I recently noticed that the London Metropolitan Archives has launched a new database – Switching the Lens – Rediscovering Londoners of African, Caribbean, Asian and Indigenous Heritage, 1561 to 1840. This is an aspect of history that captured my imagination some time ago [see, for instance, Suffrage Stories: Black And Minority Ethnic Women: Is There A ‘Hidden History’?] and I was interested to see whether this new database would make the uncovering of individual histories any more possible. Through the centuries there have always been some men and women of BAME heritage living in Britain whose lives have, for one reason or another, been recorded in some degree of detail; the great majority, however, have hitherto remained untraceable.
The database has its inherent limitation in that the 2600 names listed are drawn, over a period of nearly three centuries, from Anglican parish registers. As such it deals only with those who were baptised, married or buried in a parish church in the London area. Nevertheless it contains a wealth of information.
Because I was particularly keen to see if information available on Switching the Lens could be amplified by that already held on genealogical sites such as Ancestry and Findmypast, I concentrating on reading entries in the later period covered by the database, running from 1801-1850. Would it be possible to follow up the lives of any of those people on the Switching the Lens database by, for instance, finding them on the census (from 1841) or identifying them on other national registers?
At a first glance the answer, briefly, is probably not. In general, names are too common or the information is too scanty for it to be possible to identify individuals with any certainty in later official registers. But that is only my finding after a cursory scan. It may well be that keen application will bear fruit. And I shall certainly take a closer look.
However, I have had some success and the following posts are based on entries found in the Switching the Lens database. It is such a pleasure to uncover the lives of these women, all, so far, of mixed African or Indian heritage, and try to see them in the context of their times.