By Jane Downing, NMB Registrar

Research | May 5, 2020

Reading time: 5 minutes

Even though restrictions have begun to ease, we are still some way away from a full return to school and work. Unfortunately, many of us are struggling with the side-effects of staying home, including loneliness and boredom. Some are coping through hobbies like painting, puzzles, cooking, and baking. But have you thought about starting a genealogy-focused project, like building your family tree, organising family photos, or recording family stories and traditions?

Learning about our family histories and the lives and struggles of our ancestors can not only create connections with the past but also provide appreciation, perspective, and sometimes inspiring stories of resilience and strength.

Even though the National Museum of Bermuda (NMB), the Bermuda Archives, and the Bermuda National Library are closed at the moment, you can still work on your family tree, whether you’re just starting off, or picking up an ongoing project.

Here are a few tips on how to get started and information on what resources are available online.

Start with yourself…
First, document your life history. Write down information about yourself:

  • nicknames
  • dates and places of birth
  • date of baptism
  • date of marriage
  • where you have lived, and when
  • jobs you have had

Now list your immediate family relationships—mother, father, and siblings—and include full names and birth and death dates. Fill your name and birthdate in at the bottom of the family tree.

Now you can start to build your family tree, by moving to the next generation, and gathering information about your parents, and then your grandparents, your great grandparents, and so forth.


Use family resources…

Make use of the resources you have to hand in your own family: talk to your parents and elders, ask them or other family members for further details, stories, and memories—Sometimes there is someone who already has a deep interest in family history and has collected information or worked on a family tree.

Also, look through or ask about family records, photographs, and scrapbooks. Not all families keep things, but if your family has, you may be able to collect information from family documents like:

  • birth, death, and marriage certificates
  • passports and immigration records
  • military and school records
  • newspaper cuttings
  • photos, letters, diaries, and family bibles

As you go along, record information for each person on a separate sheet, and note where each piece of information came from. Gather the same sorts of things you did for yourself:

  • full names, nicknames, maiden names
  • dates and places of birth
  • dates of baptism, marriage
  • where they lived, and when
  • jobs, occupations
  • names of parents and siblings.

Highlight inconsistencies, mysteries, and incomplete information, and fill in the family tree as you go.

Widen your search…

With your rough family tree and notes in hand, you can now broaden your research, by moving on to online sources and services that can provide more information and perhaps fill in gaps and answer questions for you (Links at end of article).

Active genealogy groups on Facebook can provide support if you run into difficulty with research and joining a paid service such as can put you in touch with research done by others around the world.

The National Museum of Bermuda has source material online, which can assist you further. Mrs. CFE Hallett’s Genealogy Research Papers held by NMB are records created during Mrs. Hallett’s career as a genealogist and reflect the enquiries she received. They are organized by surname and the information is presented in family group pages showing units of parents and children. The resources drawn on include records at the Bermuda Archives, newspapers, and personal communications. You can search for free, but full access is only available to NMB members.

PDFs of indexes to mainstream church records and wills up to 1913, compiled by AC Hallett and CFE Hallett are available for free download for the duration of the lockdown. These represent baptism, marriage, and burial records which survive for Church of England, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches in Bermuda, as well as wills held in the Bermuda Archives, and date from the 1600s to 1913.

NMB Resources:

Early Bermuda Wills 1629-1835

19th Century Bermuda Wills

19th Century Church Registers of Bermuda

Bermuda Index

Other Local Resources:

The Bermuda National Library’s Digital Collection of local newspapers is online, including The Bermuda Recorder (1933–1975), The Royal Gazette and other early newspapers (starting in 1784),  and The Bermuda Times (1987–1995). These can provide information about your ancestors’ life and times.

The Bermuda College Library provides online access to searchable databases for the Bermuda Slave Registers of 1821 and 1834.

Overseas online resources

The Mormon Church maintains a free website, which includes records from sources worldwide. You can search on the home page or explore their Family research page to zero in on information and guidance from a particular place or area such as the Caribbean, Bermuda, the Azores, and many others

An index by country or region is listed on RootsWeb where people have asked and answered genealogy questions. You can no longer ask or answer questions, but you can search the archives.

The Caribbean Genealogy website lists resources for researching Caribbean family history, both online and on the ground.

The UK National Archives has extensive records online and a search function for other UK archives and record offices. They also have research guides for specific topics such as records relating to the military, immigration,  and prison, as well as information on tracing enslaved ancestors. Useful not only for UK ancestors but for anyone in former or current British territories.

University College London (UCL) Legacies of Slave Ownership project lists slave owners who were compensated, with amount, including Bermuda and the Caribbean.

GENUKI is a site for UK and Ireland genealogical research with database of sources contributed by volunteers.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains an online database, listing the details and locations of all graves of Commonwealth forces members who died during the First and Second World Wars.

Genealogical sources are available at the United States National Archives in Washington, DC.

Enoch Pratt Free Library offers an introduction and resource list for researching African American family history.

Immigration records held at Ellis Island in New York, the first stop for most Bermudians travelling to the US, are available.

National Centre for Health Statistics, maintains a listing of vital records offices in the United States.

Find a Grave is a database of 180 million tombstones and memorial markers from around the world including Bermuda.

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