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Latoya Williams: Unraveling generational mysteries

Published:Sunday | December 25, 2016 | 12:00 AMRuth Howard
Latoya Williams

If you were to walk through a graveyard, what would you think of? Possibly the fear of the unknown might give you goose bumps and make you break into a sweat.

But here is someone who sees untold stories, histories, and mysteries to unravel. She is on a quest to know who these people were and where they came from.

Latoya Williams recalls playing on gravestones in churchyards when she was younger and often wondering about the lives, families, histories, and heritage of the people buried there.

A business researcher by profession, Williams says that she was always curious about people's stories. This curiosity increased as she grew older, manifesting itself in a love for subjects like history and literature.

Even though she studied business management at The University of the West Indies and currently runs a full-time business, Williams says that genealogy - the process of studying and tracing people's family history and lineage - is where her mind and soul are.

"I do think it's a life calling," she said. "I absolutely believe that family history research and connecting with your ancestors, their experiences, is a part of life that all of us should try to learn from."

FAMILY HISTORY

Finding out about one's family history, she says, improves behavioural outcomes in people and brings people closer together.

"When you do family research for people - and I've seen it many times - when you find out that your grandfather or great-grandfather was a custos here or a businessman here, or had a corner shop, you think, yeah. It's something for you to feel proud about. It does affect you.

"It definitely fosters a culture of togetherness and appreciation for family," Williams adds. "And let's just be blunt. In Jamaica, we aren't [always] family oriented. Our families are not whole in that sense."

Williams, along with two partners, started a company, Generation Tap, which has translated her love for

genealogy into a career path.

This venture, Latoya believes, is a vital one, with the potential to relieve some of Jamaica's most pressing social issues.

"Knowing you have 10,000-strong people behind you makes a difference," she said. "It changes your mind when you know that you are made up of thousands of thousands of ancestors, and you carry that with you.

"I do believe that most of us have royal blood in us," she adds, explaining that even as a child, she had a strong sense of being 'different' in a positive, distinct, and unique way. "I didn't feel defined by slavery," she shares. "And it made me very strong-willed. I knew I was a princess, and you couldn't tell me otherwise."

And this is the gift that she would like to impart to Caribbean peoples, as well as to her own children: "I realised that nobody in my family was going to do it. I decided to be the family historian," she says. "I'm going to write a book. This is something I'd be so delighted to pass down to, not even my children, but my grandchildren ... my great-grandchildren."

ruth.howard@gleanerjm.com