Interview your elders
Depending on how close you are to your parent/elders, you may get some pushbacks.
A bit of finesse may be necessary at this stage, take the time to reconnect if you haven’t spoken to them in a long time. You may want to contact/visit them several times before asking any questions.
Slowly introduce the topic of Haitian genealogy because the older generation may not be familiar with it or even know it is a possibility.
When asking questions, be mindful of their reaction because this generation of elders, lived under a dictatorship where speaking on certain subjects may have compromised their lives or the lives of their loved ones. Therefore, approach the topic with caution.
When addressing an elder, set the stage for them to feel comfortable enough to share information. You want them to let their guard down and be open. You know them best, do what makes them happy. An example would be to compliment them on the great job they’ve done, being the matriarch or patriarch of the family.
Instead of asking all your questions in a row, take the time to acknowledge their answers. Engage, make it a conversation, rather than an interrogation. Praise them along the way.
You may be given information that does not align with current day practices. Though this information may not make sense, write it down anyway for future reference.
Know your tribe
While keeping in mind the previous guidelines, gather information.
Who knows info about the family.
Find out who is the eldest. If your family no longer lives in Haiti, try to interview the last person who left the county.
Take organized notes, make sure you keep track of who’s related to whom or adopted.
They may not make sense or be relevant. Write it down. Ask for complete real names (if possible).
Older generation Haitian have a “non jwet” a nickname/AKA which is different from their name on official papers, date of birth, date of baptism, the commune (borough) of birth.
Once given permission to record their story, test your equipment to make sure the quality is superior because you may not get a second chance.
There is always someone willing to provide information, think of Aunts, Uncles, neighbors, a family friend. Don’t overlook anyone.
If a subject is too sensitive, move on.
Be open minded
Back to the future
Be aware that of the socio-economics of their upbringing, the social status and where they grew up. It may be a totally different world from the current.
Allow your elders to tell their stories. These stories may be more valuable than you think. The story might not make sense now, but it can a few months down the line.
Some couples may have never legally married, which now places them as “placage/concubinage”. Therefore, you may not find a marriage certificate.
A child born out of wedlock, “Pitit deyò”, may be adopted into the relationship, hence the difference of last names between siblings.
Immersing yourself into the culture and what was deemed normal during those times will help you better understand their story.
Start your research
Let’s put in some work
Find out if a family member has already started a tree.
Start your tree using an online service or software (list of available software below)
Make use of Haitian genealogy websites and archives. You may find an actual signature of your 3x great-grandfather
Millions of Haitians do not have a birth certificate but may have been baptized, it can be helpful to look into parish archives.
Speak with longtime family friends, they may have more information than you think.
Be patient, It may take time to see results.
Websites, Tools & Archives
Family Tree Template
We receive around 50% of our DNA from each of our parent, whom receive 50% from theirs. By using a DNA test, it’s possible to connect with individuals doing the same research. This will help you tremendously. A DNA is not a magic bullet, research and some leg work are still necessary. It can also be very useful for an adopted person.