The challenge resonated on many levels. Firstly, it’s true that memories and stories quickly begin to fade, unless they’re recorded. Secondly, a tweet is a whole lot more manageable than an entire blog post, right? That’s not to say that the challenge excludes blog posts – quite the contrary – but it doesn’t dictate the format or medium or length for the content of the tweet (or what it links to), and there’s a freedom in that. Thirdly, the challenge could just help move my research (and organisation of it) forward, baby steps at a time. And, by the end of it all, I’d have 52 ancestral tidbits “published”, in a manner of speaking – more than I would have otherwise. So I decided to take up the challenge.
To stick to it, though, I needed a plan and so I chose to pick an event from an ancestor’s life that fell during the week scheduled for each of my tweets (not that I’ve managed to tweet on the scheduled day every time, or even in the appropriate week, but, as “they” say, better late than never!)
However, it occurred to me that many friends and family members aren’t Tweeple and, furthermore, my #AncestorChallenge2018 tweets could end up sandwiched in a mini-melee of other, unrelated tweets, so I figured a quarterly roundup of them in a blog post was the way to go and, voilà, a new blog post (or four) was born 🙂
A machine maker/machinist, journeyman, carpenter, and joiner, my 3x great-grandfather, William Andrew #Pinny, died from senile decay at the age of 75, on 4 Jan 1900, at 23 James Street, #Northampton, Northamptonshire, #England. Anyone stay there, or nearby? #AncestorChallenge2018
Coffee and rusks again heralded the start to the morning. After showering and packing, we enjoyed a quick breakfast of fruit and yoghurt before dropping our keys in the Henri House postbox and heading for another – the oldest in South Africa…
On the corner of Worcester and Somerset
We found it on the corner of Worcester and Somerset Streets, where it has valiantly stood since about 1860. Here we mailed the postcards we wrote yesterday evening, some of which were to ourselves (this idea came from some clever person on the Interwebs who sends postcards to themselves from the places that they visit – a wonderful way to document one’s travels)! Some websites claim that mail posted here gets a special frank but we can confirm that this is sadly no longer the case – our postcards were, in fact, franked in Port Elizabeth. We took a last look around: the beautiful building alongside us and St Andrew’s College Memorial Chapel diagonally across from us rose proudly against a now grey and increasingly gloomy sky as we piled back into the Pajero bound for King William’s Town and the next leg of our Eastern Cape adventure…
Next stop KWT
It was a pleasant journey, winding through the Great Fish River Pass, roadworks and rolling hills, and away from the bad weather that appeared to be pulling into Grahamstown! We made good time to KWT and stopped at the Buffalo River 1 Stop just outside the town for a comfort break and a brief discussion about what to do next, since it was still too early to check in to our new “home”. Fortunately, my fabulous father (who doesn’t do procrastination!) decided we should try to find Macleantown, some 50 kilometres east-ish of King. Why? Well, that’s a bit of a story!
Basically, a particularly fruitful Google search late last year resulted in a true treasure of a find: “Stamboom van Pieter Becker: Bekker Families van SA” by Johan Pottas and Annatjie Tiran – a family register available for download from the website of The Genealogical Society of South Africa. It contains what is to date the only documented mention I’ve come across of what I think may be my great-grandmother Nelson. The reference is to an Auguste Wilhelmine BECKER who married a George NELSON and it seems highly unlikely that there would be many Augustina Wilhelmina Beckers (or variants thereof) marrying George Nelsons around the “right” time. However, it is certainly not sufficient evidence to conclude that the reference is indeed to my great-grandparents so further research is definitely required.
My one-day visit to the Western Cape Archives at the beginning of the year yielded the death notice cited in “Stamboom van Pieter Becker: Bekker Families van SA” for Julius August Wilhelm Becker and, as one of his ten children, it indeed listed an Auguste Wilhelmine as being married to a George Nelson. If my great-great-grandfather Becker was indeed Julius, that would also explain where my grandfather, Arthur Archibald Julius Nelson, got one of his names from! Still, this is not enough. What I really need is a death notice for Auguste Wilhelmine/Augustina Wilhelmina which ought to list her parents, her spouse and her children. That would (hopefully!) link my grandfather with my great-grandparents and confirm my Becker great-great-grandparents…
But what does all this have to do with Macleantown? This: that I had stumbled across some civil death records for Becker family members that happened to be listed as siblings to Auguste Wilhelmine on the death notice for Julius August Wilhelm Becker, i.e. possible great-grandaunts and -uncles. These documents listed the intended place of burial as Macleantown. Photos of gravestones in the Macleantown cemetery on the eGGSA website confirmed that there were suspected Becker relatives buried there and so (with no small amount of trepidation after our Aliwal North cemetery experience) we decided to visit the graves for ourselves.
And so we drove through King and then through Bisho, eventually heading south-east-ish on the N6. It was a pleasant drive through a pleasant, largely unpopulated landscape on what had turned into a rather warm day, despite the clouds still trying to maintain some sort of a presence. We passed a turning signposted “Smiling Valley”, which did make me smile, sounding as though it could have come out of a children’s book! Shortly thereafter and rather abruptly, we came upon Macleantown and I issued the instruction, “Turn left! Turn left!” thinking that access to the cemetery must surely be from within the “town” itself. Almost immediately, we were faced with an intersection of dirt roads and Madame GPS bleating that I’d made the incorrect decision and we needed to turn around. We obeyed and then turned left back onto the N6. Barely had we done so when she informed us we needed to turn left again. We slowed down. Seriously? A tall, thick hedge lined the N6 on that side. Ah, there: a gap in said hedge! We turned into it and found ourselves looking at a rusty farm gate, beyond which a couple of Nguni cows looked up from their serious business of grazing to eye us lazily. Then we saw it: just beyond them, surrounded by another fence and another gate, was the cemetery!
I opened the gate and the Pajero splashed through a large puddle of muddy water on the other side, pulling to a stop in front of the second gate separating the grazing from the graves. It was a small cemetery, but the wild grass was neatly cut and wild flowers nodded in the gentle breeze. We spilled through the second gate and almost immediately found a Becker grave. However, lichen growth had rendered it virtually illegible. It was then that I discovered another of my enterprising mother’s skills: grave-cleaning! With a bottle of water we had in the car and a roll of paper towel, it wasn’t long before we were able to read it: E.M.A Becker. I didn’t recognise the initials and so we continued our search.
There were several Becker graves, but it was on the side of the cemetery closest to the road, against that hedge, that those we were looking for had been laid to rest: Julius Becker (second great-grandfather?), Mary Becker (neé Meyer, second great-grandmother?), Christian Meyer (third great-grandfather?), Emelia Wolseley (neé Becker, great-grandaunt?), Herman Becker (great-granduncle?), Franz Becker(second great-granduncle?) and Elizabeth Taylor (neé Becker, greatgrandaunt?). Given its similar style, it is also possible that the grave alongside Christian Meyer’s is that of Friederika Meyer/Meier (third great-grandmother?), but the headstone had been weathered smooth, making identification pretty much impossible. The “question marking” is, of course, because they are all still “suspected” relatives until I can unearth the evidence required to either confirm or deny their relationship to our family.
We spent almost two hours there, photographing Becker- and Meyer/Meier-related graves, transcribing some of those which had become difficult to read and getting quite sunburnt, before heading back towards King William’s Town.
A Discovery Lunch Sandwich
Our beeline for what was by now a very late lunch was briefly swung off course as we “discovered” a quaint and quirky corrugated iron church just off the R63 begging to be photographed!
It was around half an hour later when we pulled back into the Buffalo River 1 Stop and were seated in the Wimpy. After lunch and a much-needed, mandatory mega coffee, we set off into King again. One of the more sentimental items on my wish list for this holiday had been to attend a service in the churches that my Nelson grandparents had been baptised in, and Grandad Arthur was baptised in the Church of the Holy Trinity, King William’s Town. It was also the church he was confirmed in several years later. We decided to hunt it down, check out service times and assess the parking situation. It didn’t take long to find: a left turn into Alexandra Road and there, a few blocks further, its neo-Gothic, bluestone form rose up ahead of us, surrounded by trees.
We circled it, noting down the details, before asking Madame GPS to take us to the intersection of Queens Road and Raglan Street and Glencoe Guest House which would be our base for the next few days. She refused though, categorically stating that she knew nothing of this Raglan Street, and an argument ensued. When it became clear that she wasn’t going to budge, I switched her off and reverted to the trusty paper copy of the map I’d printed before leaving home – take that, Maggie!
Glencoe and a gentle evening
We found Glencoe shortly thereafter and met our super-gracious hostess, Giselle, who showed us to our garden rooms and very generously agreed to serve us breakfast earlier than her standard Sunday breakfast time so that we could make it to the 08:00 service at Holy Trinity. Incidentally, the story of Giselle and her husband Bertus, as well as that of the guest house, is a beautiful one – check it out by clicking the “About Us” link on their website.
Having unpacked, showered and freshened up a bit, we migrated onto the little wooden deck outside our rooms as the sun started to drop lazily toward the Amatola Mountains in the distance. We reviewed the copies of the death notices and other documents I’d ordered from the Western Cape Archives while there in January and then looked up the location of the King William’s Town main cemetery and the library. We then perused our photos of the day and enjoyed some pleasant reminiscing and reflection of our finds, while nibbling on crackers and rosa tomatoes – a light snack for dinner after our exceedingly late lunch!
And, finally, another hunt yields fruit!
Later, once the parents had retired to bed, I continued paging through image after image of civil death records, looking for Grandaunt Linda. Quite suddenly, I stopped and just stared at my laptop screen, for a few moments forgetting to breath. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It took a couple of
minutes of reviewing the document to register, but there it was: the civil death record for Linda Wilhelmina Nelson, aged nine, signed by my great- grandfather, George Albert Nelson. It also recorded their place of residence at the time: 76 Cambridge Road, King William’s Town! I did a quick calculation – it had taken the examination of 4,346 images to find this record of my young grandaunt’s death and, interestingly, it likely disproves the oral tradition about the cause of her death, but that’s a story for another time…
Deep in thought, I shut down my laptop and curled up in bed after another blessed day filled with discoveries of family past and precious times spent with family present.
Coffee and rusks at 07:00 provided enough fuel to get showered and presentable before a light breakfast of fruit and yoghurt, provided in our unit.
It was around 09:00 when we headed to the car and I coaxed Madame GPS into leading us to the Cory Library at Rhodes University, on the corner of Somerset Street and Lucas Avenue. She seemed to be having a slow start to the day, too, staying sullenly silent until the last moment, when she would suddenly become very annoyed and insist that we turn one way or the other. She led us to our destination, though: the Eden Grove building in which the library is housed on the ground floor. Unfortunately, she could do nothing to improve the parking situation, so I turned her off while we drove up and down Lucas Avenue and then sat and waited outside the library in the hope that someone would leave and we could pounce upon their parking. Our patience was rewarded at about 09:20 when a bunch of students, a good number of them barefoot, began to spill out the doors.
A Hard Day’s Work!
We parked and, armed with camera, laptop, notebooks and HB pencils, marched into the silence of the Cory Library. I had read about the genealogical research process at the Cory on their website and knew that we each had to register for a Reader’s Ticket, which we duly did at the reception desk. The very helpful young lady on duty then introduced us to the various resources available, but I already had a list prepared of Anglican Church registers for King William’s Town and Burgersdorp that I desperately wanted to get my hands on. She duly produced them and we started the arduous but fascinating process of searching them for glimpses of ancestors on my father’s side.
In their stained, often fragile pages and ink script, we found ourselves transported back to the late 1840s. Somewhat surprisingly, in 1899, we found an entry for a marriage of one of the suspected Becker great grand siblings (Great Grandma’s sister). The Beckers were German, so I’d thought that marriages, particularly of the women, would likely have taken place in the bride’s church, probably a Lutheran or Baptist one, but clearly this was not always the case. Despite being buoyed by this discovery, we could find no trace of the marriage of Great Granddad George and Great Grandma Augustina Wilhelmina Nelson, or not in the Church of the Holy Trinity, King William’s Town, anyway.
However, in the 1920s, we found records of marriage and banns of marriage for some of the Nelson grand siblings, though not all of them. Besides the obvious details such as names, dates and places, these help to paint a picture of the movement and dispersion of the family, and can provide tantalising new leads.
Apart from that, though, the Nelsons remained stubbornly elusive. We scoured the index cards for early newspapers in the Eastern Cape, the Manuscript Catalogue and the Picture Catalog. We found surname matches and related surnames, but none that appeared to be connected to our tree. We noted them anyway and, just before 15:00, decided that we should call it a day.
Hungry and more than a little parched (food and drink are not allowed in the library, for obvious reasons) we decided to reward ourselves with a meal at Saint’s Bistro on the High Street, and what a reward it was! Their paper menus double as funky placemats, from which we made our choices. My father decided on their Roast Pork Chops, served on apple mash, with crumbed mushrooms & apple cider & rosemary sauce. My mother ordered the Chicken Pesto Pasta: grilled chicken breast, zucchini, basil pesto & cream all tossed in your pasta of choice and topped with parmesan shavings. I eventually settled on the Chicken, Avo & Haloumi Sandwich, served on ciabatta with shoestring fries. All three dishes were absolutely superb. Perhaps our only disappointment was that they left absolutely no space to try the Amarula Crème Brûlée or Apple, Pear & Lime Cheesecake!
A Regroup & a Surprise Discovery
We returned to Henri House late in the afternoon, well fed and watered, so there was certainly no need for dinner. I reconciled our findings and what we still needed to look for at the Cory, before continuing the hunt for family death records. It was then that I discovered one for Leah Mary Lottie Wilkinson née Messenger. Now don’t go asking awkward questions about who she was because the truth is that I’m not absolutely sure, yet. I suspect that, like Minnie Florence, she was a great grand aunt, but I still need a few more pieces of evidence to prove it! Anyway, the death record revealed that her intended place of burial was the Toise River Burial Ground, which none of us had heard of. Google hadn’t really, either, although it was able to tell us that Toise or Toise River was 50 to 60 kilometres north of King William’s Town, where we were headed a few days hence. Hmm – another graveyard adventure in the offing, perhaps?
An Unexpected Visitor & Bedtime Blackout
A little before 21:00, while my mother was reading and I was still wading through Cape civil deaths, Thomas O’ Malley invited himself in. There was no asking, no waiting for an invitation, none of that. He is, you see, the cat of Henri House. His ginger and white form lazily padded around our doorframe and into the living area without any hesitation at all. Only when he was inside did he stop to look us up and down. He attempted to continue his inspection of our unit by meandering toward the second bedroom where my father was already sleeping. We didn’t think this would end well for either of them, but it took a good few minutes of intense negotiation to convince Mr O’ Malley, who eventually turned on his heel, nose in the air, and stalked sulkily out.
Shortly thereafter, we suddenly found ourselves plunged into darkness. Through the door and windows, we could only just see the surrounding houses as vague silhouettes against the silky night sky and concluded that a general power failure must be to blame. It seemed like an opportune time to call it a night after a full, blessed day of working side by side with one another, immersed in family and history…