Reading time: around 3 minutes.
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Not long ago, I contacted the association Symbole de l’amitié about the database of Beninese deportees in slavery. This is how I found myself exchanging with Yannick Corcessin on something else, namely the recently published book in French that he co-wrote with Bernard Dossa Une lecture du registre matricule des esclaves par la tradition ancestrale africaine… If like me your genealogy involves ancestors in Martinique, you will be delighted! The two authors took Le Carbet, Le Morne Vert and Fonds Saint-Denis as their field of study! Today, I speack in a few lines about the book I read this weekend.
Reconstructing a Genealogy Involving Slaves in the Caribbean
The methods for reconstructing one’s genealogy from parish and civil status registers are well known to all genealogists; there are many guides to accompany the neophyte, including a guide to genealogical research in Martinique.
But in the Caribbean, in societies where some 80% of the population were slaves at the beginning of the 19th century, we are quickly confronted with difficulties when it comes to reconstructing the path of a non-free ancestor. What can be done when the archives documents usually used for free people have no equivalent or have not been preserved for enslaved people? It is not always easy to reconstruct the history of these ancestors coming from the slave trade and slavery in the former French colonies.
This is where the book can help you find ways to progress, especially for the 19th century. Yannick Corcessin and Bernard Dossa were interested in the possibilities of reconstructing the history of the enslaved ancestors by crossing data from different archives. Among them, first and foremost, are the individuality registers that recorded the family names taken by the new citizens after the general liberation in 1848. The authors show what can be achieved by data collection of documents containing nominal lists. From the linkage of data, they reveal how they were able to connect families to an plantation, how they reconstructed slave workshops from the slaves numbers. In particular, they develop the history of the slaves of the Mascré coffee estate and also that of the slaves of the Cambeilh sugar estate. This will provide ideas for future research. A table, which takes much of the book, is dedicated to recording the list of people found, and to the information obtained from Le Carbet registers with the differents archives. But I must say that if I found this part interesting, both for the historian and the genealogist, it was the next one that I had a crush.
Reconnect With the Yardstick of African Ancestral Tradition
Reinterpreting the situation from the African slave, who was deported to the Caribbean, was a singular reading experience for me; because, like others, I guess, I encountered in my genealogical research my inability to make a bridge between here and Africa, just as I could not make a bridge for my « engaged » [engagé] ancestors who came from India after the abolition of slavery.
The authors try to offer the perspective of the African who has been uprooted, traumatized and deported from his land. How did he see his arrival on the property after several months of travelling in deplorable conditions? How does he adapt to the plantation world? How does he rebuild a life, a family, a home group… and with which markers? What could he have transmitted from him, from his cultural and religious universe of origin? I really appreciated reading these lines showing that even tiny bits of this baggage, which we are often unable to understand here, appear in the archives and have been transmitted to this day. I also appreciated the sharing of this patriarch’s account, which shows that the memory of the history of these forced migrants is also carried to the other side of the ocean.
In short, there is no doubt about it, it is a beautiful reading to assist your research during the holidays. In fact, the book reminded me of Franck Salin’s film Citoyens bois d’ébène, released in 2016, which relates the journey undertaken by Emmanuel Gordien of the CM98 association, who took him to Benin to retrace the story of his ancestors who were enslaved in Guadeloupe. And you, have you been able to make this link with the different territories from which your ancestors come?
Corcessin Yannick, Dossa Bernard, Une lecture du registre matricule des esclaves par la tradition ancestrale africaine: Le Carbet, Le Morne Vert, Le Fonds Saint-Denis (Martinique), 2019.
The book is available in French only on Amazon to the best of my knowledge at the moment and is available in paperback or digital format.