Sunday, January 24, 2016

Shipwreck survivors 7

Because of the enormous number of shipwrecks which have occurred along the coast of South Africa over the past five centuries, it is impossible to trace an ancestor who was shipwrecked unless a close date parameter and location, plus preferably a ship name, are known.

This doesn't seem to deter numerous descendants from attempting to identify a relevant wreck based on absolutely minimal information about the event. A regular blog visitor has just asked me about her own 19th c ancestor, said to have been wrecked off the Namaqualand coast or possibly near Algoa Bay, but no further details are available.

That the man survived is proved by the existence of his Death Notice some years later. However, there is nothing found concerning the wreck in which he was said to be involved.

The question is asked about newspaper reports of the wreck but the ship may have been a small schooner or other craft with not many crew or passengers on board, so it is unlikely to have made the local press.

In this case, the descendant would do well to pursue other lines of enquiry and leave this ancestor to one side until, with luck, more information about his shipwreck comes to light. It may prove to be an apocryphal family anecdote which has been embellished over the generations. These red herrings crop up in every family tree. They add to the general interest but are frustrating unless taken with a pinch of salt.

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