The Panama Canal Zone in Central America was the destination for the most significant population migration out of Barbados.

My grandmother always spoke of her parents living in Panama.  In fact, she was conceived there but was born in Barbados, due to her mother having to return to care for her ailing mother. Her father remained in Panama, and her mother got the news he had taken up with another woman, so she refused to go back to Panama.  Like all the other stories my grandmother told, there was evidence to back it up.

In Panama, Barbadians were employees of the United States Government and therefore generated personnel files. These files are in the custody of the US Personnel Records Administration.  The Panama Canal Zone was US Territory. Those Barbadians living there were listed with their households in the 1910 to 1940 US Censuses.  Barbadians made up the bulk of the laborers in the Canal Zone. Thousands died from malaria, yellow fever, accidents and natural causes. The names of those who died there are listed in a database containing mortuary records and are available at

Barbadians formed a friendly society called the Barbadian Progressive Society. They saved enough money to purchase land and plantations in Barbados.  Those properties and associated funds have never been claimed and are held in trust by the Barbados Government. Information regarding these properties can be found online in articles in the Barbados Barbados Advocate The Barbados Supreme Court also has some records.

After the work ended in Panama, some returned to Barbados, others went to other South American countries and to the American mainland.  A large number stayed in Panama and some, like my great-grandfather, Edward Isling Yearwood, were not heard from again.