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Clara “Keggie” Hallett (1926-2018)

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Historic contribution: Clara Hallett with Edward Harris, former director of the National Museum of Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

Clara Hallett, a historian, author and genealogist dubbed “the Index Queen”, has died. Ms Hallett was 92.

Known as “Keggie”, she worked on local historical records, along with her late husband, Archie Hallett, the first president of Bermuda College.

Her extensive genealogy records are now archived at the National Museum of Bermuda. Elena Strong, executive director at the museum, said Ms Hallett’s contribution to Bermuda genealogical and historical research was “unparalleled”.

Ms Strong added that Ms Hallett left behind “an impressive legacy of books and research that make genealogical information widely available to the public”.

She said: “Her work, particularly the indices to wills, births and marriages, makes combing through original documents and reels of microfilm at the Bermuda Archive and Bermuda Library unnecessary.

“Her work has been extensively referenced by researchers and people interested in their personal ancestry and will continue to do so for generations to come.”

Ms Strong added: “The museum is honoured to be the home of her life work.”

Edward Harris, former director of the museum, said Ms Hallett was “an extraordinary lady who worked right up until the end”.

The Halletts created their own publishing house, Juniperhill Press, and collaborated on reference books such as the 1,400-page 19th-Century Church Registers of Bermuda.

Dr Harris said the book was “an invaluable record of ancestry in the island”.

The couple produced a dozen historical reference books and Ms Hallett edited works for the National Museum of Bermuda Press.

Ms Hallett edited the history book Chained on the Rock, by the late Cyril Packwood, as well as his book Reverend Edward Fraser — from Slave to Missionary.

Other landmark contributions included a modern transcription of Captain Nathaniel Butler’s 17th-century History of the Bermudas.

Dr Harris said the Halletts were “a remarkable couple in love with Bermuda history and determined to get their work done”.

Ms Hallett, originally from Canada, was a close friend of Canadian historians Sandy Campbell and Duncan McDowell.

Dr Campbell said she was “meticulous and totally dedicated — the work exercised her intellect in a way that became a great gift to Bermuda”.

Ms Hallett navigated difficult historical records — women’s maiden names were often neglected in death notices.

Dr Campbell said her work also catalogued key information for black Bermudians.

She added: “Before 1834, slaves were often not baptised, so the records weren’t there.”

Ms Hallett was a church minister’s daughter with a degree in classics who had taught Latin for two years.

Dr Campbell said the systematic structure of Latin teaching helped hone her methodical mind.

The couple lived in Canada for many years, where Archie, who held a doctorate, worked at University College of the University of Toronto, where he became principal.

Dr Campbell added: “Keggie was part of the faculty wives’ world of the 1950s and she saw her role as helping. She also liked the research because it was about family.”

Ms Hallett was born in Colchester, Ontario, and studied classics at the University of Toronto, where she met her Bermudian future husband. They married in 1950.

Her husband, a physicist, completed his studies at Cambridge University, where Ms Hallett’s keen eye was recruited to assist radio astronomers.

She helped spot data patterns that contributed to Nobel Prize-winning astronomy work.

The couple came back to Bermuda in 1977 after Dr Hallett’s tenure as principal of University College ended.

Dr Campbell said: “I believe the happiest years of her life were in Bermuda in her continuing role of wife and mother, and helping with research.

“They both found that work tremendously satisfying and it reached out to all races and corners of Bermuda society.”

Ms Hallett was nicknamed the “Index Queen” for her organisation of information from Bermuda’s wills, births, deaths and marriage notices.

She told The Royal Gazette in January: “I’m still working. I’m just finishing up a project that I started three years ago.

“There’s always some unfinished work.”

Clara Hallett with her daughter, Mary Saunders, and grandson, Cardy Saunders, in 2008 (Photograph supplied)
Index Queen: historian and researcher Clara Hallett (Photograph supplied)