Genealogist donates life’s work to Bermuda
Genealogist Clara Hollis Hallett has pored over thousands of original documents that record the lives of generations of Bermudian families.
Now aged 91, Mrs Hollis Hallett has donated her life’s work of almost 700 handwritten files to the National Museum of Bermuda so it can be put online and made accessible to the public.
Ms Hollis Hallett said: “I hope that by donating my research to the museum and having it put online, people get some satisfaction from finding out about their family.
“I look back at all the work now and think its just one of the things that happened in my life.”
Ms Hollis Hallett said her passion for the subject began by accident in 1982 after she browsed through an old diary belonging to her husband’s cousin, Rosabelle.
The handwritten journal that documented Rosabelle’s teenage years in Bermuda sparked a long-term interest and caused hundreds of people from across the globe to write to her for help in tracing family members.
Ms Hollis Hallett said: “It was a strange thing, because I had never thought of genealogy at all.
“My father was very interested in his ancestors because his father died when he was just six weeks old. He was desperate all his life to find out who he was.
“When I read this photocopy of Rosabelle’s diary, something just hit me. I went to the library to read the newspaper microfiche and noticed that all the things that Rosabelle mentioned in the diary were right there in the newspaper.
“Then one day a librarian who had seen me working away said the library received a lot of requests from people trying to find out more about their family. That’s how it started.”
Mrs Hollis Hallett wrote her first book Rosabelle; a Diary of Bermuda in the Last Century in 1995, which was a reproduction of the original diary with old family pictures.
By this time, word of her skills in tracing family trees as well as her meticulous attention to detail had spread in Bermuda and overseas.
Ms Hollis Hallett said: “I was swamped with requests from all over the world. We did not advertise and we kept it low-key, but the requests kept coming in.
“My husband and I set up our own printing press and my name somehow just got out there.
“I’ve done close to 700 families. A great many came by mail, some were from military families who had been stationed in Bermuda.”
She added: “I had some terribly exciting ones and people were so excited to find out about their roots. With a lot of them I was lucky, I just loved doing them. Every day in the mail a new letter would come.
“It got to the point where I could hardly wait to start the next one. Some of them took two years and there was this avid curiosity to find out who their family was, while others would take just a few days.
“You had to have the imagination to know where to go and look. I used the archives and the Registry General, but a lot of the information comes from the newspaper records.”
Mrs Hollis Hallett continued her genealogical work and earned the nickname “Index Queen” for a series of publications that detailed wills, births, deaths and marriage notices in Bermuda.
She also published books on Bermuda’s history and volunteered at the National Museum, where she edited and rendered Butler’s History of the Bermudas as well as other publications.
Ms Hollis Hallett said: “I’m still working. I’m just finishing up a project that I started three years ago. There’s always some unfinished work. I have not done a family in a while.
Elena Strong, director of the National Museum, praised Mrs Hollis Hallett’s “unprecedented contribution” to genealogy and the island’s history.
She said: “We are honoured to have been chosen to publish her papers online as part of the museum’s work in making local history resources accessible to the public.”
Mrs Hollis Hallett’s research and family files are available on the National Museum website.
To download information from the genealogical records, people have to become a museum member, but they can search the material without joining.