Proposed trip to Western Cape: August 2015

In August 2015 we are hoping to visit the Western Cape to do some family history research, and also to see living relatives and friends.

Since we are now both retired, it will probably be the last chance we will ever have to go on such a holiday trip, and to visit the Cape Archives for research.

We are hoping, in particular, to find out more about the Morris, Stewardson and Dixon families, and ones related to them. Members of all these families were traders in what is now Namibia from 1840 onwards, They would trade manufactured goods (cloth, knives, axes & guns) for cattle, ostrich feathers and ivory. They would drive the cattle overland to Cape Town for market, replenish their stock-in-trade, and return by sea to Walvis Bay.

So we hope to travel down the N14 to the Northern Cape, with stops at Kuruman and Aughrabies Falls. The N14 joins the N7 at Springbok, and we hope to spend a few days at Kamieskroon, exploring that area, which the old-timers passed through on their way between Damaraland and Cape Town. One of the places that has been mentioned in their journeys is Leliefontein, the Methodist mission station, and one member of the Morris clan, Thomas Morris, is said to have lived there at one time.

Another Morris, Abraham, also lived in the area when he was on the run from the Germans. He was one of the leaders of a rebellion against German rule in South West Africa in 1904. Sorting out the relationships between the various members of the Morris family is difficult, and a lot depends on compiling a chronology to show which members of the family were in which places at what times.

The area, called Namaqualand, is also famous for its wild flowers in spring, so we are hoping to see some of them too.

The families that livedf in or passed through Namaqualand are not the only ones we are interested in, of course. We’ll be looking up others — Green, Tapscott, Decker, Falkenberg, Crighton, MacLeod/McLeod, Growdon and many others in the archives as well, and, we hope, in real life too.

Devil's Peak, Cape Town, 2011

Devil’s Peak, Cape Town, 2011

When in Cape Town we usually stay at the Formula I Hotel (called something else now). It’s reasonably cheap, and very conveniently placed for going to the archives. The problem is, it’s very inconvenient for just about everything else — it’s in a semi-industrial area, so there is nothing to do there in the evenings, and nowhere in the vicinity where one can even get something to eat. But we hope that after the archives close at 4:00 pm we can visit family and friends, so if you know us, and wouldn’t be averse to a visit, please contact us and let us know (see form below).

While in the Western Cape, or possibly on the way home, we hope to pay another visit to the Orthodox Centre at Robertson, and perhaps also to the Volmoed Community at Hermanus, to meet John de Gruchy and put the finishing touches to our book on the history of the Charismatic Renewal in South Africa, which we hope to have ready for publication by the end of the year.

We are planning to return via the Eastern Cape and Free State, though with less definite ideas about the route. Quite a lot will depend on what we find in Cape Town, and whether we need to look at the Methodist Church archives in Grahamstown.

I’ve been twice up the N7 from Cape Town to Windhoek, in 1971 and 1972, but on both occasions I passed through Namaqualand in the dark, so neither of us has ever actually seen it before.

If you would like to meet us when we travel to the Western Cape in late August/early September, please use the contact form below so we can get in touch to let you know when we will be around and arrange to meet. Please note that whatever you type in this form will be seen only by me — it is not public! It will help us to see who we should try to get in touch with on our travels.


Ellwood anomalies

Ellwood anomalies

Having recently discovered a whole lot more Ellwood ancestors, there are also a lot more descendants that we may be related to, and one of the things that we have discovered is that a large number of online family trees have links to the wrong families, with children who died in infancy being shown as having long lines of descendants and so on. One of the great dangers of online family trees is that they seem to encourage cut-and-paste genealogy.

John Ellwood (1748-?)

John Ellwood was born in Alston, Cumberland, in about 1748, the son of Thomas and Mary Ellwood.

Some researchers show him as married to Mary Gibson born in 1748 in Moresby, Cumberland, and having seven children, born in Whitehaven. At some point in the late 18th century the family moved to Scotland, where some of the children married, and some of them emigrated with their spouses to the USA.

Other researchers show this same John Ellwood as married to Elizabeth Hogg, and having a completely different set of children.They can’t both be right.

Eleanor Ellwood and Thomas Jaques (or Jacques)

In 1850 a Thomas Jaques (or Jacques) married an Eleanor Ellwood in Whitehaven, Cumberland.

Quite a number of online trees show Eleanor (born 1829) as the daughter of Robert Ellwood and Martha Saxton (or Saxon).

Now Robert Ellwood and Martha Saxon did indeed have a daughter Eleanor, but she was born in 1822, not 1829, and she probably died young. The Eleanor Ellwood who married Thomas Jaques in 1850 was probably born in 1829, but the one who was born in 1829 was the daughter of William and Ann Ellwood, and not the daughter of Robert and Martha.

We’ve looked at lots of online trees with Eleanor in them, in the hope that some researcher has found the antecedents of William and Ann Ellwood, to see if they link into the same Ellwood family somewhere, but so far we haven’t found any. Most of them have opted for the bogus link to Robert and Martha.

Incidentally, there was another Eleanor Ellwood, born in 1821, the daughter of Thomas and Sarah Ellwood, who married Richard Herring in 1846 and had descendants, but nobody seems to be interested in her, and she doesn’t seem to feature in anyone’s online tree.

So if you have Ellwood ancestors and are interesting in meeting cousins and other Ellwood researchers, please have a look at the Ellwood family forum. There you can share information and ask for help with research problems and so on, and perhaps we can resolve some of these anomalies if we work together.


Surname Saturday: Cottam, Bagot, Mashiter

For the last few weeks I’ve been concentrating my genealogy research on my Cottam, Bagot, Mashiter and related surnames in and around Lancaster in Lancashire, so I thought I would mention them today for Surname Saturday.

My great great grandfather John Bagot Cottam married Adelaide Herbert in Manchester in 1858, and in 1863 they emigrated to Durban with their three daughters, Maggie, Ada and Jessie. In Durban they had another five children.

John Bagot Cottam was the son of Richard Cottam and Margaret Bagot, who came from around Lancaster, in the north of Lancashire. I’ve been going through the microfilms of parish registers to try to find their origins, together with the registers that have been transcribed by the Lancashire Online Parish Clerks.

I note each instance of records of the surnames of interest in a database, whether known to be related or not, and then try to connect them into families with the help of census records. FreeCEN has relatively complete records for the 1861 census, and FamilySearch has for the 1881 census. This also helps to get the names into families, which I keep in a lineage-linked database in the Personal Ancestral File (PAF) program, which is free. I have a separate database for Lancashire research, and throw everything in, whether the people are related or not. When I think there is enough evidence of a confirmed relationship, then I transfer them to my main database in Legacy.

The Cottam surname goes back to the mid-18th century in Heaton-with-Oxcliffe, just west of Lancaster, but before that they seem to have come from somewhere else. The Mashiter surname goes back a bit further. Heaton-with-Oxcliffe was in the parish of Overton, but Lancaster was almost as close as Overton, so some members of the families were baptised, married or buried there. Using Lancaster as the centre, I am working outwards and checking other parishes to see if I can find where the Cottams came from.

Here are some of the other surnames in the area that members of my families have married into:

Lord, Barnet, Parker, Atkinson, Richards, Monks.

Variant spellings include Cotham, Cottom, Bagott, Baggot, Baggott and Masheter.

Some of the related places mentioned in the register and census entries are Poulton-le-Sands and Bare (now Morecambe), Heysham, Sunderland, Scotforth, Ellel, and Skerton.

Keeping track of paper files

One of the perennial problems of genealogical research is keeping track of paper files. As time goes by you accumulate mounds of paper, piles of paper — notes, letters, family group sheets sent to by related and unrelated people, certificates, photocopies of wills, and much much more.

How do you keep track of it?

There are all kinds of systems that are recommended, but most of them are too complicated, and too difficult to catch up with if you fall behind.

The easiest filing system I have ever seen is one recommended with the early versions of the Personal Ancestral File program (PAF). It even came with a program to support it, the Research Data Filer.

The simplest solution is this: number each document with a serial number, and file them in numerical order in a lever arch file (or, if you’re American, a 3-ring binder). Use a computer program to keep track of the contents of the paper file.

The Research Data Filer had (has — I still use it!) two files – Documents (.DOC) and Data (.DAT). The document file contains a description of each document. The data file indexes the people in the documents, and allows you to enter the kind of information contained in the documents – the fields are: Document Number, Page, Name, Sex, Id, Event, Date, Place, Rela(ations), Relations Id numbers (up to 3) and Comments. For Id I use the RINs allocated by my genealogy program, since they are unique to each person.

Thus if you are looking for a person, you can search on name or Id, and it comes up with a list of the documents that contain information on that person, which you can then find easily, because you’ve filed them in numerical order.

You don’t have to use the Research Data Filer (RDF) to index your paper files. You could use a spreadsheet or general database program, or a specialised program like Clooz. But I still find the RDF program best because it was designed for the job, and adheres to the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid. I only wish that someone would update it with a Windows version, because printing output from DOS programs with a Windows printer is a pain in the neck.

If course you can’t store all research documents in a lever arch file — for example, if it is a book. The book must stay on the bookshelf. So what you put in your lever arch file is a sheet of paper with full bibliographical information about the book, and, if it is a library book, which library you found it in, and when you consulted it. You can also add photocopies of relevant pages, under the same document number.

The advantage of this system is that it is simple and easy to maintain, and you can start anywhere, with any pile, or any document. Just punch the holes, file it, and give it a number, starting with 1, or 00001 if you prefer. Some genealogy programs, like Legacy, let you include this document number in your source notes on a person.

The Research Data Filer program allows you to sort on any field. You can also “focus” on any kind of information – say a surname, and then a first name, and then a place. This is like the “filter” function in most database programs, but it is not just in the form of a report, but a view of a particular set of records that can then be edited or printed.

Cooperative family history

Last year we started a family history Wiki, in the hope that it might make it easier to cooperate with others in gathering family history. The Wiki format, which has been so successful in compiling Wikipedia, one of the most useful encyclopedias the world has ever seen, seems ideal for family history, where members of families all over the world  can contribute different parts of the family story.

Daily page views of our Family Wiki 2008i

We began the family wiki in May 2008, and it seems to have attracted plenty of visitors right from the start — more than this blog, in fact. I thought we might get 2-3 visits a day, perhaps 40-50 a month, but it has been quite a lot more than that, rarely dropping below 25 page views a day.

Daily visitors in 2008

Since each visitor usually looks at more than one page, the actual number of visitors is also quite interesting. It seems that it has rarely dropped below 20 visitors a day.

OK, not everyone who visits the site is related. Some may see a surname that they are interested in, but find that it is a different branch of the family, especially with common surnames. They might come, look at the index and a couple of pages, and see there is nothing connected with them, and leave again.

Edits and Editors - 2009

That is rather discouraging.

You can see how discouraging it is by seeing the number of page edits, which has dropped since it started. Also the number of editors is revealing. Only one other person has contributed anything to the pages, and I’ve had to write all the rest myself. The essence of a wiki is that it is cooperative, and many people contribute something to the full story, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. But surely some of the people who visit find a family that is connected to theirs, and could contribute something to the story. And only two left messages.

There is also the question of where visitors come from.

Where visitors came from - 2008

Most of our families were originally from the UK and Canada, and some are from Germany. Some were Huguenots who went from France to Prussia in the 17th century, and spread from there to other parts of the world. The recent generations are in Southern Africa, but we also have others in places like Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Most visitors are from the USA, probably because more people there have internet access than those in other places. But there are relatively few from some of the countries where most members of our families came from or are living now.

So if you go to our family Wiki and find you are connected to any of the families there, please consider contributing something, however small. Ask if you can become an editor — if you can show you are related, we’ll make you one right away. And add something to one of the pages — an anecdote, an extract from a will, whatever. It doesn’t have to be perfect — that’s the beauty of a wiki. Someone else can polish what you write, and one story sparks off another memory, so someone else can expand it and put it in its context, and that way we all benefit.It can be a legend, a rumour, a story you were told, a black sheep in the family. If it’s a legend or a rumour, just label it as such — those things too are part of the family history.

Of course if we are sixth cousins we’ll have a relatively small proportion of our families in common. So what do you do if you want to write something about one of your relatives who isn’t related to us? Why, start your own family wiki, of course, it’s quite easy to do, and then we can link them for the common relatives.

So please, don’t just be a leech, sucking information from web sites without giving anything in return. You can learn lots of things from the web, but you can also pass on sometrhing of what you have learned so that others can benefit. Please visit our family wiki, but if you are related, please contribute something as well.

Red Cross records — will they be made available?

Genealogy research textbooks have sometimes mentioned the Red Cross records in Geneva, but usually with the caution that though they could have a lot of important family history information, the public was not allowed access to them.

Now, it seems, there has been a breach in the dyke, and a historian has been allowed to use them for research into a war grave.

BBC NEWS | UK | Piecing together the past:

Peter Barton was commissioned to carry out research into the identities of World War I casualties discovered in a mass grave at Fromelles in France. He was given access to the basement of the Red Cross headquarters in Geneva. There, he was allowed to examine records that have lain virtually untouched since 1918.

The Red Cross has accumulated enormous quantities of records that could allow people to trace missing relatives — not only the war dead, but displaced people, refugees and others who have lost touch with family and home after wars, revolutions and other political upheavals.

No doubt the Red Cross doesn’t have the facilities for accommodating large numbers of researchers at its headquarters in Geneva, but perhaps this breakthrough could inspire the hope that they might allow a body like the LDS Church to make copies of some of the earlier records, and make them available to researchers that way.

Here’s an abstract of an article about these records:

Chapman, Colin, 1994. The Central Tracing Agency of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in Family Tree magazine, Vol. 10(7) May. Page 21-22.

The Red Cross was formed in 1863 to care for those wounded in wars, and during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 it formed the Trieste Agency to deal with queries about sick and wounded soldiers. In 1914 the ICRC set up an International Prisoners of War Agency in Geneva. Similar records have been kept for subsequent confilicts and the Central Tracing Agency now has 60 million personal records with names of prisoners, refugees and missing persons. These records are not open to the public, and the Red Cross does not have staff to deal with any queries except for those from immediate family members.

See also this article: BBC NEWS | Europe | Red Cross files reveal WWI cost:

The United Nations considers the Red Cross archive so important that it has incorporated it into Unesco’s Memory of the World programme, declaring it the archive equivalent of a World Heritage Site.

‘These archives testify to the suffering of war. It’s evidence of the fate of millions of people, not just those directly affected, but the relatives and friends as well,’ says Unesco’s Ingeborg Breines.

‘And it’s a huge resource for historical researchers, and for people tracing their genealogy,’ she says.

New search engine

A couple of months ago I wrote about the limitations of Google as a search engine for family history and genealogy. and noted that for some searches Altavista produced far more relevant results.

Now there is a new search engine, called Cuil, and after a quick look it seems quite good, and worth trying if you are researching genealogy and family history.

One of the problems with Google is that their search algorithm is based on the number of links, and so they show you the most popular sites first, rather than the most relevant to what you are looking for. So the site with the information you need may be several pages down the list.

Cuil, on the other hand, promises to concentrate on relevance, and after a couple of test searches they seem to deliver what they promise. One problem I did find, though, is that Cuil doesn’t like too many keywords, so you need to choose your keywords with care.

Anyway, it’s definitely worth a try, and should be a useful addition to your search tools.


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