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I have a picture of my gg uncle taken in the mid 1800's by a "Carl
Jurgensen, Photographer & Artist" 9 Chatham Street, Fort Colombo, Ceylon.
On the front it is called a Cabinet Portrait. Does anyone know of his
photographer and the time frame he worked in or what a Cabinet portrait is?
Family lore says that there was an Axelander Cleland and a George Wait who
were tea planters. Martha Cleland and her three children may have escaped
at the time of the Lucknow Riots and later turn up at her birthplace in
North Berwick, but I have not been able to find passage back and forth.
Any hints wold be appreciated.
Many thanks for your excellent outline of the local attitude regarding family
records etc. (and the storage problems of same). So much now falls into place
and has a new perspective. Sitting here in Epping on a chilly wintery evening
its difficult to imagine hot salty conditions!!
So.... I must try to find other records or archives to fill these gaps. Anyone
on the list have ideas of other sources? Directories have already been tried
and via that route Ive found traces of the family I seek, which by the way is
LYFORD...... should anyone already have a reference I'd love to hear!!
How about church or religious records? This family was of european extraction
so its probable that christian records would be applicable. Has anyone tried
contacting local churches etc?
Anne Higham in Epping, England
>Date: Thu, 25 Nov 1999 22:49:35 -0800
>From: James Windsor <windsor(a)sirius.com>
>Subject: Damaged birth records in Colombo Archives
>But don't let my explanation stop you, surely you should continue to try to
>you can. Of course our problem here in America in the last century or two was
>many could not read or write!
>Thanks, and good luck,
>End of SRILANKA-D Digest V99 Issue #44
I can believe the records are damaged at Colombo. The humidity and heat plus the hot
salty ocean air in Sri Lanka are devastating particularly to any perishable item such
as paper. For example, I had a beautiful collection of old egyptian postage stamps
which I carried with me as I traveled from Egypt to Sri Lanka. After I arrived in Sri
Lanka within three months the older stamps began to show small stains of brown mold
on the paper. And I imagine within a year or so all the stamps would have become so
stained and damaged by the mold as to become worthless. So I can understand what kind
of "damage" to Sri Lankan records the recorder refers to.
Also the Sri Lankan government does not have humidity controlled rooms and metal file
boxes (they rust quickly in the hot salty air of Colombo ) to protect records. During
the time I was there I saw many of the records were stored on shelves in open air
rooms in paste board boxes. (Since it is hot in Sri Lanka almost all buildings,
government included, have open air ventilations in the upper part of the room which
allows air currents to circulate freely to cool the rooms. And the rooms of 1880
probably were more ventialated with open air holes in the upper walls, than before
now with electric ceiling fans.)
Another thing I found interesting in Sri Lanka, very few people had even the remotest
interest in family history. I tried to trace a sri lankan friends family history
while in Sri Lanka and found that most sri lankans felt uncomfortable discussing the
dead, particularly if one is asking personal questions, even birth or death dates,
about ancestors. It seems Sri Lankans believe in the "evil eye" and spells and evil
spirits and don't like to discuss the unseen world of the dead. It is a very
Also I found quite often among people a disregard for family heirlooms. Even families
who had old photographs did not treat those photographs as special historically.
Often I would see children take old photographs outside to play with, like toys. I
once said to someone, that is a picture of your great grandmother (photo was taken
about 1930 and ancestor was wearing old sri lankan clothes) and the owner looked at
me as without any understanding as to why I was concerned. My take on it was that the
buddhist teach desire as the cause of suffering, and that to have been "concerned"
about an object would cause a desire to arise. (On this note I found time and time
again when people for the sake of honor would loan out expensive tools and then be
too ashamed to ask for them to be returned. I once said to someone who complained
that so and so had borrowed his saw and not returned it, why don't you ask for it
back. Oh we cannot do that it is up to him to return it., he said. It is obvious that
a decandent attitude exists there.) Anyway that is what happened. Perhaps this can
also account for the lack of desire to adequately preserve records in Colombo. On the
other hand, those records being personal records of british colonialists may have had
a very low priority in being saved. I lived in Sri Lanka seven years and found that
sri lankans still have a great deal of resentment to colonialism.
But don't let my explanation stop you, surely you should continue to try to find what
you can. Of course our problem here in America in the last century or two was that so
many could not read or write!
Thanks, and good luck,
Last April I wrote to the Central Records Room, Colombo asking if it is possible
to obtain a certificate for a 1880 birth. This is an extract of a reply
".... regret to inform you that the records of births, deaths and marriages
occurred prior to 1900 are damaged. Therefore I am unable to comply with your
On that basis it looks as if anyone requesting a certficate for an event AFTER
1900 might stand a chance!!
Anyway, I'd be grateful for comments about the "damaged" records. And.... has
anyone on this list actually ever got a certficate of any sort from Colombo?
Anne Higham in Epping, England