I’m West Indian?: Finding My Roots in St. Kitts

As a freckle-faced California girl with roots in Texas and Louisiana, I assumed those states were the extent of my family’s lineage. I’d never tried to trace where we originated in Africa before slavery, but I was given an unexpected surprise last year. Following a family reunion on my grandfather’s side, my mother sent me a new family tree that included a great great grandfather who was from the West Indies. Word? All of these years I’ve attended Brooklyn’s West Indian Day Parade, and I could’ve been waving a flag for St. Kitts or St. Croix? Boo.

Lucky for me earlier this summer, I headed to the island of my ancestors to investigate our family history for myself thanks to the St. Kitts Marriott Resort and Beach Casino. The airy resort, complete with ample coastline, poolside restaurants and plenty of activities, provided the best amenity of all, a personal history tour of the country by Marriott Public Relations Director Lavern Stevens. She even told me scary stories, and suffice to say, I’m not walking through Independence Square in the capital city of Basseterre alone or at night. Ever.

In Downtown Basseterre thanks to Lavern’s connections, we walked right into Government Headquarters and the country’s official records office to track down my great great grandfather, Smith Wilkerson and his lineage. The family history I had asserted that his Wilkerson clan were most likely from St. Kitts or St. Croix and Lavern asked if we were related to the wealthy local family, the Wilkinsons. I had no idea, but as we dug through the records with Victoria O’Flaherty, director of the St. Kitts National Archives, and her excitable assistant, I discovered that I might be. Census records from the 1800s are pretty spotty, especially because many people couldn’t read or write so the spellings of names fluxtuated over time. One might begin as a Wilkerson, but become a Wilkinson because, you know, who needs an “e” or an “r.” In this case,

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