The vital records of St Kitts document births, deaths, and marriages, and are invaluable in genealogy research on my husband’s family tree. The birth records in particular usually list the mother’s name as well as the baby’s, and often the father is recorded along with the mother’s maiden name (if she was married). Death and marriage records don’t formally document parents’ names, but the witnesses at weddings, and the names of people who reported births and deaths to the local registrar can sometimes provide clues to ancestry. The vital records index available at familysearch.org lists the primary data for the events:
- birth indexes generally give the birth date, baby’s gender, baby’s name (if available), mother and father’s name (if both available), mother’s maiden name (if she was married), and the parish name
- death entries generally provide the deceased’s name, gender, date of death, estimated birth year (calculated from reported age at death), and parish
- marriage records have the couples’ names, ages (or just whether they are adults of “full age”), the date of the ceremony, and the parish
Further information that the actual images of the records provide can be quite valuable, providing breadcrumbs that can sometimes be followed to fill out the branches of a family tree.
In my research on the Cannonier surname, I’ve broadened my searches to any Cannoniers I find in the vital records, even if there is no obvious tie to my husband’s ancestors, who were Margaret Johanna Cannonier (1868-1940) and her father John Henry Cannonier (c.1832-1868). The Cannonier surname is limited enough in St Kitts that this is feasible – there aren’t hundreds of people that I’d need to look at.
The digitized image of birth records pointed to by the familysearch.org index can be obtained at a familysearch library, or one of their affiliated public libraries. The birth records list the person who reported the birth to the local registrar. Sometimes the reporter is identified with their relationship to the baby (or to the mother), as in this example of a son Andrew born to Jane Caines in St John Capisterre parish in 1869:
One additional clue is the “complexion” field, in this case “Col’d” (colored), meaning that the baby was of mixed race. This information, along with professions and towns or estates of residence, can help narrow down people and relationships. Even though the baby’s father column is left blank, the reporter is given as “Andrew Cannonier, father”, of the town of Dieppe Bay. Another birth record of 1867 for mother Jane Caines also leaves the father column empty, but the reporter was “Andrew Cannonier, planter of Dieppe Bay”. We can pretty safely assume that Andrew was the father of that child too.
Sometimes the reporter or witness isn’t a name I’ve seen before as a family member. In that case, a little detective work may hint at relationships. Searching through the indexes for the name Cannonier, I once tried putting it in the first name search field, and got a hit: the 1899 death of a lady whose name read “Annie Cannonier Chambers” – whether it was a middle name or maiden name, I don’t know. One of the informants was “J. Chambers, son”.
Annie would have been born about 1837. I wasn’t familiar with the Chambers name, but a quick search in the vital records index brought up the 1909 death of John Ratcliffe Chambers (born c. 1858). He died in Basseterre, and was a magistrate’s clerk and registrar. The initials and approximate year of birth would fit with his being the son of Annie Cannonier Chambers. His name also links up quite nicely with the marriage record of another Cannonier, a lady named Blanche Wentworth Cannonier who married Thomas Jessup Brownbill in 1894. One of her witnesses signed his name as J. R. Chambers.
Another case where relationship information was provided indirectly was again for our Blanche Wentworth Cannonier. The St Kitts marriage records of 1894 didn’t have a space for a parent’s name unfortunately, and I had no birth record for Blanche. But I was able to determine her likely parents in a roundabout way, through some related entries.
Two years after her marriage, Blanche Wentworth Brownbill had a daughter named Dora Juliette Brownbill, and the informant in that record was identified as “John Richard Gould, cousin”. The Gould name rang a bell and provided a link to Blanche’s parents.
The records show that another Cannonier of St Kitts, named Thomas Tobias, had several children during the decades of the 1860s and 1870s with his wife Anna Maria, whose maiden name was always listed as Gould . This is the only couple I’ve found that join the Cannonier and Gould names. An unnamed daughter was recorded as born in 1862. This baby girl’s date of birth, Cannonier father, and Gould mother fit with her being Blanche Wentworth, and John Richard Gould as a cousin of Blanche, leading indirectly to Thomas Tobias and Anna Maria as Blanche’s parents.
Note that the registrar for the 1862 birth record was Andrew Cannonier – not to be confused with the Andrew Cannonier covered above, who had a baby in 1869, since Andrew the registrar died in 1865. I have actually found SIX Andrew Cannoniers over the 18th and 19th centuries. One was born in Montserrat and settled in St Kitts, two more who lived in St Kitts, one was born in St Kitts and immigrated to the United States, and two who died in infancy.
One last example… There was a Miles Cannonier who I’ve only found showing up in his death record of 1864, when he was a forty year-old carpenter living in Dieppe Bay (so born about 1824). The informant on his death was the parish rector, which doesn’t help much. I had been told by a descendant in the past that Miles had Cannonier children with a Harriet Sommersall, but I hadn’t found any documentation to support that. I did recently find a record for a Henrietta Sommersall who died in 1879 in Dieppe Bay, with the informant “Albertha Cannonier, daughter”. Even though Henrietta isn’t exactly Harriet, it’s close, and with Harriet’s approximate year of birth 1830, her town of residence, and her daughter with the surname Cannonier, it’s looking more likely that Miles was Albertha’s father.
There was an Alberta Cannonier who married a baker named Anistar Liddy, and had several children in the 1880 and 90s. I have found a distant DNA match with my husband and a descendant of this couple. Alberta and Albertha may be the same lady, and the DNA match points to a Cannonier relationship that the documents haven’t yet revealed. But it’s encouraging!