Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland (1846-1901)

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland (1846-1901)Axel Wilhelm Eriksson of Hereroland by Ione Rudner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson (1846-1901) was a nineteenth-century Swedish hunter and trader in south-west Africa, and this “life and letters” book gives a picture of his life, and what life was like for others there at that time.

All agree that everyone who knew him liked A.W. Eriksson, and he was well-known and widely-respected in what are now Namibia and Angola. That did not stop them from abusing his hospitality, taking advantage of his kind and generous nature, and cheating him on every possible occasion.

It took me nearly three months to read this book, mainly because I interrupted it by reading some of the sources on which it was based.

Axel Wilhelm was born in Vänersborg, Sweden (then spelt Wenersborg) on 24 August 1846, and in 1865, at the age of 18, he travelled to Damaraland (Hereroland), now part of Namibia to help his fellow-Swede, Charles John Andersson, to collect and mount specimens of the animals and birds of southern Africa for Swedish museums. Within 18 months of Eriksson’s arrival Andersson had died and Eriksson buried him in what is now southern Angola.

Eriksson then carried on hunting and trading on his own account, and became the biggest businessman in Damaraland, though he had to face setbacks caused by wars, droughts and, in 1897, the Rinderpest, the cattle plague that killed off most of the cattle in sub-Saharan Aftica.

My interest in him is twofold: having lived in Namibia for a couple of years I am interested in its history, and Axel Wilhelm Eriksson married a relative of my wife, Frances (Fanny) Stewardson, so their children are related. You can see more about that on our blig here: Elusive Namibian families.

The marriage was not a happy one, and ended i n divorce ten years later, when Axel Eriksson found that Fanny had committed adultery with his clerk, Clement Stephen Stonier. In one of his letters he described his marriage as “ten years of hell”. After the divorce, in 1883, he took his three oldest children, Sara (nearly 10), Andrew (6) and Axel (nearly 5) to Sweden to go to school there, and to be cared for by his elder sister Mathilda Olsen, who had herself been deserted by her husband. The youngest daughter, Maud, was brought up by cousins in Cape Town, where she married James Kirby, and later lived in England.

Axel Wilhelm Eriksson was joined in Damaraland by several of his brothers and a number of other Swedes, some of whom also became related by marriage by marrying into the Stewardson family, namely Oskar Theodore Lindholm and Charles Reinhold Carlsson.

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Fred & Mary Greene

One of the things that was missing from our family history was a picture of Val’s great grandparents, Fred and Mary Greene. A few weeks ago, however, Jean Mary Gray sent us one. Jean’s grandmother, Connie Semple, was the half-sister of Frederick Vincent Greene.

Frederick Vincent Greene (1868-1949) and his wife Mary Frances  Crighton (1868-1957)

Frederick Vincent Greene (1868-1949) and his wife Mary Frances Crighton (1868-1957)

Frederick Vincent Greene was the son of Frederick Thomas Green, the Canadian elephant hunter, trader and partisan leader in Damaraland in the mid-19th century. He was born at Ehangero, Damaraland, on 21 November 1868. His mother was Catherine Agnes Ann (Kate)  Stewardson, who was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay (now part of Namibia).

After Frederick Thomas Green died in 1876, his widow, Kate Stewardson, married George Robb. With her two husbands she had at least 17 children, of whom only five survived to adulthood. So Fred Greene (Junior) had two sisters, Mary Elizabeth Green (1865-1952) who married Frederick Thomas Abbott, and Alice Isabella Green (1871-1945) who married John Martin Cuthbert O’Grady.

He also had three half-sisters, one from his father’s earlier wife, and two from his mother’s later husband (it gets complicated).

The eldest half-sister was Ada Maria Green (1864-1926), born at Otjimboro, Angola, of Frederick Thomas Green’s second wife, Sara ua Kandendu (his first wife was a Dixon, name unknown). Ada, also known as Ida and Kaera, was the ancestor of Mburumba Kerina, the inventor of the name “Namibia” (“Kerina” was the Herero pronunciation of “Green”).

Frederick Vincent Greene’s other two half sisters were the children of his mother, Kate Stewardson, and her second husband George Robb. They were Agnes Mary Elizabeth Robb (1878-1959) who married Charles Ernest Peers, a Cape Town artist, and Constance Sweetingham (Connie) Robb (1889-1964) who married John Semple, and is the grandmother of Jean Gray who sent us the photo.

Frederick Vincent Greene was 7 years old when his father died, and was brought up by his mother and stepfather, who moved to the Cape Colony about 1881 or 1882, and later moved to Johannesburg. At some point he married Mary Frances Crighton — we don’t know when or where, but their first child, Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Greene, was born in Ladysmith, Natal, in 1890. His father, Fred Vincent, was shown in the Anglican baptism register there was a “mechanical engineer”.

Mary Frances Crighton was the daughter of William John Crighton and Anna Maria MacLeod of Cape Town, where the family were saddlers and leather merchants. On her mother’s side there were also Canadian links, as her grandmother, Mary Kerwick, like Fred Vincent Greene’s father, was born in Quebec. See here for more on the Crighton family.

They had eight children, but they are the generation we know least about.

  • Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Greene (1890-?)
  • Charles Stanhope Greene (1891-?)
  • Arthur Walpole Francis Greene (c1893-c1943)
  • Allan Dudley Greene (c1893-c1942)
  • Edward Lester Greene (1897-c1950)
  • Frank Henry Greene (c1899-?)
  • Royden Braithwaite Greene (1905-1971)
  • Gladys Winifred Greene (1907-1997)

Val’s grandfather was Allan Dudley Greene, but he died before she was born, and when her father was a prisoner-of-war in Italy. He died of TB, but Val’s grandmother Emma le Sueur couldn’t remember when it was. She was good at remembering what pills they took and what diseases they died of, but was rather vague about dates and places. But she thought he had died in the King George V Hospital in Sydenham, Durban. So we went there and asked at the reception if they could find the record of someone who had been a patient 30 years before. They found him in the index, and said that because it was so long ago, his admission card would be in the basement. It took them all of 10 minutes to find it. So we got his date of death. We were delighted, because we had just spent the morning hunting through the records of the Master of the Supreme Court in Pietermaritzburg (for which I had to get special permission from the magistrate, being banned at the time) and had found no death notice or any other estate files for him. And we still don’t know when or where he was born.

The family surname was Green and remained so until the First World War. The eldest son, Frederick Alwyn Bartlett Green, changed his name to Greene when he enlisted in the army, and someone said it was because he had had a fight with his father. But by the end of the war all the sons were using the Greene spelling, and the father was too.

Some members of the family refer to the eldest son as Fred Skelm, because there are all kinds of rumours about him. He was arrested in South West Africa in the 1930s for illegal diamond prospecting in the Kaokoveld, and banged up in Outjo for a while. He claimed that he was heir to the land on which he was prospecting because it had belonged to his grandfather Frederick Thomas Green. His story was perhaps not as far-fetched as it may have seemed to the magistrate at the time, because his aunt Ada (Kaera) had sued the South West Africa Company for a farm that the German colonial government had given to the Company, which she maintained that the Herero chief, Samuel Maharero, had given to her father for her. She won her case too, and the deed, signed by the Herero chiefs’ council, may perhaps be the first written title deed in Namibia.

Fred Skelm seems to have married several times, and may or may not have had children by some of his wives, One story was that he worked on a mine somewhere in America, murdered someone, and escaped on a railway handcranked inspection truck. Another said he was run over by a bus in Clairwood, Durban, and yet another that it was in London.

The second son, Charles Stanhope Green was baptised in Johannesburg in 1892 when he was a year old, but we don’t know where he was born. He disappears after that. Perhaps he died young.

Arthur Walpole Francis Greene, the third (or possibly fourth) son was married in 1915 to Margaret McLaren, who left him 2 days later. He was said to have been drowned when the ship he was travelling on was torpedoed in WWII. Edward Lester Greene had a son Lester Frederick, who went farming in Zimbabwe. Frank Henry Greene went overseas as a soldier in World War I, but while in England was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment for stealing articles from a house. He apparently committed suicide at about the age of 25.

Roydon Brathwaite Green changed all three of his names, becoming Royden Braithwaite Greene. He was born in Johannesburg and lived in Port Elizabeth.

The youngest child of Fred and Mary Green was Gladys Winifred Greene, who married twice. We found that she was living in Ixopo, and Val went to visit we with her father, who was thus meeting his aunt for the first time. She was the one who first told us about the Namibian connection, which enabled us to find Fred Green the elephant hunter in the history books, though several of them erroneously referred to him as Frederick Joseph Green instead of Frederick Thomas Green. Later we met Gladys’s daughter Dion Stewart, who lived in Empangeni when we lived in Melmoth, and she was the first one who told us about the family royal legend, which turned out to be false, but did put us on the track of the real Green family history.

So we were very glad to have the photo, which is the only one we have seen of Fred and Mary Greene.

Memories of several years in south western Africa

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book that paints a picture of life in what is now Namibia in the 1860s and 1870s. It covers several interests of mine, like family history, because the auther was a friend of my wife Val’s great great grandparents, and missiology, because of his comments on the way missionaries behaved then.

Memories of several years in south-western AfricaMemories of several years in south-western Africa by Thure Gustav Een

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since Namibia became independent in 1990 there has been increased interest in its history, including its pre-colonial history. The problem is that there are few written sources for that period, and even fewer published ones, and many of those that were published (mostly in the 19th century) have long been out of print.

Captain T.G. Een spent some time in Damaraland (Hereroland) and Ovamboland between 1866 and 1871, and when he returned to his native Sweden published an account of his experiences in 1872. The archives of Namibia have been published some of their manuscript holdings, such as letters and diaries of European missionaries and traders who were in Namibia at that period. But diaries are personal documents, and tend to be quite sketchy.

Thanks to a grant from the Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation for Underdeveloped Countries, Eens books has now been translated into English by Jalmar and Ioene Rudner, and published with a new introduction and annotations by the Namibia Scientific Society.

Unlike a diarist, or even most letter writers, Een is writing for readers who have never seen the country he describes, and so he gives a vivid word picture of the places he visited and the people he met. In some ways the descriptions are superficial. Een was a sailor, not a trained anthropologist (actually there were no trained anthropologists in that period). He describes the everyday life and customs of the Herero and Ovambo people as he observed them, but he did not speak the languages of those peoples well, and communicated through interpreters who used Dutch, which Een did not speak well himself. So while he describes external customs, his interpretation of their inner meaning tends to be skimpy and shallow. One of his complaints was that the German missionaries, who had studied the languages, kept their knowledge to themselves, and were unwilling to share it with others who wanted to know the people of the country better.

He gives some interesting details of relations between different groups of people. When he first arrived in 1866 with C.J. Andersson, the Anglo-Swedish explorer and trader, they were based at Otjimbingwe on the Swakop River, which was then the capital of Damaraland (Hereroland). There were then at least four distinct groups of Herero-speaking people — the followers of Maharero, the followers of Zeraua, the Himba of the Kaokoveld to the northwest, and the Mbanderu of the east. Maharero and Zeraua and their retinues lived at Otjimbingwe, and they were occasionally invited to dinner by Andersson, but never at the same time. When Zeraua came to dinner, he sat at the table. But when Maharero came to dinner, he sat on a chair by the door, away from the table, because of his bad table manners. But Andersson did not want them to know of this different treatment.

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

Grasplatz, in the Namib desert just inland from Lüderitz

When I lived in Namibia over 40 years ago one of the things I wondered about was how traders back in the 19th century managed to travel with their ox wagons through the waterless Namib desert. A few miles outside Luderitz there was a railway halt called Grasplatz, because they used to store grass for the oxen there, for the next stage of the journey. The diarists described “wagon trains” going from Otjimbingwe to Walvis Bay and returning, but they don’t describe how they did it. But Een does describe it, in some detail. And that is the kind of thing that makes his book interesting.

Of course, like a diary, it is still a personal book. He praises the Damaras (Hereros) at some points, but criticises them at others. He thinks they are lazy, ungrateful scroungers, and makes no bones about it, and gives several examples. But he also writes of several that he regards as friends. When I was in Namibia a century later, I had several Herero friends, but none fitted that description. I did know one or two scroungers, but other Hereros thought they were weird too. But perhaps a hundred years of history can make a big difference, to all parties.

So we have Een’s view of people of other cultures, but his description of them for the benefit of Swedes also tells us something about 19th-century Swedish culture and values. One of the interesting sidelights was that, according to the translators’ notes, there were 137 white people in Damaraland at that time (though the number can’t have been constant, they were always coming and going). They were of various different national origins, but the missionaries were all Germans of the Rhenish missionary society. Een describes the differing responses to the news that the Germans had won the Franco-Prussian War.

All whites who were not of German nationality wished the French army to be victorious, and we awaited news from the front with intense interest. When the victories of the German forces became known, in their usual manner of course, started bragging and blustering and behaving arrogantly. Of course these wonderful victories with all their bloody deeds, which have taken the European civilization a big step backward, had to be observed and celebrated with German thoroughness here in the wilderness also. To begin with, Mr Hahn, the High Priest of the missionaries, took down the mission flag, a red cross on a white background, and raised the flag of the North German Federation instead. The holy sign of the cross had to be replaced by that of ‘das grosse Vaterland’. The common symbol of peace of the Celestial Empire for all peoples had to give way to the German nation’s flag of victory. That was not enough. The black Christian brethren must not be left ignorant and unstirred by the victories of the Germans… The Negro boys (presumably from the mission school) were surely less interested in their German brethren’s victories than in the slaughtered ox with which they were treated to mark the occasion… All we white men were upset by this deed which we found improper in a neutral country, and especially coming from men of the cloth who should preach peace or at least avoid open approval of war, which they otherwise condemned in their preaching to the natives…

Een responded to this by raising a Swedish flag over his house at Omaruru, and went on to say,

In order to counteract all influences of the German flag still further, I made another flag of my own design, a large white star on a blue background. I hoisted this flag and tried to explain to Old Wilhelm (Chief Zeraua) that it was the flag of the Damara people, the symbol of their unity and harmony about which they should gather in times of danger to defend their country.

It little details like these that make Een’s book an interesting read, and help to bring the past to life.

It was also interesting to me because Een was a friend of Fred and Kate Green, my wife’s great great grandparents, and throws some interesting light on the family history. Fred Green married Kate Stewardson, the daughter of Francis and Frances Stewardson.

The translators, in their notes, persist in repeating the errors of several published sources by referring to Francis Stewardson as “Ian” Stewardson (which is a name that was made up for a historical novel), and giving Fred Green’s middle name as Frederick Joseph Green, when it was actually Frederick Thomas Green. I mention this because of the persistence of these errors, which come from relying on secondary sources. The church records, in Namibia and Canada, show that Fred Green’s middle name was Thomas, and the elder Stewardson’s name was Francis, not Ian. Fred Green’s deceased estate file in the Free State Master’s Office also shows his middle name as Thomas, so he didn’t change his name in middle age as some people do.

Een (2004:74) reveals that Fred and Kate Green had another child that we didn’t know about before:

Last among the hunters to arrive [in Ovamboland in November 1866] was Mr Green with with his wife who had been born in Damaraland of English parents. Both of them were ill. Green already had the first symptoms of the fever [malaria] prevailing in the country, which he had first contracted some years ago and which characteristically recurs every year, and then often enough it reappears some time before the period of its general recurrence. Mrs Green could not, of course, be anything other than exhausted and sick as she had had a son some days previously. The child died soon after their arrival here without having been baptized, and was buried without any ceremony at the foot of a fig tree…

Green was an amiable and pleasant gentleman and known as the most proficient hunter in this part of Africa. He did not consider it worthy of a gentleman to shoot elephants from an ambush at night when they came to the water to quench their thirst.

Een goes on to describe the recent death of another Swede, Johan August Wahlberg, who was killed by an elephant when on a hunting expedition with Fred Green. In Wahlberg’s case, he was ambushed by the elephant.

In a couple of places Een refers to Francis and Frances Stewardson’s daughters as beautiful, and one of the last things he did before he left to return to Sweden was to attend the wedding of one of them, Fanny, to another Swedish trader, Axel Whilhelm Eriksson (Een 2004:187).

Eriksson returned from his expedition to Ovamboland in September [1871]. He wasd engaged to one of the beautiful daughters of Mrs Stewardson, and now the wedding was celebrated with the usual pomp and splendour. He marriage ceremony was performed by Missionary Viehe in the meeting-house or school-house of Omaruru, and was attended by a large crowd of black spectators. The bride, dressed in light-blue silk, was radiantly beautiful. There was a big salute [of guns] and the black spectators were given two fat oxen on which they could feast as they pleased.

Sad to say, the marriage ended in divorce 10 years later. Axel Eriksson and Fanny Stewardson had four children, and one of them was named Axel Francis Zeraua Eriksson, presumably after his father, his maternal grandfather, and Chief Zeraua, who was a close friend of Eriksson.

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Life in Namibia and Angola a century ago (book review)

William Chapman: ReminiscencesWilliam Chapman: Reminiscences by William Chapman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I saw this book in the Protea Bookshop in Pretoria, I immediately bought it, mainly because of my interest in family history and Namibian history. My wife Val’s paternal great grandfather, Frederick Vincent Greene, was born at Ehangero, Damaraland, in 1868. His father, Frederick Thomas Green, a Canadian, lived in Damaraland for 25 years as a hunter and trader, and when he died in 1876 William Chapman attended him at his death bed, at Heigamkab in the dry bed of the Swakop river. He describes the scene in his book in some detail.

The late Mr Frederick Green had arrived shortly before at the bay [Walvis Bay] and had gone with his family on a trip to Cape Town so I decided to wait for his return and then go with him to the interior. During the time I was waiting for Mr Green I enjoyed the hospitality of Mr John Gunning, the manager of Mr A.W. Eriksson’s store in Walvisch Bay.[1]

When Mr Green returned I joined him and we left the Bay for the interior, he was very unwell. After reaching Hykamgap in the Swakop River he became worse and died on the 4th May 1876, succumbing to what Mr Palgrave said was an acscess on the liver, the last days of his illness being marked by vomiting. I was in the wagon with him during the last night and present when he breathed his last. Poor man, he left a widow and a number of children!

Chapman goes on to give a summary of what he knew of the life of Fred Green, who had been a friend of his father, James Chapman.

Family historians like to get birth, marriage and death certificates for information about their ancestors, but there was no registration of these events in Namibia in those days — at that time the country consisted of a number of mini-states that sometimes quarrelled among themselves. Fred Green’s death took place during one of the peaceful interludes, though he himself had participated in some of the earlier battles. But Chapman gives as much information as most death certificates, and with a more human touch.

William Chapman went to Damaraland as a teenager to seek his fortune. He had a romantic notion of following in the footsteps of his father James Chapman, and saw Fred Green as a Nimrod who would teach him the ropes. He was 16 at the time.

Instead he had to be content with Fred Green’s brothers-in-law, William and Charles Stewardson, teenagers not much older than himself, who were equipped and sent out to hunt and trade by the aforementioned Mr A.W. Eriksson. It makes me wonder about the youth of today. How many parents would send three kids aged 16 or 17 out on a business trip, putting them in charge of expensive equipment, and in a country full of wild animals, some of which they would hunt, and others which would hunt them? Though I suppose we do send them to war, to hunt and kill other human beings.

But William Chapman did not get on well with the Stewardson brothers, nor they with him. Reading between the lines, it sounds like a high school kid being excluded from a gang. The Stewardsons had been brought up rough, in a desert country. Chapman was the citified kid, who had been to a relatively posh school, which taught him gentelman’s manners. The Stewardsons preferred the company of their Damara and Herero servants, and at nights around the campfire preferred to talk to them, in their own languages, thus excluding the city slicker, who spoke only English and Dutch.

Chapman grew up fast, however, and eventually went into business on his own account, and migrated northwards to Angola, where he farmed, hunted and traded for 48 years.

The book is in two parts. The first part, the reminiscences proper, he began to write in 1916, mainly for his children, or at least at their request, and is the story of his life and of the people he encountered. The second part is an account of the Dorsland Trekkers, who left the Transvaal when it was under British rule about 1880, and went north-west through what is now Botswana, ending up in Angola, which was gradually coming under Portuguese rule.

It seems that he may have intended the second part for publication, but never actually got round to finishing it, because there are blanks for things like dates and names to be filled in later, and towards the end it is in obvious need of much editing. Most of the last part is a series of anecdotes intended to show how terrible Portuguese rule in Angola was, and why the Dorsland trekkers left after having lived there for nearly 50 years. There is no account of how they left and what subsequently happened to them.

Except for those last 50 or so pages, the book is very readable, and gives an interesting picture of what life was like in Namibia and Angola a century or more ago. There are also several photographs.

One of the things that struck me was some strange inconsistencies. I’m not sure if they were mere personal idiosyncracies, or if they were attitdes common among white people living there at the time. At times Chapman rails against the Portuguese for their unjust treatment of the “natives”, and gives accounts of such practices as forced labour, imprisonment (and even killing) without trial, confiscation of livestock and so on. And then in another place he accuses the Portuguese of over-familiarity, giving chairs to natives to sit on when they meet for discussions and similar malpractices. The British and the Boers, he avers, would never sink to that level.

The value of the book is enormously enhanced by comprehensive annotations by the editor, Nicol Stassen. He has gone to a great deal of trouble to identify people and places mentioned in the text and to provide useful information about them in footnotes. It is almost worth buying the book for these alone.

Notes

[1] John Gunning, A.W. Eriksson and Fred Green were brothers-in-law, since they had all married into the Stewardson family. Frank and Fanny Stewardson (Francis and Frances, if you want to be formal) went to Namibia from the Cape in the late 1840s, and their daughter Kate married Fred Green, Fanny married Axel Eriksson, and Charlotte married John Gunning.

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The Dixon family of Namaqualand (book review)

Die Dixons van NamakwalandDie Dixons van Namakwaland by Ledivia van Vuuren

A couple of weeks ago I wrote in a blog post Gunning for the Dixons about some of the problems of locating the Dixon family in what is now Namibia.

We were interested because some members of my wife’s family had married into a Dixon family (as described in the blog post in the link above) and they also appeared to be business partners of the Dixon family, but most of the records we had found were confusing and it was possible that there was more than one Dixon family. We made contact with the author of this book, but weren’t able to get hold of a copy because of a postal strike. Now at last we have a copy, and things become a little bit clearer.

It seems that there were definitely two Dixon families, and Edward C. Tabler confused them in his book Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland and conflated them into one.

This book deals with only one of the families, and makes no mention at all of the other, but that at least helps us to say that people who can be identified as members of this family are very unlikely to be members of the other.

Both Dixon families were probably Irish in origin, however.

The two Dixon families are:

1. Benjamin Dixon and Lodivia Manifold (the subjects of this book)
2. Peter Daniel Dixon and Whilhelmina Hendriks

I will refer to them as the “Ben Dixon” and “Peter Dixon” families.

Ben Dixon became a business partner of James Morris, and their two families set out for Namibia in 1843, travelling overland by ox waggon. They were Wesleyan Methodists and travelled part of the way with some Wesleyan missionaries, and stayed at mission stations on the way. They crossed the Orange (Gariep) river on Christmas day 1843, and reached Walvis Bay in about June 1844. This is all described in detail in the book, seen through the eyes of the Dixons’ eldest daughter Jane, who was 13 years old when they left, and had her 14th birthday on the journey.

The Dixon and Morris families built two houses and a store on the Kuiseb River, at a place they named Sandfontein, about three miles from the present town of Walvis Bay, and began trading for cattle, which they exported to St Helena to provide meat for the British garrison there. In September 1844 Mary Morris gave birth to a daughter at Sandfontein (she was named Sarah Ann Kuisip, because she was born on the Kuiseb River, though that is not mentioned in the book).

They kept a couple of lion cubs as pets, and various sailors from ships in Walvis Bay harbour wanted to buy them, and when they would not sell, tried to steal them. Walvis Bay harbour was amazingly busy in those days, mainly with ships collecting guano from the offshore islands, and sometimes there were 10 or 12 of them in the bay at the same time, come to re-stock with stores before going back to collect more guano.

For a while the business prospered, and then things went bad. Fewer guano ships arrived, and many of the people inland who traded cattle for goods did not pay for the goods, and so Ben Dixon and James Morris had so go on debt collecting tours. The debtors, however, sometimes decided that they easiest way to pay their debts was simply to steal the cattle from someone else, or even from those to whom they were owed. One group bought a waggon for a number of cattle, and then took the cattle back to haul the waggon home. Complaints to the British government about this led to the St Helena contract being cancelled.

James Morris took a large herd of cattle overland to Cape Town, to try to sell them there, and returned by sea with his sister Fanny and her husband Frank Stewardson, and their two children. Fanny and Frank Stewardson were my wife Val’s great-great-great grandparents, so snippets like that were of special interest to us.

So one thing that we learned from the book was that while that Ben Dixon and the Morris and Stewardson families were in a business partnership together, they did not intermarry.

Eventually Ben Dixon returned to the Cape Colony, but instead of going back to Cape Town he settled in Little Namaqualand, on a farm near the town of Garies. Their eldest daughter Jane married William Latham, and remained in what is now Namibia until her husband’s death, then went to stay with her parents. The second daughter, Rebecca, married Frank Bassingthwaighte, and their family remained in Namibia, and some of their descendants are still there today. The younger members farmed in the Northern Cape, and so the Ben Dixon family is mainly associated with Namaqualand, as the book’s title suggests.

The Peter Dixon family seems to be entirely different, though also perhaps originally from Ireland.

Peter Daniel Dixon was the son of McCombe Donald Dixon and Maria Sprewt. He was born in the Cape Colony about 1821, and married Wilhelmina Hendriks, by whom he had at least 7 children. He was trading in Walvis Bay in the early 1860s, and his daughter married Fred Green, the elephant hunter, but died in about 1860, and they seem to have had no children. Fred Green then married Sarah Kaipukire, and after a separation or divorce, married Catherine Stewardson, the daughter of Frank and Fanny Stewardson mentioned above. So Fred Green was married into the Peter Dixon family, but was also friendly with the Ben Dixon family.

Peter Dixon married a second time to Annie Cloete, probably in Damaraland, but if they had any children, we know nothing of them. We are hoping to visit Namibia in May, and to do some research in the archives here, and reading this book was in part a preparation for that. When visiting archives a long way away, with limited time, it is useful to know what you are looking for, and also to know what you are not looking for. It can save a lot of time not going down false trails.

But though it appears that we are not related to the Ben Dixon family either by descent or marriage, the book was nevertheless a fascinating and informative read, and gives a good insight into life 150 years ago.

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The Stooke family and the end of the world

Well the world didn’t end on 21 December, but our ADSL router did — it was zapped by lightning on the evening of the 20th, and so we missed the momentous event, just when I was making some interesting discoveries about the Stooke family too.

I seem to have lost touch with many of the people who were researching the Stooke family. Our biggest breakthrough came from Joyce Robinson in Victoria, Australia, who sent us a huge family tree back in 1989, and at the time we were in though with several descendants of the Stooke family, including David Furse (who has since died), who had links to two different Stooke families. Back in the early 1990s we were in touch with several others as well, but now there doesn’t seem to be anyone to share interesting family news with.

So if you’re interested in Stooke families originating in Devon in England, and are reading this, please leave a comment.

I have also started a Stooke family forum on YahooGroups. This is a place for contacting others interested in the Stooke family history. The main feature of a mailing list for posting research queries and discoveries etc, but there are also facilities for exchanging Gedcom and other files, posting photographs, databases and more. Please click on the link to find out how to join.

I originally tried to post this on the quick & dirty Posterous blog, but it doesn’t seem to work any more.

In the steps of Fred Green

Twenty years ago this month we went to Namibia on holiday, and one of the reasons we wanted to go was to learn more about Fred Green, Val’s great great grandfather, who was a trader and elephant hunter there for about 25 years, from about 1850 until his death in 1876.

Frederick Thomas Green (1829-1876) Born Montreal, Quebec. Died Heikhamkab, near Walvis Bay

We’ve been scanning some old photos, including photos of that holiday trip, and so it seemed a good time to share them and some of the related family history, old and new. Val had been to Namibia a year before, about a week after it became independent, and spent some time in the archives looking up the history of the Green family, and meeting some relatives and other researchers, like Dag Henrichsen, from Switzerland, who was particularly interested in Fred Green’s eldest daughter, Ada Maria Green, known as Kaera. Val also met a cousin, a descendant of Kaera, Mburumba Kerina, who is credited with the invention of the name Namibia.

In April 1991, however we all went, driving via Upington and the Augrabies Falls on Bright Monday, spending a night in Karasburg, and reaching Windhoek the next day. It was the first time I had been back to Namibia since being deported nearly twenty years before. It was interesting to see how things had changed in twenty years, and especially since independence. Some friends in Windhoek said that the biggest change had taken place overnight — the moment that the South African army withdrew to south of the border the whole country breathed a sign of relief and peace descended. There were several new buildings in Windhoek, which seemed somehow brighter and more cheerful.

We went north to stay ar Gross Barmen, and from there visited Okahandja, Omaruru and Otjimbingwe, places that Fred Green knew well 130 years before. You can read more about Fred Green’s life and times here and here.

8-Apr-1991, Monday

Abstract

Bright Monday. Leave for Namibia. Visit Kuruman, Aughrabies Falls, stay in Karasburg

Left for Namibia at 03:30, and travelled down the freeway to Muldersdrift, then through Tarlton and Ventersdorp. It began to get light then, and between Ventersdorp and Coligny for quite a long way there were road works and deviations. At Biesiesvlei Val took over driving, and we stopped for breakfast in Vryburg at a restaurant that served a “Kalahari breakfast” of eggs, wors, bacon and chips. We reached Kuruman at about 11:00 and had a look at the eye, and the fish in the pool next to it, and filled up with petrol.

Augrabies Falls, on Orange River below Upington

Social weavers' nest on a telephone pole

We reached Upington about 14:00, and bought Kentucky fried chicken for lunch, then drove on to Keimoes where we filled up with petrol, and reached the Aughrabies falls at 15:00, and spent about an hour there wandering around and looking at the falls from various viewpoints. Simon found a colony of dassies. We drove west across a flat plain, and contemplated going to Pofadder and possibly sleeping there. I’d always wanted to see Pofadder, because of the name, and it seemed the most isolated place in South Africa, but the scenery looked boring, and so we decided rather to go to Karasburg via Onseepkans, and it was a scenic drive down to the Orange river with the sun beginning to go down, social weaver nests on the telephone poles, and groves of kokerbome on the hills, and one next to the road that we stopped to photograph.

Kokerbome (Quiver trees), found in Northern Cape and southern Namibia

Kokerbome (Quiver trees), found in Northern Cape and southern Namibia

At the border there was a square army tent with a black guy and a white guy in camouflage uniform, looking bored. They stamped our passports, and we crossed the river. It was quite wide there, flowing slowly through pools and reeds – nothing like the roaring rush of water through the gorge upstream at Aughrabies. On the Namibian side there was an identical tent, but the immigration/police officers smartly dressed in navy blue trousers and white shirts. One was reading an English novel with the help of a dictionary – with the official language being English now, a lot of people will have to learn it.

We drove into the setting sun towards Karasburg, and arrived there at 19:00. We asked for a room at the Kalkfontein Hotel, and they guy there offered us his “five-star” room, with six beds, and air-conditioner and a bathroom and shower for the all-in price of R175-00 – not bad for these days. We went straight to dinner – mutton stew and vegetables – and then straight to bed. It had been a long day of driving.

9-Apr-1991, Tuesday

Abstract

Karasburg to Windhoek. Supper with Enid Ellis

We woke up about 06:50, and had breakfast at the hotel – similar to what we had had yesterday, wors, eggs, bacon and chips. They had stickers from UNTAG and the Australian Army, relics of the transitional period last year. The atmosphere seemed relaxed and friendly. in marked contrast to what it had been when I left nearly twenty years ago. We left just after 08:00, and drove to Grunau, where we stopped for petrol at the Shell garage just north of the village. There was a shop in the garage with an amazing range of merchandise on sale, and a sign on the door that said “Come in” in English, Afrikaans and Kwanyama – the last seemed rather strange this far south. We bought a map and some postcards, and on the way to Keetmanshoop I wrote postcards to Joy Bidgood, Marios and Kia Prelorenzo. We took photos of the Karasberge – I had been through them many times, mainly at sunrise or sunset, but had never really taken pictures of them, and they were always to me the real sign of entering or leaving Namibia, even though they are about 200 km from the border.

At Keetmanshoop we bought a lot of stamps. Some cars had new number plates, with an N, followed by the number, and then a K, instead of the old SK ones. Others had green numberplates with GRN on, which I assumed stood for “Government of the Republic of Namibia” in place of the old A…G numbers. As we went north from there Val and the children stuck stamps on to the “Blue Press” that we were sending out. There was one section where they were working on the road, and we had about 15 km of gravel detour, with great clouds of dust. There were many heavy trucks on the road – far more than I remember from twenty years ago. Mukurob, the finger rock, which used to be visible from the road, was also gone – it had fallen down a couple of years ago.

We stopped at Mariental for hamburgers – real ones this time. There were many more cafes and shops selling food. Last time I had stopped at a cafe the menu had “Rice – or something else” and a “hamburger” consisted of very greasy mince on toast. Now they had some quite  good ones. We posted some of the Blue Presses, and pushed on to Windhoek. Rehoboth, too, seemed much developed. There were street lights on the main road, and many more prosperous-looking houses. We reached the Auas mountains about 15:30, and stopped to look  over Windhoek and take some photos, and when we started again the car battery light came on. We called at a garage at the bottom of the hill, and found that it was just that the ignition lock had been in the wrong position.

We drove into town, getting lost because of the new bypass roads a couple of times, and went to the post office, and posted the Blue Press for people within Namibia. We then went to Klein Windhoek, past 41 Klein Windhoek Road, where I had lived 20 years ago, and called on Val’s cousin Enid Ellis, and stayed for supper with them. Enid’s husband Justin was away at a conference. We saw their son Hugh, now aged 12, for the first time since he was three months old, and their daughter Bronwen, aged 7, for the first time ever. Bronwen was embarrassed because she had been to the beach at Swakopmund, and had been bitten by sandfleas, and was all over itchy bites.

I phoned Dave de Beer, who was staying at the Safari motel, and had said he would be here accompanying a group of European parliamentarians on a tour of Namibia. He wasn’t available, but I left a message for him to phone me back, and soon afterwards he did. He said we should go to see him about lunch time tomorrow at the hotel, as, though he would later be going to Johannesburg, we thought it

would be good to meet again on Namibian soil. Enid said that locally people spoke of the GRN number plate vehicles as standing for “Go Round Namibia”.After supper we drove to the Daan Viljoen Park on the Khomas Hochland road, and slept in a couple of huts there.

10-Apr-1991, Wednesday

Abstract

Spend morning in Windhoek archives, lunch with Dave de Beer. Enid Ellis & her children come to have a braai with us at Daan Viljoen Park

We went in to Windhoek in the morning, and parked in a parking ground opposite the Zoo Gardens, and went in to Wecke and Voigts, where I had bought a hat once. I looked for another hat like the one I had lost in Swaziland, but they only had JB Stetson Texan-style hats that would have been OK if it hadn’t been for the TV character J.R. Ewing. But in a shop next door they had some nice hats. A little further down the road there was a new pedestrian mall that went over Stuebelstrasse, and was very pleasant. We stopped at a kiosk there for some ham and salami brotchens for breakfast, and a guy came up and said he was hungry, and we gave him some money and he promptly bought chips and all the most bulky things he could get. We left the children looking at shops for stickers and T shirts and things, and went to the archives, where we saw Brigitte Lau, and told her about our project for transcribing Ada Leinhos’s case against the South West Africa Company. She said we had given so much stuff to the archives that she would give us a free copy of the German war map, which showed Frederick Vincent Green’s birthplace of Ehangero, on the Omuramba Wamatako, about 20km west of the present Okahandja-Otjiwarongo road. We looked up a few other things, and photocopied some missing pages from the court case.

Then we went to the Safari Motel to wait for Dave de Beer, whose conference was finishing. We had lunch at the Safari Motel with Dave, who told us something of what he had been doing. He had visited Gobabis with his parliamentarians, and they had stayed at the hotel there, and seen the jail. They had also visited Epukiro, where chief Munyuku was cooperating with the establishment of community farms. Dave said they were particularly concerned about health services, and that the nurses said that there was a lot of high blood pressure among Hereros, presumably because of all the milk and meat they eat. He said that in Ovamboland the traditional healers were cooperating with the health services, but when he asked about it in Hereroland, people were very cagey, though he had no idea why that should be so. He also said that Mburumba Kerina had been kicked out of parliament – I hadn’t known that he was in, but apparently he had represented a small coalition of his own group and the Rehoboth Basters, and Sam Nujoma had taken him and some of the other original petitioners to the United Nations along with him when he went there to apply for membership of the UN, even though they were now political rivals. This had led to Mburumba Kerina and Sam Nujoma being reconciled, and Mburumba joined SWAPO, so his original group obviously no longer wanted him as their representative. He said Assaria Kamburona was very active politically in the DTA, and that political differences had split the Oruuano Church, though he didn’t seem to have much evidence for that. Hiskia Uanivi is still, apparently, active in his Communist Party. While we were talking, Zephania Kameeta walked by, and said we could see him tomorrow at the Lutheran Church offices, where he is staying in a guest room.

We took Dave to the Anglican cathedral, and looked for Roger Key in the deanery, but he was out, so Val took some pictures of us together up by the bell, and we took some photos of the whole family there. We went down to the diocesan office, now in Fr Willie van der Sijde’s old house, and spoke to the diocesan secretary, who said that the diocese was chronically short of money and didn’t have enough to pay clergy stipends – though it was in the pockets of the people. It reminded me of the day I arrived [in 1969], when Dave himself was diocesan secretary, and he had R95.00 in the account and had to pay stipends the following week. We gave a calendar to Dinah Handura’s daughter, who worked in the office. Dinah had cleaned our house in Klein Windhoek.

Then we took Dave to the centre of town, and went to the OK Bazaars (another innovation since I was last here) and bought some ingredients for a braai tonight, and went back to the Daan Viljoen Park to prepare it. Enid, Hugh and Bronwen joined us about 16:30, and after walking around the dam we had a braai – except for Bronwen, who is vegetarian, and we chatted about old times, and caught up on the news of what we had been doing since we had last met 12 years ago, when we were in Melmoth and Enid was about to leave for England. The children all played soccer, and seemed to get on well together.

Bridget Hayes, Bronwen Ellis, Hugh Ellis, Jethro Hayes, Simon Hayes, Val Hayes, Enid Ellis at Daan Viljoen Park, Khomas Hochland, Namibia

11-Apr-1991, Thursday

Abstract

Visit Zephania Kameeta, stay at Gross Barmen

We drove around the Daan Viljoen Park before leaving, and saw several animals – jackals, tsessebe, kudus and wildebeest. We again went to town and had brotchens for breakfast, then went to see Zephania Kameeta. He said he and his wife had bought a house in Mariental, as she originally came from there, and houses were much cheaper. Their white neighbours were very right-wing, and it was a new experience for them to have blacks living next door. Zephania said that cabinet ministers were civil servants, and so got housing allowances, but on an MP’s salary he could not afford a house in Windhoek. We remarked on the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere in the place, and he said that it had originally seemed strange to think that they could cooperate with some of the right-wing political groups like ACN, but that when they did so, things seemed to work well. Zephania said he had done research into his own family history from the church registers in Otjimbingwe, where he himself had been born, and said we should go there and ask the Pastor, Pastor Mujoro, if we could look at the early registers, which should still be there.

Zephania Kameeta & Steve Hayes. Windhoek 11 April 1991

We left Windhoek then, and drove around Katutura for a while, and stopped to take photos of the graffiti on the Ovambo compound, which were colourful, and wondered what the compound was used for now. There was a new four-lane highway as far as Brakwater. At Okahandja we drove around for a while looking for Maharero’s grave – it was far more hidden away than I remembered it, and then went on to the resort at Gross Barmen, where we stayed in a marvellous flat, complete with air conditioning, chairs and tables, and we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and in the evening went swimming before having dinner at the restaurant, and we chatted to the waiter who was Kwanyama, and knew Nehemiah Hamupembe and some of the Anglican clergy at Odibo.

The graves of Herero heroes at Okahandja: Clemens Kapuuo and Hosea Kutako

12-Apr-1991, Friday

Abstract

Visit Omaruru, drive round Erongo mountains to Otjimbingue

Anthill between Gross Barmen & Wilhelmstal

We were up early, and drove along the back road to Wilhelmstal, where I had gone when I worked for the department of water affairs. We saw lots of game – jackals, kudu and gemsbok – all along the road. We then went to Omaruru, which was much more green and pleasant than I remembered it. We stopped at a small cafe for breakfast – again our ham and salami brotchens – and handed out St Nicholas Calendars to everyone we met. We went to the municipal offices where there was a sign advertising tourist information, and spoke to a Mr Bester, a former policeman who had come here from South Africa in 1964, and stayed on when he left the police force. He told us about some of the tourist attractions in the area, and we bought a couple of booklets as well. He showed us some maps, and some reports of a geological survey done by people from Rhodes University a few years ago – they said that the nearby Erongo mountains were the largest volcanic formation in the Southern hemisphere.

We drove through the Erongo mountains, wishing we had more time to spend here and explore. I remembered one, in particular, that looked like an enormous lizard, and when I passed in when working at the Department of Water Affairs it had seemed as though this was the end of the world. Knowing the country beyond it, it now seemed much more tame. We drove south past the western edge of the mountains, stopping to take photos of the Erongo and Spitsberg. I had once travelled along this road when the sun was setting over the Spitsberg and the moon rising over the Erongo, and it had been spectacularly beautiful. But even in the middle of the day there was a grandeur to it. We stopped for cold drinks at Usakos, but most of the shops were shut for the afternoon siesta. We went on to Karibib, where I wanted to take pictures of the old hotel, but it had vanished, and someone said it had been demolished 16 years ago, which was sad, because it had been the most interesting building in the town.

The Erongo mountains in west-central Namibia -- country that would have veen familiar to Fred Green

Powder tower at Otjimbingue, said to have been built by Fred Green

We went down to Otjimbingue, and looked for pastor Mujoro, and found there were two pastors – a husband and wife, but the wife was out at the church council, and the husband was asleep and apparently not to be disturbed, so we did not get to see the church registers, but took photos of the powder tower, allegedly built by Fred Green in the 1870s. As we were leaving Otjimbingue, the exhaust pipe fell off, but we were able to tie it up with a bit of wire, and got back to Gross Barmen roaring like a ferry.

13-Apr-1991, Saturday

Abstract

Gross Barmen to Ai Ais. See Roger Key, but not Mburumba Kerina

My 50th birthday. We packed up at Gross Barmen, and drove in to Windhoek, went straight to a garage called Auto-Fit, where they repaired the exhaust pipe, and then once again parked at the Zoo Gardens parking ground, and got brotchens from Wecke and Voigts for breakfast, and then went round to Kerina’s office in Kenya House in Leutweinstrasse (he’d said the street name had been changed to Mugabe Avenue, but all the old signs were still up) – it took us some time to find it. He had said it was the former Grand Hotel, but only when we got there did my memory of it come back – I’d met some journalists there from the Argus Africa News Service once. But Kerina was not in. A guy at the reception counter was rather cynical – Kerina had said he would meet us at 09:30, and the guy said that meant he wouldn’t be in before 10:00.

Jethro, Bridget, Steve & Simon Hayes: at Zoo Park above Independence Avenue, Windhoek. 13 April 1991, Steve's 50th birthday

Roger & Shaunie Key

We went to see Roger and Shaunie Key at the Anglican Deanery, and chatted to them for a while, and Roger got me to sign the Cathedral visitor’s books. He said he’d been very surprised to receive the Blue Press we had sent him [it was Roger who told us how peace descended on the country when the South African army left]. We made another attempt to see Kerina, but he was still not there, so we left Windhoek, driving south to Ai Ais. We turned off the main road at Kalkrand, and went towards Maltahohe, reaching it at about 14:00, and filled up with petrol there. The town seemed absolutely dead. We drove on to Helmeringhausen across the flat and dusty plain, with the iron-red plateau range on the left. Helmeringhausen too was dead on a Saturday afternoon, a little hamlet with stone houses that looked as if it hadn’t changed for 80 years.

We drove on to Bethanien, and took some photos on the way, and stopped at Bethanien for petrol, and then drove on to Ai Ais as the sun was setting, seeing the Karasberge from the west this time, looking very different. It was dark by the time we got to Ai Ais, and we only just made it to the restaurant before they closed.

14-Apr-1991, Sunday

Abstract

Ai Ais to Olifantshoek

After breakfast we walked around for a while, looking at the Fish River canyon, and bought a few things at the shop, and then drove back north along the road we had come down in the dark last night, and went to the view point on the Fish River Canyon and took photos from there. We then drove to Grunau, and bought hamburgers and wors rolls for lunch. We debated going south via Vioolsdrift, Springbok and Pofadder, but decided that it was too late for that, and took the direct route through Karasburg and Ariamsvlei.

Fish River Canyon

We passed the Namibian border control post just past Ariamsvlei, quite a way before the actual border. Though it was a prefab building it looked quite smart, with the flag flying, and immigration officers who were polite and efficient. About twenty km on we came to the South African “monitoring post” – a khaki tent, no flag, and an enormous Casspir armoured car parked outside. There were three scruffy looking characters in camouflage uniform sitting at a folding table covered with cold drink cans – one to write down the information in the passports, the second to stamp the passports, and the third to read the picture story book. It could hardly have been a greater contrast.

I’d bought a copy of the Sunday newspaper “Rapport” in Grunau, and we were back to the reports of violence. Virtually nothing was said about any news in Namibia at all. We filled up with petrol in Upington, and set off for Kuruman as quickly as possible, as the car lights weren’t working properly, but by sunset we had only reached Olifantshoek, so we booked in at the hotel there. It was very pleasant. We had a good supper, and it was cheaper than Karasburg. We celebrated with a bottle of 5th Avenue Cold Duck, and when we popped the cork it hit the ceiling and squashed a mosquito there.

15-Apr-1991, Monday

Abstract

Returned home – someone had broken into the house

We left Olifantshoek after breakfast, and drove through Kuruman, Vryburg (where we stopped to get a couple of new tyres),
Biesiesvlei and Ventersdorp. We got home about 16:30, and there was a policeman there guarding the house. someone had broken in sometime, and broken seven window panes, but they appeared to have been disturbed, as apparently everything they had taken was at the police station. Marios came round, and said he thought the break-in was last night, as he had come to check the place and found all the lights on.

End of diary extracts

Much of the country we passed through on this trip would have been familiar to Fred Green, his wife Catherine Stewardson (who was born at Rooibank, near Walvis Bay) and their older children — Mary, who was born in Ovamboland, and Fred junior (Val’s great grandfather) who was born somewhere east of Omaruru.The graves of the Herero heroes took on a new significance when we discovered that Fred Green and Samuel Maharero had been firends (though they had also fought), and Samuel Maharero made a grant of land to Fred Green’s daughter Ada when the Germans were beginning to colonise the country. The Germans tried to give her land to a commercial company, but she took them on in court, and won. When the South Africans invaded in 1915, she had to fight the battle all over again, and won a second time, and she then lost it all when she stood surety for her no-good son-in-law.

When we started our family history research in 1974 we didn’t have a clue about the Namibian (or Canadian) connections of the Green family, and we only learnt them when we made contact with Val’s great aunt Gladys Clark, so this trip enabled us to look at things with new eyes.

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.

Software for family historians, biographers and others

Dennis Allsopp

Dennis Allsopp (Author of Genota and Genota Forms) was visiting Johannesburg, so I dropped in to see him and we had an interesting chat.

We chatted about software for genealogists and family historians, and three topics in particular:

  1. The need for an event-based database program for genealogists, historians, biographers etc.
  2. Dennis’s own genealogy research programs, Genota and Genota Forms
  3. Old utility programs for which there are no modern equivalents.

As a result, I’ve uploaded a few of the old utilities to the website of the genealogy software forum, in the hope that they may inspire some enterprising hackers to reverse engineer them for modern hardware and software.

There were programs called Nameview and Namedrop that scanned BBS messages for things like surnames of interest, and manipulated those messages to collect them. They worked with Fido Technology Networks, but no one seems to have written an equivalent that works with mailing lists, newsgroups, or web forums.

There were also utility programs that took data from genealogy programs (mainly PAF 2.x) and printed family grtoup sheets on 3×5 or 4×6 cards.

That is FAR more useful than the stupid trick of software developers who tried to make a computer screen look like a card index, which had all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of the cards themselves.

But those utilities were written in DOS, and modern printers don’t work with DOS. So the utilities need to be rewritten to use modern programs and modern hardware.

There was the Tiny Tafel Generator — which not only developed but matched Tiny Tafels. Trouble is, it was written in Turbo Pascal, which doesn’t work on fast machines. You need a slow processor for it to run, under 500 Mhz, I think.

There are a few more there — back in the old days we may have had less than we do now, but very often we could do more with the less we had. So I’m hoping some hackers will have a look at them, and see if they can reverse engineer them to produce new versions.

But the main thing we chatted about was the need for an event-based program to be used as a research tool, not only for genealogists and family historians, but also for general historians, biographers and others. It would differ from lineage-linked genealogy programs in that it would not only include people that were relatives, but friends and acquaintaces, work colleagues, and even enemies. It would be a useful tool for a biographer trying to keep track of  the events in the life of their subject, or for someone writing general history.

The basic outline of the program would look something like this:

Outline for an event-tracking program

Dennis introduced me to a rather nice mind-mapping and concept-mapping program called VUE (Visual Understanding Environment) which drew the above diagram (he has a far better drawing of it), and shows how the various parts of the program would relate to each other.

The main part of the database would be a chronological list of events, and people and organisations assocated with this events. The organisations could be both formal and informal groups — a political party, church, club, school, hospital, business firm, trade union, family or any other human group.

The “people” part would not only be for family members, as one finds in lineage-linked genealogy programs, but for non-related people, like friends, work colleagues, teachers, pupils, godparents, acquaintances and so on. Perhaps it could also be useful in testing theories of six degrees of relationship — that we are only six degrees of relationshop away from knowing everyone else on earth, and that my wife’s boss’s godmother’s cousin’s penfriend’s vet knows me.

One reason for posting this is to try to find out if there are any others who think that and event-tracking and chronology program would be useful, and if so, what you would like it to be able to do.

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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