Serendipity perhaps. But after engaging Mr. Peter Redhead and others over the Walter Clement Noel’s episode of traveling to the U.S to study dental surgery in 1905 or thereabout and being the first patient in world history to be diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia, the obvious question became for several of us: how popular was this endeavor, of West Indians traveling to the U.S and elsewhere in the 1800s and early 1900s for study or even leisure.
Bored out my mind today, I decided to research my McKenzie relatives from St. Vincent (armed with a few names provided by DNA relatives on 23andMe), as I have been doing lately with greater intent. Those would be my paternal great grandfather, Benjamin Mckenzie’s relatives. I approached the activity casually, conducting general searches on Familysearch, only to discover these people were traversing between St. Vincent and New York, and St. Vincent and the UK before the turn of the century.
I had to ask myself how is that possible for people of East Indian descent who were supposed to be under the drudgery of manual labor in the tropics. The only answer I could come up with is that these people ought to have had means, the same reason posited in the case of Walter Clement Noel, knowing his family background, to have journeyed from the West Indies for the metropolitan world.
This then prompted me to do a wide google search on “McKenzie Family of St. Vincent.” It is at such point I come to realize that Scottish descendants, with military background in Calcutta, India, were major landholders in St. Vincent prior to and after the abolition of slavery. I am also witnessing a connection between the McKenzies and Sutherlands, like I have recently seen for my great grandmother, Beryl Andall-Mckenzie, Benjamin’s wife.
I am led to believe that a name that I presumed was merely adopted by my East Indian ancestors, who made their way to the Caribbean, may not have been so casual after all. To have made those voyages across the oceans from 1858 (as seen in the records) onwards to the U.S and elsewhere by Mckenzies who were born in St. Vincent and parents listed as being born in India, means that there were McKenzie family members who shared in the lineages of both Indian and Scottish heritage.
It would explain why my great grandfather of supposed Indian ancestry on both his maternal and paternal sides does not appear to be full fledged Indian. For the first time in my natural life I felt as though I have encountered a bit of family history that is unsavory; in that, I am learning that my ancestors were directly involved in the business of owning other human beings.
I have always assumed relations between by African ancestors (during the period of enslavement) and European would be unceremonious, to put it quite mildly. What I did not anticipate is the connection between indentured East Indians and their masters. Such has been my blind spot.