Help and Frequently Asked Questions - St Helena Ancestors

Help and Frequently Asked Questions - St Helena Ancestors
Use of this database
IMPORTANT: This database allows members of our charity, the Society of Friends of St Helena, to research their family ancestry from the island. We are a non-profit organisation and the cost of developing the database was considerable. This cost can only be recovered in the very long term through our membership subscriptions and occasional donations. The Society therefore reserves the right to suspend an individual's membership where it becomes obvious that a member is running genealogical searches on behalf of non-members, for example through the social media.

Searching for Forenames
It is normally best to search with the default  Begins with setting. There are two reasons for this:

First, forenames were often abbreviated in the records and these have been accurately transcribed. For example, George might have been written as “Geo”, “Geo.” or just the initial G. Therefore, before searching for the full name of George it usually best to first search for just the first few letters of the forename, e.g. GEO. or just the letter G. Not only will this find every instance of George but also Georgina.

Second, the default  Begins with setting will also find ancestors with middle names. For example, a search for GEO will also find forenames such as George John or Georgina Ann. 

Only set forename searches to Exact Matches if you are certain there are no variations in the spelling and no middle names.

The two other forename options (Match Anywhere and Ends With) can be helpful if it is suspected the names have been inaccurately transcribed. This can easily happen if the original handwritten records were damaged or poorly written.

Searching for Surnames
Great caution is needed when searching surnames because these were often spelt phonetically or idiosyncratically. This was especially the case in the church records where, for example. the family name Crowie has six different spellings and Isaacs sixteen. Even if literate, few parishioners had an opportunity to correct errors in the church records. Local dialect has also caused confusion, e.g. people may have given their surname as Alexander or Young but this has been misheard and respectively entered as Allick/Ellick or Yon. All these surname variations have been accurately transcribed,  

Therefore, it is normally best to search with the default  Begins with setting and to start the search by only entering the first few letters. For example, to search for the Crowie family, enter just the first three letters CRO into the Surname box. It should be noted that at least three characters must be entered into the surname search box - an error message will show if only one or two characters are entered.

Only set surname searches to Exact Matches if you are certain there are no hyphenated names or variations in the spelling.

The two other surname options (Match Anywhere and Ends With) can be helpful if it is suspected the names have been inaccurately transcribed. This can easily happen if the original handwritten records were damaged or poorly written.

A useful technique is to search for surnames in full and then see the effect of removing letters from the end of the names.

In the case of marriages and marriage banns, a search for a surname will find records whether it is EITHER the bride's OR the bridegroom's surname (likewise their forenames, although it is usually obvious whether these are female or male).

In the case of baptisms, a search for a surname will find records whether it is EITHER the mother's OR the father's surname (likewise, there are three possibilities for forenames - the baptisee, the mother or the father).

Search for Years
When running a search it is usually advisable to initially leave the year boxes blank. A few records come without a year and so will not be found if either the Start or the End years are specified. Likewise, some records such as the Master Baptist Members Rolls quote a range of years such as 1845-1859, and these also will not be found if Start or End years are specified. For this reason, it is suggested the first search for a name is run for all years and then rerun with a Start or an End-year if a search has resulted in an excessively large number of "hits".

If only the Start Year is specified, searches are limited to the period after that date. Likewise, if only the End Year is entered searches are limited to the period before that.

We have applied a 100-year rule to most of our data, with additional century-old data being released on the first day of each New Year. The exceptions are Burials, Monument Inscriptions, Clerics, Governors and Baptist Master Member Rolls where all the data is being made available.

The earliest records are dated 1502 so no records will be found before that year. Likewise, it is not possible to run searches beyond the current year.

How to correct transcription errors
Errors inevitably exist in the data, partly because of the difficulty of transcribing damaged or badly damaged records and also due to simple typo mistakes.

Please direct all comments and corrections to Dr Chris Hillman (Contact Here) providing precise details of any errors and state in which of the 24-plus data tables where they occur. Queries stating the Table Name and the “Serial Number” of the record in question make it easier to locate and correct the record. 

Can data be removed because of privacy issues?
We have applied a 100-year rule to the release of most of its genealogical data, with additional century-old data being released on the first day of each New Year. The exceptions are Burials, Monument Inscriptions, Clerics, Governors and Baptist Members Rolls where all the data has been made available.

We believe this rule ensures no privacy issues exist in our genealogical data. However, where users believe the confidentiality of private information has indeed been breached, they should email Dr Chris Hillman (CONTACT HERE) providing full details of their concerns. A judgement will then be made whether specific data should be hidden or entirely removed.

How to save the data
The detailed forms can be printed off to hard copy or printed to a PDF file. To avoid repetitively printing off the background description at the end of each form, it is recommended that a webpage screenshot utility such as Fireshot is used to save sections or entire pages to PDF or image files.

Why can't I see the full results?
All visitors to the Friends of St Helena website can run searches for their St Helenian ancestors. Full details of each ancestor can then be seen by clicking onto the data table hyperlink. However, to see these details, users must first log in to the website as members of the Society of Friends of St Helena. Here is a link that explains how to join the Society for a nominal fee. Here is another link that explains the several additional benefits of joining the Society.

The summary of results shows full names (forenames and surnames) of St Helenian ancestors, the year(s) when their names were recorded and the data tables in which they were found. This information is usually sufficient for non-members to determine whether further information is available on St Helenian ancestors. A considerable amount of additional information is normally available from the 24 data tables. For example, in the case of Baptisms, researchers will normally find:

The date of birth.
The date of baptism.
The mother's name - this is separately indexed.
The father's name - this is separately indexed.
The father's occupation.
The names of sponsors.
Which church.
The clergyman's identity.
Where the original record can be seen - a URL of the original records and the page location. 

What data is available?
At present, the information is based on 26 sets of data with 62,265 lines of data. Most baptism data lines have three indexed names (usually a child, mother and father) while marriage and marriage banns all have two (bride and groom). In addition, many church records have the names of witnesses, sponsors or godparents, none being indexed.
No of Records (lines) in the database May 2021
01 Baptisms & Dedications 25,320
02 Marriages 4,915
03 Marriage Banns 709
04 Burials 14,017
05 Gravestones & Memorials 2,281
06 St Helena Regiment 3,013
07 HEIC & Crown Staff 1,626
08 Clerics & Bishops 241
09 Governors 102
10 Passengers 1,035
11 Early Settlers 315
12 Funeral Bier Signatories 24
13 St Helena Census 303
14 Principal House Occupants 76
15 Who's Who 589
16 French Presence 76
17 Inhabitants 341
18 Slaves 1,602
19 USA Census 114
20 UK Census 1,556
21 Gosse 435
22 Janisch 621
23 Royle 432
24 Freemasons 256
25 Baptist Members 772
26 1678 Council Minutes 1,548
  Total 62,265

Who transcribed these records?
Most of the records were transcribed by Dr Chris and Sheila Hillman. The exceptions to this are:

Colin Fox transcribed the names of over 3,000 men who served in the St Helena Regiment in 1819 and/or 1827; over 300 inhabitants listed in the 1827 East India Company Register & Directory; over 3,000 slave names listed in the 1827 Valuation list and the 1836 Emancipation Loans list.

Christine Adams transcribed the names of over 300 householders listed in the 1814 census data.

Details of over 2,000 gravestones and memorials were transcribed in the 1970s through a school project conducted by the then Education Officer Basil George.

Father David Musgrave transcribed the Roman Catholic records in 2020 as a Word-format document.

What is the source of the Anglican Church records?
The Anglican Church Register records date from 1680 and were transcribed from the scans of the original documents available on the Church of the Province of South Africa records archived at the University of Witwatersrand Library (CPSA Diocese of St Helena Registers 1680-1986).
The original Registers held at St Helena are in a parlous state, with old-style handwriting, and have been subjected to centuries of indifferent care, being affected by rain, dust, insect damage and mould making some parts illegible. It is also evident that some volumes may have been missing at the time they were scanned (the 1980s). Until 1830 all Anglican church events were conducted and recorded at St James’ Church in Lower Jamestown. After that date, additional churches were built and came into use, with their own registers at St John’s in Upper Jamestown, St Matthew’s at Hutt’s Gate, and St Paul’s Cathedral near Plantation. More recently other churches were built – St Helena and the Cross at Bluehill, St Mark’s at Longwood, St Martin in the Hills at Thompson’s Hill, St Peter’s at Sandy Bay and St Andrew’s at Half Tree Hollow – but it would seem their events were recorded in the main three church registers listed. There are also some “Garrison Chapel” records that seem to largely duplicate those from St James, being for families of the HEIC military. 

The time periods for registers at the different Anglican Island churches are as follows:
  St James St Paul's St John's St Matthew's Garrison
Baptism 1680-1938 1830-1943 1862-1947 1862-1957 1859-1905
Marriage 1681-1939 1830-1943 1881-1939 1862-1974 1859-1899
Marriage Banns 1849-1924 None None None None
Burials 1767-1888 1830-1954 None 1927-1988 1868-1905

What is the source of the Roman Catholic Records? 
Father David Musgrave transcribed records available to him from church sources and in 2020 provided these as Word format text files. These were then transcribed into format suitable for the Ancestors Database.

What is the source of the Baptist records? 
Scans of two Baptist Church Record Books were made available by the church and transcribed. These cover the period 1847-2005. They are a record not only of dedication, baptism, marriage and burial events but also of church meetings, celebrations and other material relevant to the church. It is believed additional records may be available at the St Helena Government Archives. The original scans were made available by Rev Graeme Bennett, with further assistance from Rebecca Cairns-Wicks and Tracey Williams. 

What is the difference between Baptist dedications and baptisms? 
A new-born child of Baptist parents is recognised by being dedicated to the Church but is not considered a full member until they have been baptised. This event takes place through full immersion in water in adulthood (late teenagers onwards) when the person can make the decision for themselves to join the church and live by the church’s beliefs. Whilst parents may dedicate their child, that child when grown-up may not elect to be Baptised. Similarly, non-Baptist adults who wish to join the church may never have been dedicated prior to being Baptised. St Helena’s records are unusual because they show that less than half a dozen infants who were dedicated went on to be baptised as adults.

What are the Baptist Member Rolls?
The Baptist Church maintained a series of members’ Rolls. These comprised a complete list of baptised members of the church in that year and their attendance at services, along with notes on their decease, marriage, expulsion or emigration from the island. 

Rolls were not kept in the absence of Baptist clergymen from St Helena, so there are many gaps. Rolls data is available for the years 1845, 1848-52, 1855-56, 1859, 1866-71, 1885 and 1889-1892. Although the records are fragmentary, they can supply valuable information about the presence of individuals on the island over time, their place of residence, to an extent their related family (spouse and children) and their departure from the island.

Where will I find information about the Boer Prisoners?
Boer prisoners were kept at St Helena between the years 1900-1902. A number of prisoners died during this period and were buried at Knollcombes cemetery. Their names are included in both the Burial and in the Gravestones & Memorials records. Searches should be made for prisoner names ((surnames and/or forenames), if necessary restricted to the start year 1900 and end year 1902. Unsurprisingly, no Boer prisoners are recorded as marrying or as having children baptised. 

What are the ethnic origins of modern St Helenians?
The first people to land at St Helena, to the best of our knowledge, were a few Portuguese mariners in 1502. Since that time people from very varied origins have landed, lived, bred and died on the island to produce today’s very cosmopolitan population. These include “Honourable East India Company” (HEIC) officials until 1836 when the British Government (Crown) took over governance following legislation two years earlier. HEIC encouraged settlers from England to farm and work the land, as well as bringing in slaves from Madagascar, the West Coast of Africa, and from their holdings in the Far East – such as Indian stations, Bencoolen and others. Over time these were augmented, especially by men serving in the St Helena Regiments and passing seamen in their hundreds – who, however, while they may not have settled, certainly contributed to the gene pool. Other itinerants were the whalers from New England and England, and merchant ships from the Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal, USA and Scandinavian countries. A large number of Chinese indentured labourers were brought in to work the land as slavery was abolished. Large numbers of freed slaves – the “Liberated Africans” – were brought to the island by the British Navy West Africa Squadron – who then lived on the Island for periods before being moved again, and a few of whom settled and integrated. 

All these made their contributions to the present-day makeup of the Island population. The late 1800s saw an economic downturn of the Island’s economy due to the change from HEIC to Crown governance, the emancipation of slaves, and the reduction in visiting shipping as the Suez Canal came into use and sail gave way to steam-powered ships. This led to a massive emigration of “Saints” who left the Island and settled elsewhere – particularly in South Africa and the UK.

Where are the Churches, Graveyards and other sites located at St Helena?

The following map shows the location of churches (colour-coded Red text with Green spots) and graveyards (colour-coded Black text and spots) in the map below. 

Please click into this location map for a higher definition image (map created by Dr Chris Hillman)

More than half of St Helena's churches do not have an associated graveyard: 
St James (graveyard covered over, inside memorials)
St John’s (gravestones stacked against the outside wall, inside memorials)
St Michael’s, Rupert’s Valley (gravestones from St James stacked outside)
St Marks’, Longwood (no graves)
St Matthew’s, Hutts Gate (graves around the church)
St Helena & the Cross, Blue Hill (graves around the church)
St Mary’s, Briars (no graves)
Baptist Chapel, Sandy Bay (no graves)
St Peter’s, Sandy Bay (no graves)
St Paul’s Cathedral (inside memorials, extensive graveyards)
Baptists Chapel, Knollcombes (graves around the church)
St Andrew’s, Half Tree Hollow (no graves)
St Martin in the Hills (no graves)
Roman Catholic Church, Jamestown (no graves)
Baptist Church, Jamestown (few outside memorials)
Salvation Army Hall, Deadwood (no graves)
Salvation Army Hall, Half Tree Hollow (no graves)
Salvation Army Hall, Jamestown (no graves)

A number of graveyards have no associated church:
Middle Burial Ground, Jamestown (no longer visible)
The Dungeon (current burial ground for everyone)
Plantation (2 Butcher’s Graves)
Knollcombes, Boer POW graves
Teutonic Hall (one grave, location lost)
Halley’s Mount graveyard

Which years are missing from the Anglican, Catholic & Baptist Church records?
Anglican Church: There are a number of gaps in the records. Perhaps the most significant is the early 1680-1767 St James burial records.
Church Records Years Missing
St James, Established 1659 Burials 1680-1767
St Paul's, Established 1822 Baptisms 1848
  Marriages 1845-1846, 1855, 1868-1869, 1942
  Burials 1855
St Matthews's, Established 1862 Baptisms 1939-1940
  Burials 1862-1927
St John's, Established 1862 Marriages 1862-1881
  Burials 1862 onward

Catholic Church: Like the Baptist records, apparent gaps in the series of records probably indicate the absence of a priest on the island rather than missing records. Roman Catholic congregations were also relatively small, so years with no baptism, marriage or burial may simply reflect a lack of candidates. 

The Catholic data has gaps with no data in the years 1881, 1884-5, 1889, 1899, 1910-11, and from 1914 onwards up to 1920.

Baptist Church: Like the Catholic Church, apparent gaps in the series of records probably indicate the absence of a pastor on the island rather than missing records. Baptist congregations were also relatively small, so years with no baptism, marriage or burial may simply reflect a lack of candidates.
The data has currently been gleaned from the two Baptist Church Record Books, which may be less complete than lists archived with the St Helena Government Archives section. Years with no data in the Record Books collated here included 1863-1865, 1879-1880, 1886, 1914-1916, being inclusive in each case. 

British Library Online Searches
The British Library has for some years provided an online service that allows a search to be made of 300,000 births, baptisms, marriages, deaths and burials in the India Office Records. This includes records from the East India Company (1600-1858). Most of the records relate to India, China and other territories such as Iraq, Kuwait, Malacca and even the UK. In other words, St Helena's Anglican church records from the EIC period form only a small part of the total database. The information mainly relates to baptisms, marriages and burials 1767-1835 plus Anglican baptisms and deaths, 1737, 1747-1766. It also includes records of the St Helena civil and military establishment 1780-1794 and wills and inventories 1820-1826. It does not include Catholic or Baptist records for St Helena.

Log onto the British Library Advanced Search webpage and search for the ancestor. Always set the Area to "Other". This includes St Helena and forces the exclusion of territories such as Bombay, Bengal and Madras.

More general genealogical information held by the India Office Library is provided by on their India Office Records and Private Papers: family history page
LDS Family History Searches
The Church of the Latter-Day Saints operates Family History Centres where microfilms relating to St Helena can be viewed. The LDS are in the process of digitising all their films so that records can be searched online. As a result, a number of the smaller Family History Centres have been closed. This switch in priority has led to some deterioration in both the quality of microfilms and viewers. The digitising of St Helena records seems to have been given low priority, few of which are yet been seen online. A number of LDS links have been found not to provide information directly, but instead taking users to general sources such as the Witwatersrand University or the India Office websites.

The full set of LDS films were collected several years ago by Christine Adams. From a genealogical viewpoint, the most important are:

Anglican Church Records (not Catholic or Baptist)
Index: Film #0498603 item 2. Records: Film #0498605.
This is a copy of the British Library India Office records. Baptisms, Marriages and Burial, 1767-1835.

Civil Registrations, 1852-1936
Films #1259104-1259106.
These are copies of the original records at the Archives office, Jamestown. It includes separate indexes for marriages and deaths.

Registers of Wills, 1682-1839
Film #1259107, item 4-6: Will registers 1682-1745, 1746-1793 and 1788-1815.
Film #1259108, item 1-2: Will registers 1815-1821, 1821-1839.
These are copies of wills Microfilms of the originals at the Archives Office, Jamestown. 

St Helena Muster and Pension Rolls, 1789-1859
Films #2029841-2029846 and 2029863, partially indexed. 
These are copies of the British Library India Office military records L/MIL/13/1-15 with records of East India Company troops and (after 1836) regular British troops. The data normally provides names, ranks, company, regiment, date of arrival, date of discharge and sundry other information. 

Council Consultations to 1836
Films #1259066-1259098; 1259102, 1259103, and 1259113-1259121, 45 reels in total, partially indexed
These are copies of records at the Archives office, Jamestown. Includes early records of court sessions, passenger lists, and census lists. Later consultations include muster rolls, court-martials, account statements, tax lists, leases, correspondence, wills, proclamations, etc. The consultations are divided by subject after 1824.

Passengers Proceeding to England, 1807-1812
Film #1259112, item 2.
These are copies of records at the Archives office, Jamestown.

Register of Leases, 1682-1855
Films #1259108, item 3-6 and #1259110, items 1-5.
These are copies of records at the Archives office, Jamestown and include leases, free grants, a survey of farmlands, and an index to the register of leases for 1809.

Land and Property Records. Deed Books, 1729-1849
Films #1259110 item 6-7, 1259111 and 1259112, item 1, individually indexed
These are copies of records at the Archives office, Jamestown and include deeds, bills of sale, mortgage bonds, leases, indentures, permission to marry, powers of attorney, letters of emancipation, affidavits, guardianships, etc.

Inventories of Estates of Deceased Persons, 1744-1760
Film #1259112, item 3, indexed.
These are copies of records at the Archives office, Jamestown.

Are Wildcards Allowed in Searches?
Wildcard searches are not allowed. Such searches normally take the form of prefix txt with an asterisk placed at the end of a name. For example, a search for the surname John* in the hope of finding surnames Johns, Johnson, Johnstone, etc. will not work. This is because searches are already defaulted to locate names that begin with whatever text characters entered into either the forename or surname boxes.