Jamaican educator, music producer searching for his ancestry
AULD ... I was looking at the whole question of the behaviour of us, as black people.

IT is unusual for Jamaicans to take on the challenge of searching for their ancestors still living in parts of Africa from which slaves were brought to parts of the United States and Latin America, after they were unloaded. It takes time and heavy demands to become committed to tracing an umbilical cord that still links the Africa continent with its huge Diaspora.

But Herwin Auld, a Jamaican educator, businessman, and music producer living in the United States, is determined to find the link between the current generation — who might have lost any contact since Emancipation while creating their own culture — and a growing black generation which prefers tracing their history back to the African continent.

Auld, a graduate of Vere Technical High School and local universities, travels mostly between Jamaica and the United States and sometimes the United Kingdom, so frequently. He seems obsessed with his African hysteria, and is determined to divulge as much as he can about those who have already passed on, as well as get more information from those who are willing to talk about their heritage, so that he can start writing his promised book about the Diaspora.

He told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week that he has been on the mission for quite a few years, trying to trace his "home" in Africa and its links with Jamaica. And, although he has made serious inroads into his past, he has realised that there is a lot more to find.

"I am still trying to bring all aspects of my family life together, and to get to know my family roots and understand them. So far I have done pretty well because I have found my great-great grandmother, who came directly from Sierre Leone. It was rumoured that she had something to do with Jones Town [in Jamaica] but eventually those lands fell into the hands of the Government or something like that," he said.

"However, I was able to bring all my lifelong treasures together one day in east rural St Andrew, recently, when all the people who were related to my family — about 200 in all — came together at a function I hosted in Somerset [St Andrew] to eat and drink and talk about our history," he stated.

Auld, who studied at both The University of the West Indies (The UWI) and University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech), as well as Touro College and Yeshiva University in New York, is currently an assistant professor at a US institution and has reunited with his mother after 33 years of separation, which lured him into becoming a trained investigator and research assistant in his efforts to search the past and collect whatever he finds critical to his search.

"What has influenced me is that I was looking at the whole question of the behaviour of us as black people, which appears to be very unique and different from everybody else's, you know. I am looking on how we treat things like our family, the importance of a family, the social and economic effect on these families and all that because I couldn't understand why my mother had deserted me for 33 years here in Jamaica.

"Then I realised that all these broken homes and the things which dominate where they came from had something to do with it. I look for answers for these people's behaviour, and I am at the point now where I thought I could have gone and done a PhD in sociology if I wanted [so as] to look at some of the things like personality disasters — and all that comes from just reading about it from a study that Fred Hickling did on personality disorder.

"When I consider self-esteem I wonder what contributed to all of that, and I am wondering also if the slavery experience, if it has contributed any at all to it. And so I decided to look from even within my own family, looking to see what had caused my mother and I to be separated for 33 years after my birth, what caused all these broken homes and so forth.

"So in doing that I said I wanted to see the family in total, if they have the same pattern. And while I was doing that I got into the whole genealogy of the family — looking into where they are, where they came from, etcetera — and it has led me now further into looking from the top. Then I became interested in where we came from as individuals: Where is my ancestry? Where did it get started?

"While doing this research I found out that my great-grandmother came directly from Sierre Leone. She used to raise hogs but my granduncle just passed it up; he wasn't interested in raising pigs. So, I decided that I was going to write a book, a private book for my family and all those people who are associated with my family's bloodline. I talk about the Johnson bloodline, for example, in the book, and when I came back home I decided I wanted to go to Sierra Leone to finish that book and that part that stems from the relationship with my mother," he explained.

Auld, recognising that his surname is Scottish, noted that the Scots also came to Jamaica as another wave of persons coming out of Europe, including the Williams and the Johnsons, as well as the newer ones like the Welchs and the Lindsays whom he has met.

"But, I still want to go on the ground to find the tangible people — be it grandparents or great-grand-children. I think that I can find them. There is a lot of challenges regarding that but, you know, I overcame most of it," he recalled.

Auld explained that the big challenge now is, after he has done the groundwork, meeting the tangible people to see what information he can gather, because he suspects he may have to go back to the British Library in London to explore some more issues around things like sugar plantations and their owners.

"That may be a challenge but I am doing the groundwork here. This is why I arranged the summit and brought all the people in my family that I had not yet met in the search, and brought them to the schoolroom in Somerton," he pointed out.

He said he recently met another man, Alvin Johnson, a 95-year-old living in Bull Bay, St Andrew, who gave him a lot of advice about his grandfather and his 19th century family history.

"A lot of them met me for the first time. I was able to show them how they were related, down the family tree, who they are related to. And I might have to do some more of that because the more I research is the more things snowball into other things — it keeps the book getting more and more interesting," he noted.

BY BALFORD HENRY Sunday Observer senior writer balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

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