Granny Sarah Alice Liddell; Bluegumbush farm, Witsieshoek, Free State, South Africa; Harrismith Concentration Camp
A few years ago, Megan found a reference online that indicated that my grandmother, Sarah Liddell, had been interned in the British Concentration Camp at Harrismith during the Anglo Boer War. This was a big surprise. My grandmother’s family were English and my father and grandmother had never mentioned anything like this. My first reaction was that someone had made a mistake. My surprise turned to shock when I discovered that it was true. My grandmother, her parents and her siblings had indeed been interned in the Harrismith concentration camp. Two of my grandmother’s sisters had died there from typhoid. And a number of my grandmother’s Liddell aunts, uncles and cousins had also been interned and other children had also died.
This was not a little event that had slipped from memory over time. This was a big deal. It would have been firmly imprinted in the minds of all who were involved. But it had never come up in family conversations. I checked with my brother. He too is sure that these events were never discussed. I checked with my cousin, daughter of my father’s elder brother. She too is sure that these events were never discussed by our grandmother or her father.
What happened? Who knew? Why was it kept quiet? All the protagonists are now dead so we will never know all the answers, but there are a lot of records and some people who remember things. There was a lot to know, but I now do know what happened and have a good idea why no one talked about it.
The investigation was quite difficult because I essentially knew nothing except that my grandmother was a Liddell from Witsieshoek in the Free State who had grown up on a farm called Bluegumbush and that her parents, my great-grandparents, were James Greaves Liddell and Sarah Eleanor Clark. I now know a lot, lot more, but that is thanks to meeting a number of fellow Liddell descendants online. Descendants who, unlike me, actually knew something – and had an interest in family history.
The reason why no one discussed the war is, strangely, quite simple. The reasons why they were in the camps are not. They were caught up in some of the major, chaotic events of the war and these need to be understood in order to understand why they were where they were and did what they did. I have set out the family background and experiences in some detail. I have also provided a summary of the historic context for those people, like my children, who have not grown up in South Africa.
The story of Megan’s and my shared ancestors can be found in our article Shared Ancestors and Shared Experiences. Whilst this is fascinating, it does not show all the complexity of our family linkages. Mere descriptions cannot adequately portray the extent of the complexity which was impressed on me when I tried to construct the family trees that I used in the article. I was forced to keep only the simple and direct lines of connection and present only those people who I discussed. But I still needed multiple descendant charts just for the main family connections.
I wanted to put everything together so that the true complexity and extent of the interconnectedness could be seen at a glance, but the family tree applications are not up to the task, and the online services are even less useful. There are just too many cross linkages in our families: cousin marriages; multiple children of a marriage separately linking to us; these children linking at different generational levels; people marrying multiple times with children from each family linking to us; these linkages being at different generational levels.
I turned to a package that is used for genetic mapping and analysis. This suffers a little from the opposite problem to the family tree packages in that it is designed for analysing massively complex networks and doesn’t have the most elegant charting interface. Nonetheless, it was able to arrange the families and generations into optimised layouts with the least overlapping which I could then adjust to get more readable images.
I have constructed two layouts. The first replicates, as far as possible, the standard hierarchical network that is usually used to show ancestral lineages. Megan and I are at the top with earlier generations in layers below us getting wider and wider as we go down thirteen generations. The second shows us at the centre (more or less) of a spider web of ancestors clustered in families with the earlier generations further and further from us. The first is better for visualising the generational linkages. The second is better for visualising the familial linkages.
Both trees are too complicated to lay out for a web page so they are presented in PDF files. If you click on the links below, they will open in a browser window and allow you to see the overall structure. Most browsers, however, will not allow you to zoom in far enough to see all the detail. For this you will need to download the file to your computer and then use Adobe Acrobat Reader (PC or Mac) or Preview (Mac). You can do this by saving the image open in your browser. Every browser does this differently so I leave it to you to figure it out. You can also right click on the links below and select the Save/Download option.
The hierarchical family tree
can be found HERE (PDF)
Right click to download
The clustered family tree
can be found HERE (PDF)
Right click to download
The information is presented in successive layers of Parents/Couple/Children using boxes and arrows as below.
Dates are birth years.
Red stars highlight interesting ancestors who appear in the discussion.
The grey ellipses highlight individuals who were either slaves, people of colour, or illegitimate. The detail is in the square brackets:
* – a parent of colour
S – a Slave
I – Illegitimate.
Megan’s and my mothers are just shown as “wife” because their maiden names are used as security questions. (The times we live in?!)
The layout is pyramidal rather than the usual square layout because it goes down to thirteen generations before us. The lower levels would be far too wide with a square layout. The structure is quite well ordered down to Level 8 below us when connections start crossing generations and linking the right (Megan’s ancestors) to the left (my ancestors). Levels 9 and 10 are then a spider-web of cross hatchings which thin out in Level 11, mainly due to us not being able to trace all the ancestors back to this level.
The complexity of the interlinkages can be seen by considering the Snyman family that is used in the example above. If you open the hierarchical family tree, you will find them at the bottom in the middle. Their story is here. Christoffel Snyman was born illegitimately as a slave to Catharina van Paliacatta. He was freed when his mother was freed and he was legitimised when his mother then married. He, in turn, married the aristocratic Marguerite de Savoye and they are shown at Level 12 with connection lines radiating upwards cutting across the ordered structure.
Their daughter, Elsje Snyman (born 1697) connects to both Megan and me. She married Jacobus Botha (born 1692) and their daughter, Catharina Botha (born 1714), married Marthinus Jacobus van Staden (born 1706). The Van Staden’s linkage to both of us is discussed here. Their daughter, Catharina Maria (born 1739) links to me via the Ferreira’s making Elsje Snyman my 8th great-grandmother by this route.
Their older daughter, Aletta Maria (born 1731), links to Megan via her marriage to Johannes Lombard (born 1725). He was the son of Elsje Snyman’s younger sister, Johanna Snyman (born 1699), who had married Anthonie Lombard (born 1693). One sister’s son married the other sister’s granddaughter. Aletta Maria and Johannes Lombard link to the Bruwers, the Van Eedens, and Megan’s Ouma via their daughter Aletta Lombard (born 1752). Johanna Snyman is Megan’s 7th great-grandmother by this route, and her sister, Elsje Snyman, is Megan’s 8th great-grandmother.
Their youngest sister, Elizabeth Snyman (born 1706), interestingly, is Megan’s 5th great-grandmother via her marriage to Jan Hendrik van Helsdingen (born 1696) and the marriage of their daughter, Anna Susanna (born 1740), to Christman Joël Ackermann (born 1728) and then on to Megan’s Oupa.
As a result of this, Christoffel and Marguerite Snyman are independently Megan’s 6th, 8th, and 9th great-grandparents, and my 9th great-grandparents! Lots of cross links just from one couple.
This layout does not attempt to keep track of the generations. It is designed to show the linkages within and between families. Linkages that span the breadth of the hierarchical chart, like Elizabeth Snyman, are frequently close to each other in this chart format.
The software has arranged the family groups around the end point – Megan and me – with the minimum of cross linkages across the chart. We can be found towards the bottom left with a red circle to highlight us.
The high level view shows that the connections within the family groups are fairly well ordered as are those between families that are closely associated like the Rossouws and Van Eedens, and the Mullers and Ferreiras. My ancestors are mainly down in the bottom right while Megan’s, much more extensive group, fills the top half of the diagram.
The more complex interlinkages criss cross across the centre of the diagram. For instance, the Potgieters near the middle who link to the families on both the left and the right. The Bothas and Van Stadens are also key linkage points and do the same.
Megan and I are 8th cousins because of our shared 7th great-grandparents, Johannes (Jan Harmensz) Potgieter (1674-1733), Marthinus Jacobus van Staden (1706-1746) and his wife Catharina Botha (1714-1781). As I indicated in my last post, there is more to tell because there are interesting people with colourful stories associated with these ancestors. I have spent a few weeks putting those stories together.
The stories go back to the earliest years of European settlement at the Cape in the mid 1600s for which there are surprisingly good records. The records required some hard work in order to extract the stories because quite a few are in Old Dutch script and use an antiquated Dutch language. The perseverance was worth it and has revealed a rich group of characters.
The most impressive amongst them are the young slave women taken to the Cape from India, Madagascar and Africa. Yes, we have slaves as ancestors. Some died young. Most survived their enslavement and went on to prosper and to found a number of prominent Afrikaans families. Also impressive were the contemporary attitudes that allowed these ex-slaves to take their place in society. One was granted a block of land on what is now Castle Street in the middle of the Cape Town CBD. One owned Camps Bay. Another owned Groot Constantia.
There is the free settler from Cologne who received one of the first grants of land, but was murdered just outside the Castle on what is now the Grand Parade.
There is the rifleman from Rotterdam, with a green thumb, who married the murdered man’s thirteen year-old daughter, but only after he had fathered a child with a slave at Groote Schuur. You guessed it. He was a Van der Merwe. But not a Koos.
There is the young man, born a slave to a slave mother, who married an aristocratic Huguenot woman and had to rescue other Huguenot ancestors from a murdering soldier who took them hostage.
There is the young man’s father, a soldier from Germany, who kept running foul of the law and was banished to Robben Island.
There is the young man’s mother who washed Jan van Riebeeck’s clothes.
There is adultery and divorce and some very choice language.
There are ancestors that we don’t share, who jointly helped an Empress grieve the death of her son.
The stories are intertwined and complicated in places, but I have provided them with references and links to maps that hopefully help explain them and put them in context. Thanks to the internet, I was also able to source a number of fascinating old maps and pictures from the Netherlands Rijksmuseum and Nationaal Archief that provide a contemporaneous flavour to the stories.
Please have a look HERE and let me know what you think.
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.
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.
After posting this, I examined all the death notices for Cornelis Johannes Mullers and found one for 1860 showing Susannah Elizabeth Ferreira as his wife. The notice named his parents and gave his age, which enabled me to find his baptismal record. He was born in April 1822 which would have made him just 19 at his wedding in April 1841. His father was also Cornelis Johannes Muller and his mother was Anna Margaretha Vogel. So we had two Ferreira sisters who both married Cornelis Johannes Mullers each of whose father was also Cornelis Johannes Muller. To make it even more complicated, my Cornelis Johannes’s grandfather was yet another Cornelis Johannes Muller. No wonder there was confusion as to who was who.
I can’t fix SAG. I have fixed the Geni website and have tried to fix the Ancestry website, but to no avail.
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
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.