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Jamaica: Local History & Genealogy Resource Guide

Compiled by reference specialists at the Library of Congress, this guide identifies key print and online resources for pursuing family history, as well as parish and regional historical research, for the country of Jamaica.


The 3rd largest island in the Caribbean Sea located within the Greater Antilles was originally inhabited by the indigenous Arawakan Taino peoples. Following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494, the Spanish settled on the island and established the Colony of Santiago. During the 16th century, the Taino were decimated by European and Asian diseases brought by the Spanish settlers, enslavement, and removal to other Spanish colonies. The survivors escaped into the interior mountainous regions and established a community with runaway African slaves forming the Maroons.

Map of the island of Jamaica
Colin Liddell. Map of the Island of Jamaica 1893. Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

In 1655, the English under the command of Admiral William Penn and General Robert Venables invaded the island and colonized it for England after failing to conquer Santo Domingo in Hispaniola. The English established civil administration on the island in 1661, and indentured servants and political prisoners from the British Isles were shipped to the island. Over 1 million enslaved Africans were purchased during the transatlantic slave trade and transported to Jamaica from the 17th century to 1807. Many died during the voyage and on the plantations and livestock pens in the island. British Parliament abolished slavery on August 1, 1834 and full emancipation was granted on August 1, 1838 after the apprenticeship period. After the abolition of slavery, new waves of indentured servants and immigrants came to Jamaica from the Indian Subcontinent, China, the British Isles, West Africa, Germany, Portugal, and Greater Syria seeking opportunity. In 1962, Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and joined the Commonwealth of Nations.

There are 14 parishes in Jamaica, which are the island's administrative units. They are Clarendon, Hanover, Kingston, Manchester, Portland, Saint Andrew, Saint Ann, Saint Catherine, Saint Elizabeth, Saint James, Saint Mary, Saint Thomas, Trelawny, and Westmoreland.

These are divided into 3 counties: Cornwall, Middlesex, and Surrey.

The number and existence of the parishes in Jamaica changed over the period of English later British colonization until it was permanently fixed in 1866. Prior to 1866, the following parishes existed: Metcalfe, Port Royal, Saint David, Saint Dorothy, Saint George, Saint John, Saint Thomas in the Vale, and Vere.

This guide offers a selection of resources and strategies for Jamaica local history and genealogy research. These include the print and digital collections of the Library of Congress, as well as external repositories and web sites key to finding forebears in the island nation.

About Local History & Genealogy Reference Services

The Library of Congress has one of the world's premier collections of U.S. and foreign genealogical and local historical publications, numbering more than 50,000 compiled family histories and over 100,000 U.S. local histories. The Library's genealogy collection began as early as 1815 with the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's library.