TRINIDAD & TOBAGO FAMILY HISTORY: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
The task and techniques used in researching Trinidad & Tobago family histories are more demanding and time consuming than
researching families from some other parts of the Caribbean, such as Barbados, Martinique, Jamaica and nearby Grenada.
Documents, which are available elsewhere in the Caribbean, may not have survived in Trinidad & Tobago or their whereabouts
may be unknown.
Many of Trinidad & Tobago’s historical and family heritage records have been lost through fire and neglect, fates familiar to
researchers worldwide. Some of the losses in Trinidad & Tobago, however, are due to two major factors which are not
experienced by other researchers: the lack of adequate archives legislation to provide guidance to government departments and
the lack of professional support to record keepers ensuring optimum record-keeping practices, thereby preventing future losses.
Important Family Heritage Records
The surviving records assume greater importance but not all of them are cared for adequately, compared with the practice found
in the best repositories in the Caribbean.
The civil registration records (births, marriages and deaths) and the church registers (baptismal, marriage and burials) are the
most valuable of all of Trinidad & Tobago’s family heritage records yet there are still no unified indexes available. Where partial
indexes exist, they are either not made accessible to the public, in any form, cf the Civil Registry, or, in the case of the
incomplete church register indexes, they are not being maintained and are not easily accessible to family history researchers.
Family Search [Genealogical Society of Utah] (GSU) Microfilming
Importantly, no Trinidad or Tobago family heritage registers/documents have been microfilmed by Family Search/Church of
Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints and, consequently, Trinidad & Tobago family history research is especially difficult for all
researchers, whether living in the country or non-resident.
Nevertheless, inspite of periodic frustrations, researching your own family history in Trinidad can be a very rewarding and
National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago (NATT)
The stated role of the National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago includes identifying, acquiring and making accessible private
and public records of enduring value and national significance; establishing standards for the management and protection of
public records; and serving as the permanent repository of records of government and other agencies. Unfortunately, there are
major difficulties in achieving these aims. In respect of the oldest records of the Municipal Corporations, the last reports,
received by this website, indicate that NATT has still not identified those documents and volumes, currently housed in
Port-of-Spain, San Fernando and Arima, where their value is still unrecognised and only 'appear' to be taking up valuable
space, required for current administrative records.
The Registrar General's Department Civil Registry and Land Registry holds some very valuable 19th and early 20th century
volumes. Search clerks have reported an extreme lack of care in handling them. It is difficult to comprehend why the records
over 100 years old, hardly better protected now than when they were housed in the vaults of Red House, have not been
transferred to NATT.
Read the comments of Professor Carl Campbell (1979 & 1999) Trinidad's Spanish Deed Protocols and Wills.
These rarely researched and very difficult to access records have not been identified by NATT and should be included in
Read Profiles (Page 24): Fr. Anthony De Verteuil, interviewed by Chad McDonald:
The National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago has, surprisingly, very few Tobago records and, moreover, is unable to provide
information on current historic document locations in Tobago, eg the Land Assessment Rolls, so valuable for researching
family history. The result is that researching Tobago family history is even more complex and daunting than that of Trinidad.
In view of the Government’s stated policy of achieving developed country status by the year 2020,
there needs to be an action plan and new guidance to prevent further losses of the nation’s family heritage.
Comprehensive archives legislation must be adopted without further delay.
Microfilming, Scanning & Digitisation/Indexing of Historic Family Heritage Documents (Trinidad & Tobago)
Registrar General’s Department
In 2000, the Registrar General’s Department arranged for the scanning and indexing of various paper-based records:
Birth and marriage records were transferred into a digital form for events from the 1890s. At this time death records were only
made available in electronic form from 1969. However, the installed software provided backfile conversion services to capture
historical data including deaths and adoptions from the years 1934/1938. Since 2001, it is unclear what additional historical
death records have been scanned and indexed.
In 2001, only partial scanning and indexing of records was undertaken and the Real Property Ordinance transactions were
excluded. Consequently, the Search Clerks were obliged to continue using the hard copy Town Books and Country Books in
respect of the Trinidad records, many being in a very poor condition and not being restored.
In 2001 the scanning and indexing of records, pertaining to active businesses was undertaken. Historical records, where they
survive, were not given any priority.
Ministry of Finance, Inland Revenue Division
It has been reported that in 2010, the Ministry of Finance arranged for the scanning and indexing of all the House Rate Books
and Land Assessment Rolls from 2006.
Historical records, even as recently as the 1980, have, at the present time, been disregarded.
It has been reported that neither the National Archives of Trinidad & Tobago, the National Library's Book Conservation
Laboratory, nor the West Indiana Library (Special Collections Division) have been consulted on the conservation/restoration
issues in respect of any of these 'vault'-based Trinidad-based historic records or those still languishing in limbo in Scarborough.
See: Frequently Asked Questions (No. 5)