Tracking down elusive Namibian families

Yesterday (Monday 13 May 2013) we had a busy day, and at last managed to track down some of our elusive Namibian families, and found more information than we had time to record.

We started off going to the Lutheran Church archives, and stopped on the way at a viewing place over the city to take some photos of the changed Windhoek skyline. It was a place I had come to in 1971 with Marge Schmidt, Bishop Colin Winter’s secretary, to take photos for a brochure we were preparing for a project for a new Anglican cathedral, with ecumenical centre attached. The brochure was intended to show potential overseas donors the need for such a centre, and the city it would serve. It worked too, and several of them promised money that would have started the project, but the new dean, who was appointed especially to oversee the project, killed it, and the new cathedral was never built, so St George’s Cathedral (the green roof in the upper right-hand corner of the picture) remains the smallest Anglican cathedral in the world.

Windhoek city centre, with St George's Anglican Catrhedral, 13 May 2013

Windhoek city centre, with St George’s Anglican Cathedral, 13 May 2013

We managed, with some difficulty, to find the Lutheran Church office, with the archives, but the archivist was away on leave, and a retired former archivist, Pastor Pauli, came over to help us.

What we were looking for was baptism, marriage and burial records for the period of 1840-1920 in Rooibank, and Otjimbingue, as Rhenish missionaries were the only Christian clergy in those places at that period. Pastor Pauli was unable to find the records we were looking for, and said, rather ominously, that people tended to steal such records, and he didn’t know if they had them.

But though we came away empty-handed, Pastor Pauli was himself an archive of sorts, full of fascinating anecdotes, and it was worth going there just to meet him.

Pastor Pauli, retired Lutheran archivist in Windhoek, 13 May 2013

Pastor Pauli, retired Lutheran archivist in Windhoek, 13 May 2013

He said he was 96 years old, and was born in Silesia. His grandmother insisted that only German be spoken in the house as he and his brother were growing up, but she was a bit hard of hearing, so they spoke German to her very loudly, and spoke quietly to the maid in Polish, as she knew no German.

His brother, however, died young (at the age of 90), so he was now alone in the world. His brother had been fascinated by aviation, and had been a fighter pilot in the Second World War.

Pastor Pauli himself had come to Africa in 1937, as a missionary in Tanganyika. He said that more than 60 languages were spoken in Tanganyika, so people communicated with the common medium of Swahili, and lived on good terms with each other. He was struck by the contrast with Namibia, with three little languages, and if people who spoke one language found you had been talking to someone who spoke another language, they didn’t want to know you — at least that was his experience.

We went shopping and had lunch at one of the city shopping malls, and there too much change was in evidence.

A Windhoek shopping mall sdeen from across the car park of another. It was all over builders doing additions to it.

A Windhoek shopping mall seen from across the car park of another. It was all over builders doing additions to it.

When I lived in Windhoek in 1970, there was only one supermarket in town, the Model Supermarket in Kaiserstrasse (now Independence Avenue). Back then one could fill a trolley (American English = shopping cart) with groceries for R15.00. Now it would cost 100 times as much. Namibian dollars and South African Rand are the same value, and South African Rand notes are accepted everywhere in Namibia, it seems, though the coins are different sizes. A notable difference from South Africa was that one does not have to pay to park at the supermarket.

Herero fashions in 1969: Magdalena Bahuurua (housekeeper to Biship Mize) outside St George's Anglican cathedral in Windhoek (the priest in the picture is George Pierce).

Herero fashions in 1969: Magdalena Bahuurua (housekeeper to Biship Mize) outside St George’s Anglican cathedral in Windhoek (the priest in the picture is George Pierce).

The old Model Supermarket is still there, only it is now trading under the Shoprite label, the downmarket partner of the Shoprite-Checkers chain. In 1970 you could see Herero ladies in traditional dress standing in queues at the checkout counters, some with the shopping baskets on their heads. A British visitor once remarked, “Where else can in the world can you see women wearing Victorian crinolines doing their shopping in a supermarket?”

Herero ladies in traditional dress seem to be a less common sight nowadays, and the “traditional” dress is changing too. The headgear is growing wider and wider. We showed Hiskia Uanivi and Kaire Mbuende some of our old photos from 40 years ago, and even then the older women wore narrower headdresses, such as that worn by Magdalena Bahuurua in the picture on the right, while the younger ones more much wider ones. But those are nothing compared to the ones you see nowadays.

Herero fashions in 1970: Younger women after an Oruuano Church service in Gobabis old location.

Herero fashions in 1970: Younger women after an Oruuano Church service in Gobabis old location.

After lunch we went to the Namibian Scientific Society, where we wanted to buy a couple of books by early Swedish traders and travellers in Namibia, which had been translated into English and published, in case they mentioned some family members.

They also had photocopies of the Omaruru church registers, and that was where we struck paydirt. We found more in those registers in two hours than we had in two days at the state archives looking at deceased estate files and the like. There was more than we could possibly write down in the time we had left to us, and Gunter von Schumann, the historian there, said we could come to his house the next morning, where he had more copies of old church registers.

Agnes Dorothea Dixon, daughter of Daniel Esma Dixon and Annie Charlotte Gunning,  was born on 29 April 1906, and baptised on 30 May at Omaruru, and there was the Dixon- Gunning link we had been looking for. There were several other children born to that couple. The deceased estate files simply showed Daniel Esma Dixon (Junior) as having disappeared into Angola with no issue. Someone must have been lying! We took lots of photos of the registers, and hope to be able to transcribe the relevant entries and link them when we get home.

Then we switched from deceased relatives to the living. We had arranged to meet Mburumba Kerina at the Kalahari Sands Hotel, so we packed up and rushed over there, and had a pleasant dinner and a three-hour chat.

Val Hayes and Mburumba Kerina, 13 May 2013. Second cousins once removed.

Val Hayes and Mburumba Kerina, 13 May 2013. Second cousins once removed.

We are not sure of the exact relationship, but we think Mburumba Kerina is Val’s half-second cousin once removed. Both are descended from Fred Green (“Kerina” is the old Herero pronunciation of Green), Mburumba from Fred’s second wife Sarah Kaipukire, and Val from his third wife, Kate Stewardson.

Mburumba Kerina

Mburumba Kerina

Like Pastor Pauli, Mburumba Kerina was full of fascinating anecdotes, including how he devised the name of Namibia for the country. When he was in exile, he was visiting President Sukarno of Indonesia, who asked him the name of his country. He said it was “South West Africa”, and President Sukarno said he had never heard of it. He said that Angola was in South West Africa, and that a country must have a proper name.

Shortly afterwards, the Revd Michael Scott, the Anglican priest who had raised the question of South West Africa at the United Nations at the request of the Herero Chiefs’ Council, showed Mburumba Kerina an article about a Texas mining magnate who wanted to make his fortune by mining diamonds  in the Namib desert, and wanted to separate it from the rest of Namibia. So Mburumba came up with the name Namibia, to give the country a name, and also to emphasis that the Namib desert was an integral part of the county.

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This is part of our Namibian travelogue. The previous episode was Sunday in Windhoek: Quaker meeting and walking the dogs | Khanya, and, if you are interested, it begins at Kang: ver in die ou Kalahari | Notes from underground

While we have been staying with Enid and Justin Ellis in Windhoek we have taken advantage of their WiFi to access the Internet. Today we are leaving for Outjo, and then the Etosha National Park and Ovamboland, and the next instalment is at North to Outjo | Notes from underground

Reviving an old history blog

I’ve decided to revive our old family history blog on Blogger.

A couple of years ago I moved everything from there to this blog because there were problems with the Blogger software, which caused a lot of people to move from Blogger to WordPress. I left the old blog there with a link to this one.

Now Blogger has improved, and appears to be stable, so I’ll start using it again.

But there’s not much point in having two identical family history blogs, so I’ll use them for different purposes. WordPress and Blogger have strong points and weak points and one is better for some purposes and the other is better at other things.

So this blog, the WordPress one, I’ll mainly use for the more personal stuff, stories and news of our family and our own family history research. So you will be most likely to find this blog interesting if you are related to us, no matter how distantly. WordPress is better for this kind of thing because it makes it easier to post family photos and give them captions. I’ll also use it as a kind of research log, with news of things we find, and what other members of the family find.

The other blog, the Blogger one, I’ll use for more general stuff — notes and news on genealogical research generally, research resources, local history articles, background pieces, and general historical stuff. It will also include articles on historical method, technique and theory, comments on software for genealogists and family historians and for research generally, and so on. That’s because one of the strengths of Blogger is making links, grabbing stuff from news articles and putting it in a blog post. It also does a much better job of displaying widgets, like the “Recent Readers” from MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog. WordPress often makes a pig’s ear out of it, and sometimes displays the wrong pictures and so on.

The distinction won’t be absolute — I might still post some of our own family history on the other blog, and more general items here, depending on which blogging platform makes it easiest for a particular post.

The blogrolls on each blog will reflect this division as well. Here the links will be mostly to blogs by other family members, with a few more general links. On the other one, we will link to genealogy blogs that deal with the areas we are interested in — southern Africa, the UK, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and also ones that give more general information about genealogical and historical research.

Amazing serendipity!

Today I was in the Tshwane archives, looking up Devantiers.

I ordered file WLD 1184/74, the divorce of Carol Lynne Devantier and Peter Dudley Devantier, and the Box was marked Illiquid Cases 1974 1183/1194, so the second file in the box should have been the one I was looking for.

But instead it turned out to be the divorce of Roland Eric de la Harpe and Wendy Lynne de la Harpe.

Its number was 1284/74, and it had obviously been misfiled in the wrong box.

Well, that happens. People do sometimes put thing is the wrong boxes, and of course if anyone had looked for that file, they would never have found it.

The serendipity is that Roland Eric de la Harpe and Wendy Lynn Boyle happen to be related to us, so we might well have been the ones looking for that file.

So I made notes from it — details of the marriage and divorce dates etc., (some of the information we had was wrong).

Then I wondered what to do with the file. I shouldn’t put it back in the wrong box. If I took it to someone at the counter it would probably require long explanations. Eventually I thought the simplest thing to do would be simply to order the file. When the box came, I just put it back in its right place and handed it back again.

Using search engines for genealogy and family history

Over the last ten years or so Google has become the most popular web search engine — to much so that “to google” has become synonymous with searching the web. It’s become a generic term.

When Jackie Seaman announced her Growden reunion, I thought I’d do a web search for Growden, and started with Google because Firefox puts it so conveniently in the toolbar. Growden (or Growdon) is one of the less common surnames I’m researching, and we have a web page just for Growdon family researchers. But Google didn’t find it — at least not in the first 17 mages of results.

I tried another search engine, Altavista, and our Growdon page came up on the first page of results.

I tried another search engine, Dogpile, which is an aggregator of results from several different search engines, and our Growdon page was also on the first page of results, but further down.

It seems that Google is definitely not the best search engine for genealogical and family history research. Altavista (www.altavista.com) was better by a long way, and its first page of results was far more relevant to genealogy researchers.

The first page of results on Google produced a bunch of generic surname search sites, many of them commercial. This means that they show up on search results for anyone looking for any surname at all. If you try some of them you might find they have no information at all on Growdon (or whatever surname you are looking for), but then invite you to look for other surnames. And quite often, if they do have information, they ask you to pay upfront before you can see it.

Dogpile also came up with quite few of those generic surname sites, but did have more relevant sites on the first page of search results as well.

But Altavista came up with “real” Growdon/Growden sites first — people who were actually interested in Growden family history, and had information or were looking for information, rather than generic surname search sites.

So if you are looking for family history information on the web, don’t just “google” for it — try other search engines as well. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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