Sunday, September 30, 2018

El Alamein Ancestors

The Alamein Memorial forms the entrance to the El Alamein War Cemetery in Egypt. The memorial commemorates nearly 12,000 servicemen of the British Empire who died in the Western Desert campaigns of the Second World War including the Battle of El Alamein.
The Battle of El Alamein marked the culmination of the North African campaign between Commonwealth forces and the Axis forces (German and Italian). For both sides the objective was the control of the Mediterranean, the link with the East through the Suez Canal, the Middle East oil supplies and the supply route to Russia through Persia.

Among the casualties was my cousin  Air Sgt Leonard Dudley Shanley 
of the 24th Squadron of the South African Air Force. 
He died on 21 November, 1941. His name appears on Memorial Column 248 in 
El Alamein Cemetery

Air Sergeant SHANLEY, L D, Service Number 102123
His parents were Percy Leonard and Winnifred Emily Shanley (nee Swires).

To find your own El Alamein Ancestor see

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Mr Durbeyfield's dodgy ancestry

‘It was only my whim,’ he (the parson) said; and, after a moment’s hesitation: ‘It was on account of a discovery I made some little time ago, whilst I was hunting up pedigrees for the new county history. I am Parson Tringham, the antiquary, of Stagfoot Lane. Don’t you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?’ ‘Never heard it before, sir!’ ‘Well it’s true. Throw up your chin a moment, so that I may catch the profile of your face better. Yes, that’s the d’Urberville nose and chin—a little debased. 

Your ancestor was one of the twelve knights who assisted the Lord of Estremavilla in Normandy in his conquest of Glamorganshire. Branches of your family held manors over all this part of England; their names appear in the Pipe Rolls in the time of King Stephen. In the reign of King John one of them was rich enough to give a manor to the Knights Hospitallers; and in Edward the Second’s time your forefather Brian was summoned to Westminster to attend the great Council there. You declined a little in Oliver Cromwell’s time, but to no serious extent, and in Charles the Second’s reign you were made Knights of the Royal Oak for your loyalty. Aye, there have been generations of Sir Johns among you, and if knighthood were hereditary, like a baronetcy, as it practically was in old times, when men were knighted from father to son, you would be Sir John now.’ ‘Ye don’t say so!’ ‘In short,’ concluded the parson, decisively smacking his leg with his switch, ‘there’s hardly such another family in England.’ ‘Daze my eyes, and isn’t there?’ said Durbeyfield. ‘And here have I been knocking about, year after year, from pillar to post, as if I was no more than the commonest feller in the parish... And how long hev this news about me been knowed, Pa’son Tringham?’ The clergyman explained that, as far as he was aware, it had quite died out of knowledge, and could hardly be said to be known at all. His own investigations had begun on a day in the preceding spring when, having been engaged in tracing the vicissitudes of the d’Urberville family, he had observed Durbeyfield’s name on his waggon, and had thereupon been led to make inquiries about his father and grandfather till he had no doubt on the subject. ‘At first I resolved not to disturb you with such a useless piece of information,’ said he. ‘However, our impulses are too strong for our judgement sometimes. I thought you might perhaps know something of it all the while.’ ‘Well, I have heard once or twice, ‘tis true, that my family had seen better days afore they came to Blackmoor. But I took no notice o’t, thinking it to mean that we had once kept two horses where we now keep only one. I’ve got a wold silver spoon, and a wold graven seal at home, too; but, Lord, what’s a spoon and seal? ... And to think that I and these 7 noble d’Urbervilles were one flesh all the time. ‘Twas said that my gr’t-granfer had secrets, and didn’t care to talk of where he came from... And where do we raise our smoke, now, parson, if I may make so bold; I mean, where do we d’Urbervilles live?’ 

‘You don’t live anywhere. You are extinct—as a county family.’ ‘That’s bad.’ ‘Yes—what the mendacious family chronicles call extinct in the male line—that is, gone down—gone under.’ ‘Then where do we lie?’ ‘At Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill: rows and rows of you in your vaults, with your effigies under Purbeck-marble canopies.’ ‘And where be our family mansions and estates?’ ‘You haven’t any.’ ‘Oh? No lands neither?’ ‘None; though you once had ‘em in abundance, as I said, for your family consisted of numerous branches. In this county there was a seat of yours at Kingsbere, and another at Sherton, and another in Millpond, and another at Lullstead, and another at Wellbridge.’ ‘And shall we ever come into our own again?’ ‘Ah—that I can’t tell!’ ‘And what had I better do about it, sir?’ asked Durbeyfield, after a pause. 

‘Oh—nothing, nothing; except chasten yourself with the thought of ‘how are the mighty fallen.’ It is a fact of some interest to the local historian and genealogist, nothing more. There are several families among the cottagers of this county of almost equal lustre. Good night.’

[From Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy]

The Parson's ill-judged words would cause serious trouble for Tess and her family: an example of noble forefathers who should have been left well alone. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Passengers to Natal per Dane, Priscilla 1863

                                                           Natal Mercury June 23 1863

June 20, RMS Dane, from Cape Town and intermediate ports. Cargo, general. 
From Cape Town: 
Lieut Harrison 
P Milner 
From Algoa Bay: 
Mr Henry (Consul General Belgium) 
Mr and Mrs Botha and child 
Mr and Mrs Thornhill and three children 
From East London: 
Miss Driver 
R Walker 
Lieut Tolner (Tollner) 
Dr Tate 
Mr and Mrs McKay and two children 
Professor Hansen 
Left Table Bay June 12 at 3 p.m., arrived at Algoa Bay on the 15th, at 1 p.m.; left Algoa Bay on the 16th, at 1 p.m., arrived off East London on the 17th, at 1 p.m., sea too high to land; left East London on the 18th, at 1 p.m. arrived at Port Natal and came to anchor on the 20th, at 10.30 a.m. 
- J Brown, agent.

June, Priscilla, barque, 253 tons, G Brown, from London, sailed 2nd April. General cargo. 
J Vincent 
Reginal Bowers 
Mrs Greening, son and daughter 
- Handley and Dixon, agents.

June 21, Eleonore, barque, 302 tons, C Jonains, from Algoa Bay, sailed 10th June. 
Mr Hugill

June 21, Eveline, schooner, 101 tons, G Murison, from Cape Town, sailed 16th June, 
Mr HB Portland 
- McArthur and Co., agents.


June 18, Heathel [sic, Heather] Bell barque 257 tons, R Thomas, to Ceylon, in ballast. 
Mrs Eastwood and two children.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Heritage Day and Family History

Today is Heritage Day: what does it mean to you? Is it merely a public holiday, a rest from the office or school, a chance to work in the garden or to indulge in your favourite hobby? 

What is Heritage? In South Africa the holiday officially recognises different aspects of South African culture and encourages all South Africans to celebrate their cultural heritage, the diversity of their beliefs and different traditions.

Heritage includes features which belong to the culture of a particular society - traditions, languages, buildings, sites of major events - created in the past and retaining historical importance to all South Africans.

On a personal level, your Heritage is what you were born into, one's ethnic and cultural background, which may differ from that of other people or groups of people but which has especial meaning for the individual. Our personal Heritage is a vital part of our consciousness and in a sense makes us who we are - just as much as our DNA does.

Because it is so vital to each of us, we respect the Heritage of other people, as much as we respect our own. 

Heritage may be tangible - traditional clothing and modes of decoration, tools, buildings, artwork, monuments, modes of transportation - or intangible - not physical items but those which exist intellectually. Each aspect is equally significant.

Heritage is about respecting our ancestors (and those of other people). For anyone researching their family history, today allows some free hours to explore another forefather or find one you previously didn't know about. Or you might want to read about the times in which that ancestor lived, providing a context for your family narrative which will make it that much more interesting and exciting. 

Perhaps you feel like visiting a cemetery where your ancestors lie buried. Place some flowers to show they aren't forgotten, tidy the plot, clean the headstone so that the information can be clearly read. None of this is done in a mournful spirit - family historians find cemetery visits most enlivening!

Get out that shoebox full of old family photos you keep meaning to collate and preserve properly. Write down as much information as you know about the people in the photos - your children and grandchildren will be grateful. Keep them in suitable envelopes (never plastic).

Make a start on writing the family history. This doesn't have to be a huge volume that will take years to finish: put down the salient features known about each ancestor with some context and a photo, if one exists, to make sense of the results of your research for others who will read it later. Don't forget to put together your own life story - you'll be an ancestor one day!

Happy Heritage Day to all Mole's Blog readers!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Souvenir Saturday: a lighthouse keeper in the family (Bell and Gadsden)

A reminder of what my great grandfather's duties were as Lighthouse Keeper at the Bluff Light, Durban. Polishing and more polishing - brass and glass. There was a long list of all the things the keepers had to accomplish but the most important was to keep the light shining bright. 

'The lightkeeper on duty at night shall on no pretence whatever during his watch leave the lightroom or balcony until he is relieved. A bell is fixed at or near the base of the tower with a cord leading to the balcony to enable the lighthouse keeper on duty to summon the absent keeper, and if at any time the lighthouse keeper on duty shall think the presence or assistance of the lighthouse keeper not on duty is necessary he shall call him by ringing this bell and the keeper so called shall repair to the lightroom without delay. In like manner when the watches come to be changed the bell shall be rung to call the lighthouse keeper next in turn after which the lighthouse keeper on duty shall at his peril remain on guard till he is relieved by the lighthouse keeper who has the next watch.' 

On the left is a Fresnel (fray-nel) lens, a type of compact lens originally developed by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel for lighthouses.

There were always two keepers - in Britain, three - at any station. During Thomas Alfred Gadsden's career his brother-in-law Douglas Bell was Assistant Lighthouse Keeper. It was often the case that a lighthouse was a family concern, sometimes generation upon generation.

But Thomas Gadsden died in 1893 and Douglas Bell in 1899; neither left descendants who were lighthouse keepers. 

See Keeper of the Bluff Light:

Friday, September 21, 2018

How to find that SA passenger list?

Passenger lists 1863

There’s so much online about passengers to America and so little for those to South Africa: this is a complaint I hear almost daily. 
It may well be true, but the sheer weight of numbers favours North America. 
It is estimated that of the three million people who left Britain between 1850 and 1880, two-thirds of 
them went to the United States. By comparison, the number emigrating to South Africa was relatively insignificant.

An additional factor is that there has been no coordinated effort to transcribe South African immigration records in bulk. 

Transcription is a labour-intensive task and usually a volunteer’s labour of love, done in what was 
once the true spirit of family history research i.e. with enthusiasm, dedication and altruism, and 
above all the wish to share information freely with others. Such transcribers are a rare breed today.

These are a few of the reasons why, although there are some South African passenger lists available
online and with ongoing additions, they are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Full online coverage of surviving lists is probably an unattainable goal. Many South African passenger
lists haven’t survived the passage of time, either as handwritten registers or in newspaper shipping columns. 

Accuracy, or the lack of it, is another problem. Even the manifests of vessels chartered for group emigration schemes are riddled with discrepancies. Every ship carried a list of the emigrants on board, 
but nervous travellers often changed their mind at the last moment, fell ill or even died before 
departure, others stepping in to take their place. In such cases, there might be confusion as to 
who was on board at time of sailing.

If an emigrant joined a ship at a port other than the main port of embarkation, their names could 
easily be left off the passenger list. On arrival in the colony, the Captain’s passenger list would 
be given to the Port Captain and to the Emigration Agent who supplied copies to the press. 
This was similar to a game of Chinese Whispers, each version containing different information. Misspellings of surnames, incorrect initials and errors in the number of family members 
are common in newspaper passenger lists. Certain passengers were not emigrants at all e.g. 
the captain’s wife, the ship’s surgeon, the minister or the teacher taken on to school the children 
during the voyage.

Lists of departures from South Africa are as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth. And, as the 20th c approached, the volume of shipping, either incoming or outgoing, escalated rapidly, making it 
more difficult to keep track of all individual arrivals and departures.

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