Digging up family trees
When Glen Ming, 71, first became interested in genealogy, he didn’t really know the name of his own grandfather. Today, not only does he know his own ancestors’ names, but if you come from an old Bermuda family, he can probably call the name of your grandfather too.
In piles and piles of notebooks, the paper fading in places, Mr Ming has collected information about thousands of Bermudians who lived roughly between the 1830s and now. His goal is to finish a complete index of births, marriages and deaths up to the year 2000. Aside from his own family history, it will include information on such names as Burch, Wellman, Raynor, Davis, Caisey and Trott.
On meeting this reporter Mr Ming’s first question was whether or not I was born here. He then flipped one of his many battered green notebooks open.
“What was your father’s initials?” he asked going down an index that was not really comprehensible to the outsider. He went down a list of Moniz to the 1970s.
“Here you are,” he said. His finger moved down the line a bit to the 1980s, before he said: “And you have a sibling.” It was a bit like watching a clever magic trick.
Many families who are stuck on their family tree now consult Mr Ming. He claims that people working in the Registry Office have even asked for his assistance when having trouble locating a stubborn record.
Like a lot of addictions, Mr Ming’s started out innocently enough. He thought he would do just a little bit and then stop.
“It started in 1995, before a Wellman family reunion,” said Mr Ming. “Although I am a Ming, I am also part of the Wellman family through my mother’s side. My family had a reunion every year around Cup Match time. Often, we knew we were cousins, but we didn’t know how. So I decided to research it.”
He found he was descended from Solomon Thomas Wellman (born 1814) who married Mary Elizabeth Simons. They had 12 children and he began to research them. Pretty quickly, he was hooked.
Mr Ming’s mother, Isabel Marvella Wellman died when he was just a toddler.
Although he has researched hundreds of people’s deaths, he couldn’t say what his own mother died from. On his father’s side he is descended from James Henry Ming and Nancy Ann Burch born in the late 1700s.
“All the Mings in Bermuda are descended from them,” he said. Most, if not all of the Mings, originate in the area of Jubilee Road in Devonshire. His father, Gladwin Ming, worked for many years as a bell captain in hotels such as the old Hamilton Hotel and the Hamilton Princess. Mr Ming has followed in his father’s footsteps. He has also worked in hotels as a bellcap, and currently works at the Tucker’s Point Club. In fact, he has worked for the hotel in its various incarnations since 1962.
“I spend quite a bit of time on genealogy,” he said. “When I had some time off I would spend the whole day in the Registry Office. This drives me.”
One of the biggest obstacles he has tackled is the Smith family.
“I was reluctant at first, but I have started on them,” he said. “One of the biggest hurdles anyone would get in Bermuda is the Smiths.”
This is because Smith is one of the most common surnames in the world. Mr Ming has used up one of his notebooks on the Smiths in Bermuda and has only reached 1910. He anticipates using about three notebooks on them before he finishes.
“The birth register in the Registry Office starts at about 1866 and church baptismal records start around 1834 after emancipation. Before vital record recording was all sporadic.”
Over all, he has about 80 percent of all vital records in Bermuda indexed in his little notebooks, but don’t look for him on genealogical websites like rootsweb.com. So far, he is a hold-out from the computer age. He doesn’t even have an e-mail address. He is a bit noncommittal about one day learning to use the computer. His two sons Raul and Jason are starting to help him put some of his information on the computer.
Like a lot of genealogists he started out doing it for his children, but his children weren’t as interested as he would like.
“I have other relatives who are more interested, and I deal with them,” he said. “You have to be really interested in this. There is no point in being with someone who is not really interested. Some of us have the addiction, while others don’t. This is just one of my personal pleasures.”