Category Archives: General

My Cousin Megan

The old Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk at Glen Lynden built in 1828 by Thomas Pringle.

Despite my distinctly British heritage, my great-grandmother’s ancestry provides a link to the earliest settlers in South Africa; some European; some not; some free citizens; some not. My great-grandmother was baptised Catharina Louiza Norton in the Dutch Reformed church at Komga in the far Eastern Cape province. Her father, Benjamin Norton, was born in South Africa to Jewish 1820 Settlers. He converted to Christianity and married Aletta Maria Muller, a young woman with a long Afrikaans pedigree. Tracing this pedigree has been fascinating, but quite complicated.

We initially struggled with tracing the ancestors. The Suid-Afrikaanse Geslagsregister (South African Genealogical Register) (SAG) proved very helpful. SAG was the product of a project of the Department of Home Affairs to map the familial connections of the Afrikaans population of South Africa using church records. This showed Aletta Maria’s parents as Cornelis Johannes Muller and Agatha Catharina Ferriera and provided links from them right back to the original Muller and Ferreira settlers in the early 1700’s – the Stamvaders. With Megan having links to the same founding families, we established that we are in fact related.

This was wonderful, but problems soon began to emerge with the narrative. Agatha Catharina could not have been the second wife of the Cornelis Johannes nominated for her, because his first wife was reliably recorded as having married a second time, as a widow, and having a second family whose descendants clearly exist. There were also doubts as to Agatha Catharina’s parentage. Generations of Ferreira descendants show her as being the daughter of a different Ferreira father and mother than SAG does. All very confusing and annoying and would Megan and I still share ancestors?

I had researchers photograph documents in the South African National Archives. I visited all the websites – eGGSA, Ancestry, Geni etc. I interrogated the people who maintained family trees and profiles. None was able or willing to provide solid documentary evidence to support their propositions. Agatha Catharina’s parentage, however, began to firm up as being Thomas Ignatius Ferreira and Aletta Maria Potgieter. Naming conventions would have seen Aletta Maria Muller named after her maternal grandmother so this seemed quite probable, and there was a convenient gap in the family tree in SAG. This link, however, brought the quandary of Agatha Catharina’s sister, Susannah Elizabeth, who is well documented everywhere as also marrying a Cornelis Johannes Muller, but with some commentators suggesting that this Cornelis Johannes was actually the one who had married Agatha Catharina. This was just more confusion.

Then Megan found links to two document collections on the Family Search web site. The first is for church records from the Dutch Reformed churches in the Cape and the other is for the official death notices for the Cape Province. These yielded three critical documents that settled the questions of where Agatha Catharina fits in and who her husband was.

The first is the baptismal record for Agata Catharina Feraire who was born in 1817 to Thomas Ignatius Feraire and Aletta Maria Potgieter. So SAG was wrong and the Geni profilers had got it right.

The second is the death record for Cornelis Johannes Muller who died in 1844 on the farm Mak Fontein in the Somerset district of the Cape. It shows that he was married to Agatha Catharina Ferreira and was born in 1812 to Cornelis Johannes Muller and Johanna Catharina van Rooy(en). This is the Cornelis Johannes Muller who is shown in SAG and on virtually all the websites as having married Susannah Elizabeth Ferreira. They all have it wrong.

The third is the marriage record for Susannah Elizabeth Ferreira and Cornelis Johannes Muller who were married in 1841. This provided the second confirmation that the Cornelis Johannes Muller everyone was showing as Susannah Elizabeth’s husband could not have been so. The record shows that both parties to the marriage were Minderjarig (Under Aged) – ie less than 21 years old. On the wedding date, the nominated Cornelis Johannes, born as he was in 1812, would have been almost 29 years old and therefore definitely not Under Age. Susannah Elizabeth’s husband was clearly one of the many other Cornelis Johannes Mullers living in the area at the time.

We knew that Agatha Catharina’s and Cornelis Johannes’s second child, Cornelis Johannes, was baptised in the Anglican church at Port Elizabeth. The collection yielded the baptismal records of their younger children; all at the old church at Glen Lynden (near modern day Bedford) where they would have been baptised by the Scottish dominee, Alexander Welsh. These showed an extra daughter not recorded on any of the websites or on Cornelis Johannes’s death notice. She clearly died as a young child.

Their oldest child, Aletta Maria, was born in the Gamtoos River area south-west of Port Elizabeth on 3 October 1832 – ten days before her parents were married with her mother just 15 years old!

The confirmed marriage and parentage of Agatha Catharina has allowed us to revisit the connections between Megan and me. Looking back over twelve generations we have a number, because there was only a small population pool which intermarried extensively – especially amongst the French Huguenots to whom we are both connected. Our closest common ancestors are our shared seventh-great-grandparents, Johannes (Jan Harmensz) Potgieter (1674-1733), Marthinus Jacobus van Staden (1706-1746) and his wife Catharina Botha (1714-1781).

We are officially 8th cousins.

More to come. There are some interesting characters.


©Alun Stevens 2019

Descendant Charts

Megan’s family history database now holds information on over 13,000 people including the wider interconnected family and people important to their stories. It is not possible to make this information available in the form of family trees and the like because these require programming and other infrastructure beyond the scope of the blog hosting service we use.

Nonetheless, understanding how all the people link up between generations and within generations is important to appreciating their stories. We have therefore constructed Descendant Charts for selected people in the Drake, Marshall, Benthall and Ayliff families using the Reunion genealogical software that Megan has used since the 1980s to hold her information.

These charts show summaries of the parents and children of various generations of these families. The families have been selected so that the charts follow the generations. The charts can be viewed concurrently so that the generational linkages can be explored.

The Stevens charts will come at another time.

The charts can be found under the new “CHARTS” item in the menu or you can click HERE

Glengallan Orchard being re-created

The following post has just been made to the Glengallan Homestead Facebook page. It will be lovely to see an orchard again similar to what was laid out in the 1850’s.

It will undoubtedly take some years before we see the fruits of their labour, but we look forward to the result.

NewsMail also published a story about the orchard on 4 September 2018 which can be found HERE

The Journey Begins

East Perth Cemetery

The image is of the East Perth Cemetery and the Purkis Family tomb

Welcome to Down Rabbit Holes.

Our site is called Down Rabbit Holes because I have been fascinated by family history for many years and the process of finding out who is who, what they did, where they did it and who they knew is much like exploring a rabbit warren.

We already have a lot of information about our families and will be posting it as we convert it to a format suitable for publication on WordPress.


©Megan Stevens 2018