Thursday, September 20, 2018

Shipwrecks and genealogy research

The other day I was asked why I included shipwreck reports and other sources on these events in my blog. What did they have to do with genealogy? I would have thought this was self-explanatory.

Perhaps if your ancestors had sailed on ships such as the Titanic or the Waratah, for example, entire families - parents and children - were lost in the wrecks. To have so many people from among your ancestry summarily 'taken out' would surely give any family historian pause.

It should also follow that descendants would want to find out as much as possible about the families involved, unearth photos of them, discover their place of origin, read as much context as is available on the ship itself and how it came to disaster. It would be likely to become an obsession for the family historian concerned.

So, I make no apology for including the topic of shipwrecks on these pages and will continue to do so for the benefit of any family historian who is trying to find out more about 'lost' ancestors lying in some unmarked watery grave.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

South African Newspapers for Passenger Lists

Passenger lists published as part of shipping columns in South African newspapers can be rewarding, but may also be unreliable. Typographical and other errors are often found and there was a lack of consistency in the reporting as well as in the presentation format.

Commonly, the surnames of several individual (unrelated) male passengers on board would be given after the introductory word ‘Messrs.’, often without initials. Occasionally, a number might be added in 
brackets after a surname, indicating two related males with that surname – brothers or perhaps a 
father and son.

The number of children on board with their parents may be given, but frequently not their names: 
instead the children are ‘Master’ or ‘Miss’ plus surname. In other cases the parents’ names may be followed by ‘and three children’, which isn’t helpful if you need to know the children’s names to
identify Mr and Mrs Brown or Smith as the right ancestors.

The rigid class distinction which prevailed on vessels in the 19th c is reflected in newspaper 
passenger lists: first and occasionally second class passengers’ names are given, while those of 
assisted immigrants travelling steerage are not – despite the fact that they formed the majority. 
Steerage lists are sometimes found in a separate report in the same edition of the newspaper. 
Similarly, a general news item may announce the arrival of a ship and include a passenger list, 
though again these are more likely to focus on first- and second-class passengers. There were no
 rules about the format of shipping columns; some passenger lists are more informative than others.

Military men who might be aboard a ship going to join their regiment were seldom named; if they 
were, they were usually officers. The passenger list of July 1863 (for a coastal voyage) on this page
shows that, in third class, there were 2 non-commissioned officers and six soldiers – no names, no regiment.  Most of this typical shipping column is taken up, not with passenger lists, but with the 
arrivals and departures of vessels, and those lying 'outside' in the roadstead, unable to enter the 
harbour due to weather or other conditions.

Any newspaper search is time-consuming, especially where there is no reasonably narrow date 
parameter. A vague idea of year isn’t enough to make a search feasible, unless you have plenty 
of time to spare and are conducting your own hands-on research. If possible, check a newspaper passenger list against the original shipping register: between the two versions you may arrive 
at something approaching accuracy.

South Africa Magazine (which was published in London) gives lists of passengers embarking 
at British ports for South Africa – and vice versa – for the period 1890-1925.

Note: in Natal some original newspapers are withdrawn from public use due to fragility. There are 
microfilms but depending on the type of reference sought I cannot recommend the use of filmed
editions many of which are not at all clear and are very time-consuming. We could do with a facility 
such as Trove to enable us to search SA newspapers online. However, that is unlikely to become
a reality any time soon.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Passenger Lists for Natal

Original registers for passenger arrivals between 1845 to about 1910 are held in the Archives 
of the European Immigration Department (EI) at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository. 
Note that these volumes, while an extremely valuable resource, are not all-inclusive 
at any period. There is also a card index by surname and this includes references to 
passengers mentioned in The Natal Witness newspaper. Information given in newspaper
shipping columns does not always match details in the original registers; there are spelling 
and other inaccuracies even in the originals, which are handwritten and not always easy t
read. Transcripts, either from original registers or newspaper lists, no matter how carefully 
done, may contain errors.

Original passenger list for Government emigrants
per ship Catharine [sic] 

Immigration schemes are well-documented but private individual passengers not travelling 
on any sort of assisted passage are more difficult to trace. As the 20th century approached,
the volume of shipping at all South African ports increased dramatically with inevitable effects
on passenger records and newspaper columns.

Access the Family History Library Catalogue at for a list of films 
available on Natal immigration.

Search by passenger name or by ship on eGGSA's Passenger List Project, a work in progress:

The above link takes you to British outbound passenger lists 1890-1960. 
There are over 24 million passengers in the BT27 records covering 164,000 passenger lists.

BT refers to the Board of Trade which from 1786 to 1970 set policy and regulated trade with Britain's colonies and the rest of the world. 

27 refers to the series number at The National Archives (TNA) Kew where the original 
documents of the passenger lists are held. Voyages from all British (English, Welsh and 
Scottish) ports, and from all Irish ports before partition in 1921 and all Northern Irish ports after partition, are covered in the passenger lists. Destinations cover all continents.

This facility is the obvious choice if your ancestor is thought to have left Britain and sailed to a South African port 
after 1890. However, identifying the correct individual, usually by initials and 
surname only, or frequently without initials, isn't always easy.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Passenger Lists Natal: Borneo, Bellona, Douglas 1851

Arrival of Borneo, Bellona and Douglas  Natal Witness 3 October  1851


24 September  - Borneo, Captain Hartley, from London.
J Brown, agent. 

Mr Seal
Mr and Mrs Acutt
Misses Acutt (2)
and 3 children
Mr Kingham
Mr Kellarys (2)
Mr Turner
Mr Edlin
Mr Petree
Mr Brandon
Miss Jeffery

26 September - Bellona, from Liverpool,
EP Lamport, agent.
Mr and Mrs Lawrence
Mr and Mrs Platt
Mrs Grant and child
Mrs Gordon and 2 children
Mr Brown
Mr Buckley
Mrs Taylor
Mr and Mrs E Taylor
Mr and Mrs T Taylor
Mr Cruikshank
Mr and Mrs Shaw and 2 children
Mr Watson
Mr R Maguire
Mr Maddock, wife and two children
Miss Urquhart
Mrs Traver
Mr Ormston
Mr Musha

28 September - Douglas, Captain Gell, from Cape Town,
Henderson, Smerdon, and Co. agents.
Mr Heap
Mr Silvester
Mr Cato
Mr Searle

View of Natal ca 1849 by Thomas Bowler; early settlers
and ox wagon

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Souvenir Saturday: Union Castle Liner and the Bluff, Durban

Union Castle Liner and the Bluff with Signal Station and Lighthouse.
Tug guiding ship through Entrance Channel.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Scorey/Caithness families: Ann Scorey 1863

Ann Caithness b Scorey (1796-1889) ca 1863

Born at Marchwood, Hampshire and baptised at Eling, Ann was the daughter of John Scorey and Elizabeth nee Pyboul. Ann married in 1814 at Eling, Hampshire, James Caithness (1786-1826). Widowed at 30, Ann raised five children: James Ramsey Caithness b 1815, George b 1818, Mary Anne b 1820 (married William Bell), William b 1824 and Charles b 1826. 

Ann was the sister of James Pyboul Scorey b 1792. Ann's granddaughter was Caroline Ann Caithness, 4th Marchioness of Ely.

The original carte de visite shown above, by S J Wiseman, 9 Bernard St., Southampton, has square corners: this suggests a date pre 1870. Wiseman's studio moved from Bernard St, where he had operated from the late 1850s, to 15 Above the Bar in September 1863. Even if the photographer was using up old stock of cartes in his new premises for a year or two, the neutral background and simple setting with curtain, table and books, and the seated full length figure all point to the 1860s. Ann would have been aged about 67 when this photograph was taken. 

The redoubtable, prematurely-aged women wearing their 1850s and 1860s bonnets and shawls and flowing skirts are those I truly admire - and Ann is one. Her face is a sensitive indicator of a battle endured but a battle won.

Tom Sheldon 
Anita Caithness
Steve Steere
Peter Hay
Lorna Cowan
Donald Gaff

Bonnet similar to Ann Scorey's.
This is a tintype, a photographic process
begun in 1852.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Gibson, Finlay: parasol maker and soldier

This slip of paper gives a neat summary of Finlay Gibson's career, with personal description and showing his occupation as parasol maker. On discharge, 1 June 1880,  he gives his intended place of residence as Stevenston, Ayrshire.  He was attested at the age of 18, 15th Hussars, at Westminster, 7 April 1859. When he left the Army he was nearly 40.

The Afghan Campaign medal to which Finlay Gibson was entitled. Contrary to family anecdote, he was not on the infamous March to Kandahar - for which a different medal would have been awarded. Sadly the whereabouts of Finlay's campaign medal is unknown though it was present and displayed in my relative's house for many years when I was growing up. Please preserve family memorabilia or donate them to a museum if there is nobody suitable in the family who is interested enough to look after them.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Bell/Gibson families: Richard Brittain Bell 1871-1939

MI to Richard Brittain Bell b Edinburgh, Scotland, 1871 and buried 1939 at Plumstead, Cape, South Africa.

Richard was the 6th child and 3rd son of Samuel Bell and Catherine Thomson Bell nee Ross. He was one of the brothers of Annie Bell who married Finlay Gibson.

Richard Brittain Bell married Elizabeth Taylor (not that one) and they had a son Richard Domisse Bell.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Bell, William Brittain 1868 - 1928

Hardly legible with its encrusted lichens and general weathering, this MI is to William Brittain Bell, son of Samuel Bell and Catherine nee Ross. William Brittain b 1868 married Clara Elizabeth (or Bessie) Norrish. This couple had two sons, Hubert Brittain and William Samuel Brittain. Dates as yet not known.

William Brittain Bell died aged 60 in 1829. He was the eldest brother of Annie Bell who married Finlay Gibson.

Buried Town D Cemetery Barnstaple Devon. 

*** [Acknowledgements to Ryan Moore for above photo Sept 2011 Ryan please contact me!]

From Probate Calendar:

William Brittain Bell

Friday, August 31, 2018

Gibson family continued

Four generations of the Bell/Gibson family

At left, with child on knee, is Annie Bell b 14 February, 1859 at West, Hamilton, Wentworth, Ontario, Canada. She married Finlay Gibson in Stevenston, Ayrshire when her family returned there after their time in Canada. The lady with the large lace collar seated next to her is Catherine Thomson Ross b 1834 who married Samuel Bell, b 1833 Shropshire, in 1858. Behind is Mary Gibson, daughter of Annie and Finlay Gibson, and usually known as Polly. Polly b 1886 married William Dalzell and the child in the photo is her eldest son, James Dalzell. Dalzell was Polly's first husband - they had four children. Later she married again, H Milton Stacey. Two children were born of this marriage, Richard and Elva. 

My mother, Cathrine Gibson Hamilton, who left me this photo and wrote information on the back, was usually accurate but I do wonder if the lady at left is correctly identified - she appears rather too old to be the daughter of the lady on her right, Catherine Thomson Ross, who married Samuel Bell. However, as I don't know who else she can be, and she so closely resembles the Annie Gibson who married Joe Hamilton, perhaps my mother was right. The photo was taken outside Hawthorn Cottage, Caledonian Road, Stevenston.

Catherine Thomson Ross married Samuel Bell in 1858. Note she wears the same collar as in the photo above.

Stevenston, North Ayrshire, Scotland
DEATH26 May 1913 (aged 78)
Stevenston, North Ayrshire, Scotland
BURIAL   New Street Cemetery, StevenstonNorth AyrshireScotland