Jamaican Family Search Genealogy Research Library


excerpt from Volume I, 1909


It will, I think, be easier in dealing with the above to divide this short article into four sections, the first dealing with the Records of Deeds and Patents, the second with the Records of the Court of Ordinary, the third with Baptisms, Deaths, and Marriages, and the last with the Court Records (Chancery, Common Law, and Admiralty).


The Statute, 33 Charles II, Chapter 12, inter alia provided that all Deeds should be recorded in the Office of Enrolments, the Chief Officer of which was the Island Secretary, within three months, and Patents within six months of their execution. This law also provided that the office should be situate in the town of St. Jago de la Vega, now known as Spanish Town. In the year 1712 the Legislature of the Island, finding that the Public Records had received great damage by length of time, frequent searches, and " the late violent hurricane," passed a law providing for the books to be rebound and retranscribed where necessary, and for a proper index to be kept. In less, however, than thirty years the Legislature had to again come to the assistance of the Records, as in the year 1738 I find another Act was passed which, after reciting that many of the Public Records were damaged by the " late violent hurricane and the length of time," were very much decayed, by which the inhabitants of the Island were endangered of their properties, provided that an inventory of the Public Record Books should be made and kept, and handed over by each retiring Secretary to his successor.

In 1879 the office of Island Secretary was abolished, and a new office established called "The Island Record Office," the Chief Justice of the Island being by virtue of his office "The Keeper of the Records," under him being a deputy and capable staff. Here are all the records of Conveyances, Mortgages, Bills of Sales, Powers of Attorney, and Patents, all of which are in good condition, have full indices, and are carefully kept in the office in Spanish Town in a large fireproof room.

The following, so far as I know, were the Island Secretaries of Jamaica:

Richard Povey 1660

Thomas Freeman 1664

Lieut.Colonel Robert Freeman 1671

Rowland Powell 1678

Joseph Maxwell 1727

John Anthony Balaguiere 1764

John Archer 1768

Richard Lewing 1770

John Prichard 1777

Thomas Mure 1784

William Dunlop 1785

James Jones 1793

George Atkinson 1794

Matthew Atkinson 1799

Hugh Cathcart 1806

William Cathcart 1807

Robert Robertson 1808

Edward H. Adams 1813

George Clayton 1816

William Bullock 1818

Walter George Stewart 1832

Edward Jordon 1863

William Thomas March 1869

Charles Hamilton Jackson 1872

*From Additions and Corrections, "James Daniell as Secretary of Jamaica signed deeds in January 1718 sent to South Carolina. (Letter from Miss M. L. Webber, Secretary to the South Carolina Historical Society)."


The Governor of the Island, until the passing of the Judicature Law in 1879, was the person to whom application was made for the probate of wills or a grant of administration. In that year also the Records of this Court, which commence shortly after the occupation of the Island by the English, and are in good order, were transferred to and are kept in the Island Record Office. The Inventories of the Estate of the persons on which Probate or Administration were granted are also preserved.

Since 1879, when the Court of Ordinary was abolished and the Supreme Court of the Colony given the jurisdiction and powers which belonged to the former Court, the records of probates and administrations (since 1879) are kept in the office of the Registrar of the Supreme. Court.


The following table shews the dates when the records of the above first commenced to be kept by the Rectors of the various Parishes. These records wore in 1890 removed from the various churches where they had been previously kept and placed under the custody of the Registrar-General, who was appointed in 1877 on the passing of a law for the proper registration of births and deaths. This officer is also the Deputy-Keeper of the records already referred to, and his office and the records under his care are kept in the same building in Spanish Town used as the Island Record Office. Under this registration law provision is made for the proper registration by various district registars of all births and deaths; there is also a similar enactment providing for the proper registration of marriages.


Parish. ...Year when Baptisms commenced. Year when Marriages commenced. Year when Burials commenced.

Kingston ..................1722 ... 1721 ... 1722

Port Royal .............. 1728 ... 1727 ... 1725

St. Andrew ............. 1664 ... 1668 ... 1666

St. Thomas ye East .. 1709 ... 1721 ... 1708

St. David ................ 1794 .... 1794 ... 1794

Portland .................. 1804 .... 1804 ... 1808

St. George ............... 1806 ... 1807 ... 1811.

St. Mary .................. 1752 ... 1755 ... 1767

Clarendon ..................1690 .... 1695 ... 1769

St. Ann .....................1768 ... 1768 ... 1768

Manchester ................1816 ... 1827 ... 1817

St. Catherine ............. 1668 ... 1668 ... 1671

St. John ..................... 1751 .... 1751 ... 1751

St. Dorothy ................ 1693 .... 1725 ... 1706

St. Thomas ye Vale ... 1816 ... 1816 ... 1836

Metcalfe ................... 1843 ... 1843 ... 1843

Westmoreland ........... 1740 ... 1740 ... 1741

St. Elizabeth .............. 1708 ... 1719 ... 1729

St. James .................. 1770 ... 1772 ... 1774

Vere .......................... 1696 .... 1743 ... 1733

Hanover ................... 1725 ... . 1754 ... 1727


Unfortunately I cannot say that the same care which has been taken of our other records has been extended to these. Up to the time of the disastrous earthquake of the 14th of January 1907 they were kept in the office of the Supreme Court in Kingston, on shelves provided for that purpose, and in the vault of the Post Office, a neighbouring building. After the destruction of the Court House by the earthquake the records there were removed without any special care to the temporary Court House, and deposited in huge stacks upon a brickfloor building, without any regard to the divisions of the Court to which they belonged; thus they remained in chaos for about two years, the dust that had collected on them in that length of time in no way improving their condition, most of the volumes being without covers, backs, or indices, many pages missing, others so motheaten or covered with damp and mildew that it is impossible to decipher them. Of these records the most important are those of the Court of Chancery, as much valuable genealogical information is obtainable from them. I have done some little work in this connection, but unfortunately I lost a great many of my notes in the fire which helped to destroy Kingston after the earthquake. Amongst my late searches there I found an old register containing instructions to some of the old Governors, a survey of the Island with a list of the inhabitants in 1670, the register of the Captains of the Train Bands, Reports of the Governors, a list of some of the ships arriving at Port Royal Harbour, and other interesting matter, all dealing with years prior to 1692, a few of which articles I carefully copied out and put the volume aside for future work in my spare time, but unfortunately at this juncture the Government had provided a series of shelves for the records, and employed ordinary day labourers for the task of placing the volumes thereon, with the result that this particular volume has been stacked away somewhere amongst the other volumes, and I have not yet been able to find it. The records in the vault of the post office are still there, but I am unable to say anything with regard to them, as they are so far an unexplored region save only to the spiders, scorpions, and other vermin which must have made their home amongst them.

NOEL B. LIVINGSTON. Kingston, Jamaica.

For contemporary information on the location of the Island Records Office, and other places in which to do research, please go to Research places

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