We've all seen those hand-drawn Caribbean treasure maps where "X" marks the spot of booty buried centuries ago by marauding pirates. Fun, right? Great creative fiction.
What if I told you I found a real treasure map, but instead of an "X," the treasure was marked by a small hand-drawn sugar mill? Intriguing, huh?
I discovered my Applewhaite family line about 10 years ago and since then have dreamed of visiting the West Indies island of Barbados. That's where branches of the family migrated to from England in the early 1600s.
With this in mind, my husband booked a South Caribbean cruise to give me nine hours on Barbados. Knowing there wouldn't be time for document research at the local archives, I opted to spend the time exploring the island.
During a fall trip to Salt Lake City, I studied the Barbados records at the LDS Family History Center. I found a map titled, "A new map of the island of Barbados wherein every parish, plantation, watermill, windmill & cattlemill is described with the name of the present possesor, and all things els remarkable according to a late exact survey thereof." The library catalog described the map as a photocopy of No. 18, Vol. 3 in Joannes Van Keulen's "The Great and Newly Enlarged Sea Atlas or Waterworld."
Neither the map nor the catalog included the date the map was created, but Google searches revealed that Van Keulen's work was from the 17th century - right on target for my research period.
Windmills mark the spot
Tiny windmills, the designated symbols for sugar mills, covered Van Keulen's map. In the area where I reckoned the Applewhaite plantation stood were two little sugar mills labeled "Applewhaite." I clamped my hand over my mouth to muffle a squeal and bent over double to keep from dancing a jig right there in the middle of the Family History Center.
In addition to the sugar mill indicators, the map showed a well-established road system. Back in my home office the next week, I pulled up the island on Google Maps, hoping to match up the roads from the 17th century map with the modern satellite imagery. This time I didn't have to hold back my scream of delight. Not only did the roads match up, but also on Google was a community labeled Applewhaite at the exact location of the two Applewhaite sugar mill symbols on the paper map!
Cruise time arrived, and the first five days were a blur as I awaited my big day. After sailing 1,491 miles from Fort Lauderdale, we arrived at the Bridgetown port. True to my husband's prediction, I was first in line to run down the gangplank when it lowered.
To explore the island we rented a bright turquoise Mini-Moke, another nifty discovery. The British Motor Corp. designed the Moke to be an off-road military vehicle, a mission it failed. But it soon succeeded as a beach buggy.
The car rental company gave us a map, but most of the roads on it had no names, which made sense once we found that most of the roads had no signs. Ah, how we later treasure the things that frustrate us at the time.
A maze through history
So we worked our way through the maze of unmarked roads and a map that didn't accurately represent what was really there. As we rode alongside fields of sugar cane, I declared that we had to be in the right community - sugar! And then a miracle: a marked road. The sign read Applewhaite.
My husband, struggling with his first experience at driving on the left-hand side of the road, whipped into the road as I - once again overcome with excitement - sputtered, "Turn here!"
This is where it gets really good. I spotted two crumbling columns and a barely discernable low rock wall. Ruins! Beyond them stood a small business. A worker came out and asked if we were lost. I do believe my heart momentarily stopped when she said, "Oh, yes, this is the Applewhaite place - over there is the ruins of the sugar mill."
Will any future genealogical discovery ever surpass that moment? There it was. Instead of a roof, vines stretched and swayed across the tops and down the huge wall of stacked stone. The telltale windmill sails no longer, but it still was a ruin rich with my family history.
I had not dared, ever, to hope for such a find.
Tourism and civilization haven't changed this part of the island much. It was easy to stand there, close my eyes and imagine I was in 1624, that the wind blowing in my face also moved the mill sails as it ground the sugar cane. It was easy to imagine, with no modern noise to intrude - just a few birds chattering as they flew in and out of the tangled vines. I figured their ancestors had lived here, too. We were kindred spirits.
I still have a lot of work ahead to discover the story of the Applewhaites of Barbados and Isle of Wight, Va. Trips and physical discoveries such as these, however, inspire us all to work through the research dry spells when we can't find evidence or the proof we seek.
Sharon Tate Moody is a board-certified genealogist. Send your genealogy questions and event announcements to her in care of Getaway, The Tampa Tribune, 200 S. Parker St., Tampa FL 33606 or stmoody0720