Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mining ancestors in South Africa

Even if your ancestor wasn't a miner per se he may have been involved in one of the many peripheral activities of a mining town like Barberton - running a refreshment or mining equipment store, taking photographs in, perhaps, a travelling studio. Sooner or later every type of person descended on the mining areas, women as well as men. Some famous characters emerged: Cockney Liz, French Bob, Tom McLachlan. 

Natal settler Sydney Turner wrote from Ladysmith to his mother in England:
Everyone here is either on the move or has shares in some Gold Company or other, every man, woman and child seems to me to have gone crazy …I could mention fifty that went up next to penniless twelve months ago and are now millionaires …Of all the motley crews one ever saw or heard of … All the scoundrels of Africa, as well as professional men, soldiers, sailors, tinkers, tailors, poor men, rich men, beggars and thieves are on the march up, and I hear from friends …that Barberton is a Hell-upon-earth …*

After the first rush to Barberton around 1884, richer deposits of gold were found on the Witwatersrand in 1885; Johannesburg was founded. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Gold Mining ancestors in South Africa

De Kaap Gold Mining Company: diggers at work.

The discovery of diamonds and gold stepped up the pace of immigration in the 1870s and 1880s. People from all over the world flocked to the diggings and mining towns like Barberton sprang up overnight, some to disappear almost as quickly and become ghost towns. But while it lasted, gold and diamond fever caused an electric shiver of excitement that was hard to resist. 

Barberton, Crown Street with the Royal Albert Hall in right foreground 1887

It wasn’t necessary to be a prospector in South Africa ‘pegging a claim’ to be part of the boom. British investors clamoured for shares; hundreds of mining companies – many of them entirely bogus - came into being offering share certificates and there was some heavy plunging on stock markets; fortunes were made and lost.

There was nothing in the way of health and safety regulations in the mining industry at this period, whether gold or coal. If a miner died in an accident while working there was no compensation. Hence records are scarce.  If you know the name of the mine your ancestor worked on check NAAIRS for any reference. It is likely he would have had a deceased estate lodged in the area in which the death occurred so search for a relevant estate file. 

A gold mining ancestor photographed
 at De Kaap Gold Fields, Barberton.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: Gibson

Finlay Gibson, 1841-1924, married Annie Bell 1881 Stevenston, Ayrshire, Scotland. Finlay was born in St George's, in the London district called Borough. He lies buried at New Street Cemetery, Stevenston.

He and Annie had the following children:
Annie, Catherine, Mary, Margaret and William Finlay who died in 1911 aged 22.

His military service record reveals:
448 Pte Finlay Gibson  Discharged 22 June 1880.  In Service Corps (15th Hussars).  Chelsea Pension Number 81207a.  Served India, Afghanistan.  Born St Georges; East London. Age at discharge 39.  Height 5'6".  Hair Grey. Eyes Brown.  Intended place of residence: Stevenston  Ayrshire. Civilian occupation: Parasol Maker.

Medal Entitlement: Afghan Medal  (below)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bell Memorial Plaque

Bell Plaque: West St Cemetery. Inscription: 
 In Memory of Capt. William Douglas Bell  25 years Port Captain of This Port
 Died 10 April 1869 Aged 62 Years
At the Taking of Port Natal from the Insurgent Boers he rendered valuable Service by towing into Port under fire of the Enemy the Boats of the Southampton Frigate, and through his after Career in life was held in Esteem as a Faithful Servant of Government, a Good Husband, and Affectionate Father.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An exciting find: Bell and Cato

Capt William Bell and his good friend, George Cato. A previously unknown
portrait which probably pre-dates the well-known photo of Bell in solitary pose with the same anchor and with his telescope tucked under his arm. Cato and Bell became friends while they were both trading in Cape waters in the 1830s and remained close during their time in Natal. Note that Bell wears no epaulettes on his coat here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Finding ancestors online

Subscribing to Ancestry or Findmypast may well provide you with hours of genealogy fun as you attempt to track down ancestors using a huge range of facilities. 

However, often the ancestor remains completely invisible, which can be frustrating. The fact is that he may well be there but lurking under an incorrectly-spelled surname, or his birth and other major events were simply never recorded.

Try every imaginable spelling of his/her surname: that's a basic rule. With a name like GADSDEN, for example, 
 there are many variant spellings, all equally feasible. Sometimes the name may appear with one spelling on one record and another spelling on a different record.

In the South African context, you may be searching for a reference to the ancestor on NAAIRS, hoping for a deceased estate file. Remember that if the individual died comparatively recently, about the mid 1970s, any estate file would be held by the Master's Office in the province of death and would not be referenced on the NAAIRS index. It is more complicated to trace an estate file under these circumstances: they are filed by year of death and may be in one of several off-site storage locations. 

If you are not certain precisely where the ancestor died, search NAAIRS under the database RSA, for all South Africa.

Not everyone who died in South Africa had an estate file lodged with the Master's Office. Reasons for this vary, e.g. the individual may have had no assets at date of death, literally no 'estate'. Despite your belief that the ancestor died in South Africa, he may turn out to have died elsewhere e.g. in the UK, in a different colony or on board ship. Search further afield.

Miss Bell

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Adverts for ancestors' professions 6

Concluding our browse through the advertisements in the Natal Almanac is this
large advert for Pepworth's stores. There was almost nothing you couldn't buy there in the way of 'Manchester' items: lace, gloves, ribbons, frillings, undies, stockings, corsets, hats - Pepworth could clothe you from top to toe. His shop was the forerunner of Greenacres, Stuttafords and other large department stores of a later era.

Henry Pepworth rose to prominence as a Town Councillor
 for Pietermaritzburg during the 1850s.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Adverts for ancestors' professions 5

From that valuable source again, the Natal Almanac: it is interesting to see J Coney listed as an undertaker - he was also a photographer. Most photographers at the time had various skills to provide extra income.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Adverts for ancestors' professions 4

Bowman the photographer, operating a 'saloon' (studio) in Longmarket St. Pietermaritzburg,  advertises the 'new cerrotype process'.

T Bond and Co  are millers, bakers and corn dealers in Durban and Shaw Bros are wool pressers in Longmarket St Pietermaritzburg, ready to receive from country friends and merchants, wool, hides and forage. Wool-pressing nowadays is done by machine.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Adverts for ancestors' professions 3

Taken from the Natal Almanac: it is surprising to see B Kisch and Co operating as Grocers and General Dealers in Ladysmith - Kisch being better known as a photographer and located in Durban. Most of the latter had various strings to their bow as at that stage there wasn't a big call for photographs in Natal. This situation was to change dramatically.
E Smith (no relation) has a wagon building business in West Street conveniently placed near the Caledonian Foundry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Adverts for ancestors' professions 2

It is surprising what can emerge in a deceased estate file. Here, an engraving showing the ancestor's place of business, Tattersall's in Durban, taken from his letterhead. It doesn't get much better than this in family history research. And it is another reason why one should never stop at the Death Notice but peruse every single piece of paper in the estate file.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Adverts for ancestors' professions

Who wouldn't be thrilled to add this informative and decorative
advertisement to their family history publication? Mr Geo Willson was a man of many parts, it seems: cabinet maker, upholsterer, importer, coffin maker ('and all the fittings') and undertaker. The advert appeared in the Natal Almanac of 1880.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Memorabilia in Family History

Objects such as old photographs, letters and diaries have obvious significance to the family historian and may be among the most important and informative clues you have to work with during your research.

However, more solid memorabilia shouldn’t be ignored: such items as military insignia – badges etc – and, of course, medals which offer the serviceman’s rank, name and service number on their rim. 

This may lead to the discovery of his archived service papers which in turn can be a mine of information. Mementos may link up e.g. the photo of the man in uniform, letters he wrote from the field of war to family members, and his subsequent medal awards, all form a context for the individual. It is worth keeping these in a group and ignoring any mercenary urge to split them up – such as selling the medal if it is a particularly valuable one. Heaven forbid – you, as his descendant, are the only collector who should own it.

Sometimes memorabilia may be connected with the ancestor’s occupation or profession e.g. a prized possession among descendants of Captain William Bell is his brass telescope, made by the famous Dolland company. The fact that Bell handled and used this instrument on a daily basis for about forty years, I believe means it holds his personal vibrations, a stamp that cannot be duplicated. The same might be said for my father’s carpentry tools, or my mother’s violin.  

Recipe books can provide an insight into their owner’s food preferences and may, like my grandmother’s book, contain handwritten recipes – a treasure as I have no other example of her handwriting. Address books are equally valuable: my mother’s contains details of American cousins I would otherwise have known little about. She always added birth, marriage and death information to the basic postal address, and kept these updated. It is my bible.

A necklace found among my mother’s possessions proved to have belonged to my grandmother, and I recognized it immediately as that worn by my mother on her wedding day. So, two sets of vibrations there. I still wear it. It makes me feel in contact with both women.

Two wooden teak tubs, banded with brass and copper, were made by my maternal grandfather in the time-honoured method of the cooper – though he was in fact a marine engineer. The craftsmanship he put into these items is remarkable. They stand in my home today.

While the objects mentioned may not offer information per se, they provide a resonating link to our ancestors and a glimpse of their lives and times. DNA is all very well – but give me context!


Friday, March 11, 2016

Bluff Lighthouse circa 1910

Postcard probably taken circa 1910, judging by the costume of the people at left. It is clearly well before 1930 when the ugly concrete superstructure was inflicted on the lighthouse for strengthening purposes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Love at the Lighthouse

A glimpse into the past. Lighthouses cast a romantic aura. 
Note the heavy raised and fielded wooden door at the base of the lighthouse.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fascinating haunted lighthouse

Shipping to Natal from non-UK ports 1875

Ships arriving at Natal weren't all from British ports, though they formed the greater proportion. This column published in 1875 mentions ships from Adelaide, Calcutta and Zanzibar.

The report on the Natal includes details of her voyage from Cape Town: passengers experienced a variety of weather, such as violent squalls, before arriving at Natal in fine weather.