incorrectly on all of the documents I found; however, in his scrawling handwriting, typical of the BVIslanders of old, he had signed his name on said documents in the same way that it was recorded on his birth certificate. I knew without a doubt that it was my grandmother’s adventurous brother. The note on one of the papers, translated with my limited Spanish, explained that he did not possess a passport or documents to confirm his nationality; that he was born in Tortola, and that he had been living in the Dominican Republic for forty years, more or less. Two photographs (front and side profiles) attached to one of the documents, clearly allowed me to see his close resemblance to his sister.

To say that I was elated was an understatement. I was totally and completely overjoyed, as were the relatives with whom I shared the good news! Those who had heard about him from their ancestors often wondered what had happened to him, fearing the worst. Now they were given updated information, albeit generations later.

From the documents I perused, I deduced that my great-uncle, who was born at Peter Island in 1888, left our shores as a young boy between the age of 12 – 16 years. Having made San Pedro de Macoris his home, he married and had a family. I have not yet found the record of his death; nevertheless, my search continues to ascertain whether there are any more interesting discoveries to be made.

Life in our islands around the time of my great-uncle’s birth and childhood would have been exceptionally hard. The descendant of enslaved Africans, he lived on what is oftentimes termed a small 2 x 4 island, where fishing was the main industry. Growing up in a family with at least seven siblings (from what I have so far discovered), most likely he felt stifled; even hopeless, and like so many Virgin Islanders in his day, he set out on an adventure for what he envisaged would lead him to greener pastures. It is my sincere hope that he was able to carve out a comfortable life for his family and himself in his new home. Who knows? One day I may have the golden opportunity to meet some of the descendants of this Cay Man and hear about his life in his adopted home, where he would have spoken Spanish nearly as fluently as a native.

As someone with a passion for genealogy, my unbelievable discovery had my adrenaline not only flowing, but gushing. What new relatives would I discover along the way? Finding my great-uncle made me feel like a champion, and provided the impetus for me to keep on searching for additional information on my father’s grandfather on his mother’s side. Born around 1865 in the Virgin Islands, to date his trail has only led me to his note-worthy career, his offspring, and the date of his passing.

My story is meant to engender hope, not only in myself, but also in persons who are seeking information on long-lost family members, or searching deep within for a resolution to problems, or a way out of an unpalatable state of affairs. Whatever the situation may be, my message to you, dear reader, is: Keep pressing on. Do not give up. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Good luck!

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