The frustration resulting from having different names on a birth certificate and on a baptismal certificate has been experienced by countless Saint Lucians. It often requires a Notary Royal to resolve the problem. Last Christmas I was reminded that names matter more to some folks, and that I am one of many who has had to resort to a Notary Royal – one Julian Charles (deceased) who worked in the law firm of Gordon and Company.
A Notary Royal was considered par for the course at the time for those with incorrect spellings of their name or who merely wanted their name changed. I had always known that my father was born out of wedlock and that, according to custom and the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, he should have carried his mother’s surname. That surname was Beausoliel! The issue of which family surname I should carry was settled when my father married my mother. I was to be Peter Beausoliel and not Peter Alphonse, my mom’s family name. Instead, my father gave me Josie which, for some unexplained reason (adoption, maybe), he carried from Joseph Josie, his father.
At no time was I made aware of any family name other than Josie. However, when the time came to procure my first passport (early ‘60s) I was informed that Beausoliel should have been my surname. Of course I was most surprised. It didn’t take much thinking before I decided that I should keep the family name by which my father and I were known. So I resorted to a Notary Royal and renounced the newly discovered Beausoliel, which I had never used, and legally and formally adopted the surname Josie by which I was known to family, friends and schoolmates.
Last Christmas I recalled all of the above to Raymond ‘Clib’ Charles, a younger brother of former Chief Minister of Saint Lucia, George F. L. Charles. Clib lives in New York, USA. I have known him a very long time. My admiration grew when he joined the West Indies regiment in Jamaica at the formation of the West Indies Federation of the English-speaking Caribbean, in the mid-60s. Some of this island’s brightest and best young men, including a close family friend and fellow Vieux Fortian, Peter Leonce, aka Jusemay George (recently deceased), also left to join the West Indies regiment in Jamaica.
My conversation with Clib took an unpredictable twist when he mildly upbraided me for not sharing what he described as my long-held secret of a close family connection to the Beausoliels. I was surprised by the turn of the discussion and the reproach. I was even more surprised that Clib himself was connected to the Beausoliels.
He explained that his connection was through his father, James Charles, whose mother was a Beausoliel, originally from Soufriere. Of course, we concluded that the older generations of Beausoliels must have been related. That was a logical outcome given the small geographic area of origin and the island’s small population.
I had been informed by family that my maternal relations were from Laborie and my father’s were from Grace, Vieux Fort. My father’s father was from a place known as Fond Josie – an area between Desruisseaux and Belle Vue. His maternal grandmother was a Beausoliel from Soufriere. Unfortunately, at the time, I was too busy to devote the hours in researching my family roots, perchance to identify more clearly the spread of my genetic make-up.
After reading ‘Roots’ by Alex Haiey in the early 1970s I became more determined to research my own family tree but I bumped into several roadblocks. I think my research had struck some people as suspicious, especially when I refused to explain my purpose. It was at the height of the Black Power movement in Saint Lucia so I put the suspicion down to crass ignorance. It was, at the time, the practice for anyone wishing to research family names and related matters to pay a small fee (less than three dollars) and proceed to peruse those large ledgers in the Registry that housed family records.
In that conversation with Raymond ‘Clib’ Charles last Christmas I also discovered that his father had brought 21 children into the world. George F. L. Charles was the first and Raymond ‘Clib’ Charles the 18th. James Charles also had many sisters and brothers from the Charles side; from the Beausoliel side, a sister gave birth to two boys, Juan and Stephen. She left for Panama with her sons in the 1940s. As far as Clib could tell one of the boys visited Saint Lucia in the 1970s but by then Clib had himself migrated to the USA and never got to meet his cousins.
Of course it was a shocking discovery for me to learn that Clib’s paternal grandmother had the same surname as my great grandmother. What a small world, I thought. That conversation has resuscitated my curiosity about the ancestors whose genetic material I carry. I often wonder in what ways my ancestral spirit may have contributed to who I am. There’s no need to remind you, dear reader, that we are the sum total of those who have lived before us and whose deep roots and fertile branches account for our presence, with all its weaknesses, strengths and idiosyncrasies.
It was nice to open 2017 with the reminder that we are all greater than the sum of our individual parts and that we may be the strongest survivors of the original peoples of the Caribbean. We are stronger because we are the products of the survivors of the Middle Passage mingled with the Europeans who survived malaria and harsh conditions, and the fierce Caribs. Based on the idea of natural selection, we are entitled to consider ourselves a special people. We therefore need to trust ourselves to shape a better future, regardless of which family names survived.
Perhaps names matter, after all, because they help trace a more precise family history. I remain convinced that the cross-fertilisation and survival of the early populations of Saint Lucia and the Caribbean tells an even more epic story.