History buff peers into Cayman past

Christopher Samuels researches a back copy of a 1976 Northwester Magazine in the Compass Media archives. – Photo: Jewel Levy

When Christopher Samuels listened to his mother talk about Cayman’s simpler way of life, he never suspected that years later he would be digging into Cayman’s past.

The 46‑year-old retired police officer opened his own Legacy Records Retrieval Services after conducting extensive research into his own family genealogy, and figures others can benefit from his services.

“Researching history is fun, challenging and tedious at times, but I like it and don’t really see it as work,” he said.

For Samuels, that could mean spending endless hours searching through archive documents, listening to his mother Maria, now 85, tell stories of the past, rummaging through someone’s old house or quietly researching his own family tree. Like many people, he wants to find out more about where his family came from, especially after his mother painted such a colourful picture of Cayman’s history over the years.

Samuels grew up on School House Lane in George Town but moved to Bodden Town in recent years. He attended George Town Primary and went on to middle school in Jamaica. He spent his earlier years enjoying adventures in the bushes searching for wild fruits with friends in the Rock Hole area.

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“My mother would always speak of things concerning the past, whether it was pertaining to family, friends or people in the community. She would always talk interesting stories, rumours, gossip, or fun tales of the lives of everyday people years ago. I basically grew up in that setting where that was regularly done,” he said.

What motivated Samuels to begin researching was a newspaper article about people in Cornwall looking for a long-lost relative. Still, he did not turn his attention to seriously finding out about Cayman’s past until he retired from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service in 2014 after serving more than 20 years.

His first objective was finding out more about ancestors from his mother’s side of the family, which took him to the Cayman Islands National Archives.

“I wanted to know where her family came from and who they were. Strangely enough, the first piece of document I located was pertaining to a property sale and deed gift in 1912 in which my mother’s grandfather, Michael Gracely Thompson, got a piece of property from his grandmother,” he said.

He found a will where his mother’s great-grandfather James Panton Thompson willed different pieces of property to his children and grandchildren in 1933.

He found his great-great grandfather’s marriage certificate, which was issued in 1886, as well as  birth certificates of some of his great-great grandfather’s children.

Samuels learned from his mother that Thompson had a shop in George Town before she was born, and at some point, sold it to other Caymanians.

Samuels has spent seven years interviewing family members and searching for any ties to other ancestors.

“I realise there are people out there like me who would like to get access to information about their ancestors but really don’t have the time to do so,” he said. “That’s where I come in.”
He said all the old documents he has found are important, but if he had to pinpoint a particular one, it would be the one which listed another great-great grandfather, Joseph McGuire Byrd Sr., as being drafted for World War 1 between 1917‑1918.

Samuels’ search also turned up a document with the names of 25 local seamen, including Byrd, who had volunteered in the war efforts. When they were coming home, the Cayman Islands Commissioner’s Office published a public notice showing when they were due to arrive in Grand Cayman.

Samuels has copies of other rare documents and photographs in his collection.

His binders also hold information and birth certificates for his great-great grandfather’s children and grandchildren and other prominent members of Cayman’s society.

Since opening his company, Samuels has promoted the business through word-of-mouth.

“The documents are just my personal information but at some point, if something happens, I would turn over my findings to the National Archives,” he said.

Samuels can be reached at 327‑1223 or [email protected]

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