Genealogist dedicated to tracing your roots
Researching a family tree can be like untangling a ball of yarn for some Bermudian families.
Dane Simmons knows this well. He did not know his father had other children until the age of eight, when he found himself in a class with his half-sister.
Mr Simmons’ parents’ were separated and he had recently moved parishes and schools. Children often try to one-up each other by bragging about their parents. Mr Simmons bragged that his daddy’s taxi was blue and white with the number 1629. One of his new classmates said her daddy’s taxi was the same colour and had the same number. Then the penny dropped. They had the same daddy. Their mothers were called.
“It was traumatic for my sister and I to find out about each other this way,” said Mr Simmons. “We didn’t become close until our twenties. My sister is deceased now, sadly.”
The 56-year-old now lives in California and is devoted to helping other Bermudians untangle their lineages. He maintains a genealogy database called Bermudian Connection and was in Bermuda earlier this month to teach genealogy workshops and give consultations.
Mr Simmons worked as a banker for 30 years, but in 2010 decided to devote himself to Bermudian Connection. In two years he doubled his database, and now has information about almost 80,000 people.
“In 2010, there were a lot of obituaries in the Bermuda newspapers at the time due to gang incidents, and things like that,” he said.
“That allowed me to add a lot of names. I also spent a lot of time with the book 19th Century Church Registers of Bermuda, indexed by Archibald Hollis Hallett.”
Mr Simmons said complicated family situations were practically the norm in Bermuda because of the high number of out-of-wedlock relationships. Many people can be related to one another and do not realise it, he added.
“It is a common theme with Bermudian families,” he said. “We have had people who found out that the man they lived next to for years was their father and they never knew.”
But Mr Simmons said people were usually not blindsided when he pulled up information unexpectedly linking families.
“I thought I had a situation like that this time, but the person made a phone call home, and we realised their father had the same name as someone else,” he said.
“In most situations there is already a rumour floating around the family, so my information isn’t really a surprise. It’s usually a family secret that everyone knows.
“I have had situations where someone didn’t want a step-parent included in their tree because they didn’t get along. So I eliminated that person from their tree for them. Then their brother came along and wanted his whole tree. It comes down to preference.”
Mr Simmons is very particular about privacy. Although he has a website, the Bermudian Connection database is not on the internet.
“Privacy can be an issue,” he said. “I am trying to help someone right now get their family tree eliminated from a popular genealogy website.
“The person put up their family tree, but kept it private, but unfortunately someone else came along and posted a tree that included her name and personal details. Unfortunately, to have her name removed, the 30 or 40 other people connected to her name, posted by the other individual, would also have to be eliminated.”
Mr Simmons said it was important to read the fine print when you posted information on an online genealogy website. You may go back and erase your family tree, but the website can maintain rights to it, and can sell the information at a later date.
At the moment, Mr Simmons offers free consultations to people who contact him about Bermudian Connection and also a free kinship report.
He is considering starting a paid subscription service in the future.
In countries such as the United States, there is extensive information online such as house-to-house census reports. This type of information is not available in Bermuda but Mr Simmons said there were still resources for people here.
“The obituaries published in the newspaper every day can be a big source of information,” he said.
“The Bermuda Library and the Bermuda Archives are good resources. The only difficulty is when someone is adopted and looking for biological parents in Bermuda. That can be very difficult.
“I helped one person to track down her biological parents in Bermuda but it took two years.”
Mr Simmons said sometimes people might uncover information that was a surprise, but they usually reacted in a positive way.
“I have never found people to be upset to discover they are related to someone else,” he said. “Usually, there is just a sense of relief that now they know and can build a relationship, if they wish.”
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Ada Foggo (1928-2020)
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