Since he was a young boy Shamshu Deen has had a desire to find his ancestral roots; he says he is addicted to "this stuff"–genealogy. Despite being well-known in the field of genealogy, which is the study of families and the tracing of their lineage and history, Deen said he was "more of a family historian" than a genealogist. He has been helping families of East Indian origins to trace their roots to India for more than 25 years. His drive to help them came after he found his in 1972. Deen, 65, is responsible for former prime minister Basdeo Panday and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar finding their roots in India. Deen taught for 37 years in Trinidad and Canada and has written two books: Solving East Indian Roots in Trinidad, and Lineages and Linkages: Solving Trinidad roots in India. Speaking about his work, he said he never approached people but rather, they contacted him about finding their family's origins, with some even wanting to travel to India to meet their relatives. Others, he said are quite content for him to find the indentured labourers' emigration pass, which showed the name of the immigrant, the ship, age, caste, village, occupation and body marks, among other information. "I don't go into people's family unless I am requested. "I have never advertised my work yet people come to me," Deen said. He spoke with the Sunday Guardian last Wednesday.
This year marks 167 years since the arrival of close to 150,000 registered indentured labourers to Trinidad from India. Indian Arrival Day will be celebrated on Wednesday. According to Deen's research, 154 ships made 319 voyages from India to Trinidad's shores. He said many labourers died on the ships. Each ship accommodated up to 500 passengers. However, the famous Fatel Razack,the first ship to bring indentured labourers from India, carried 225 on its one and only voyage to T&T. Deen said according to Prof Brinsley Samaroo, the Fatel Razack was initially named the Fath al Razack by a Muslim called Yusuf. The ship left India in February 1845 and arrived in Trinidad on May 30. Bharath, which means India ,was the first name registered on the Fatel Razack.
Deen's eyes lit up as he said, "I'm addicted to this stuff." After studying history and economics at the University of the West Indies, Deen left for Ottawa, Canada-with a heavy feeling that he was leaving something behind.
He said, "When I left Trinidad I was only 24, my wife and I had just got married. "Having left Trinidad, I felt cheated in the sense that I had gone away and given up something that I always wanted to pursue. "I went away as soon as I got my first degree, so I had all these research skills and said it was time for me to trace my family, but now I've gone away." He said in 1972 he visited Trinidad and went to the cellar of the Red House, where documents were stored, and decided to search. Deen and his relatives began searching for information on his great-great-grandfather, Munradin, who was sent to the Harmony Hall Estate. Munradin arrived on April 10, 1858 on the Ellenborough. Deen said over the last 25 years he has trained himself to document information. "I love stories. Genealogy, which I learned, is a mixture of family stories and documentation. "Now it is becoming genetic genealogy, where families are tracing DNA and so on, but DNA will not give you family history." Despite his research over the years, Deen said he was "just scratching the surface." He has high hopes that the younger generation will "take up the slack." Deen said when he was a boy he developed an interest in knowing his roots. He said: "I got the drive since I was a little boy. "I remember there was this old lady who was my great aunt on my father's side, my father's paternal grandfather's brother's wife...she had a little parlour when I was in my early teens and she was in her 80s, her daughter was about 60 or so, and the two of them were running this parlour. "I would ask them questions about long ago and they told me stories, some of which I remembered, and all of that created interest in me." He said since he started tracing families, he has been able to help close to 1,000 people with their ancestors' emigration passes, and about 100 have made links with relatives in India. As soon as someone starts to talk about family, his "barrage" comes out. He recalled sitting with an old woman for five hours on a bus from New York to Syracuse talking about family, and realised he was not only interested in Indian people. "She and I talked genealogy whole road, for five hours. She told me about her great grandparents from Ukraine and I found it very fascinating." He said when a person or a family decided to trace its roots, it gave old people a sense of worth, by having them tell their stories.
Proud of the two PM's
Deen said PM Persad-Bissessar held his hand tightly during her visit to the village of Bhelapur, in the district of Buxar, Bihar state, in January, when she met her relatives. She was invited by the Indian government for a ten-day state visit as chief guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas diaspora conclave in Jaipur. Deen said when he heard the PM was going to India, he decided it was an opportune time for him to act on the request she had ade a few years before. He said he contacted the Indian High Commissioner Malay Mishra about his findings about the PM's roots, which were relayed to her, and she agreed. Although his services come at a cost, he made it clear that he never charged Panday nor Persad-Bissessar. Deen said he paid his own way to go to India, and arrived two weeks before the PM and her delegation. "Genealogy is my baby and I can't see that the Prime Minister is going to India to meet her family, which I have worked out, and I am in Trinidad. I would have been torn if I had stayed." He said the PM's paternal grandfather's father Ramlakhan arrived in 1889 on a ship called the Volga. He was a Brahmin. Panday, who travelled to India in January 1997, found his roots in Lakshmanpur, Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh.
How tracing is done:
When he's approached by a family, Deen:
does in-depth interviews with the oldest members;
creates an arrival scenario;
visits the National Archives to look atdocuments;
prepares a report for the family on findings and then;
family decides on further plans.