If you’re interested in tracing your family tree and you know that one of your ancestors came from Haiti, it may seem impossible to learn much about that part of your genealogy. Despite Haiti’s reputation for violence and unstable government, however, there are genealogical records available there that may be able to help you trace your lineage. There are also many online records and websites elsewhere that you can access to help you do your research. The first step, though, is to start with what your parents and other relatives can tell you.
Write down everything your family can tell you about your family history. Talk to parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents about their place of birth and birth date, and any information they remember about previous generations. If the family has letters with details of family history, or a family tree in an old Bible, record that information. too. If there are family stories about Haiti that have been handed down, include those, but distinguish between what’s been verified as fact and what’s only family tradition.
Contact the U.S. government. The National Archives holds many kinds of files useful for genealogy, such as military, immigration and naturalization records. The National Archives’ website doesn’t have much on line, but it does provide information on where to find and access specific records. You can also check out sites such as distantcousin.com, which can search for records of Haitians or Haitian surnames in the census, death records or the Social Security death index.
Contact the The Association de Généalogie d'Haiti. This organization uses members’ fees to archive Haitian records electronically, and members have the right to access the information the association has already gathered.
Visit Haiti. Mygenealogist.com says potential sources of information in Haiti include church parish records dating as far back as the 1600s; birth, death and marriage certificates; family histories; ship’s passenger lists; and immigration records. There are also two major centers of records, the Bibliotheque Nationale d’Haiti and the Centre de Documentation, both in Port au Prince.
Track down French resources. Haiti was controlled by France until the successful slave revolt of 1804, and you may be able to find additional records relating to your family in the National Archives of France or the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris. Mygenealogist.com says both of these, unlike the Haitian centers, can be contacted on line. Some of the Haitian records held by France have been microfilmed by the Mormon Church and are held in their extensive genealogical archives.
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A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.