Blown apart and resolved (mostly)

Ancestry hints are as much of a curse as a blessing. Every so often I would populate my tree with other people’s research lines following other descendants of Robert, working on the basis that information begets information. I never really checked the vigour of these lines, they weren’t directly of interest to me and when you’re dealing with prodigious breeders there’s an awful lot of descendants involved.

In October 2013 I got a message from Ancestry and the new contact I made as a result, the one who had asked if I knew anything about a different Philip Joseph Robinson, would become the catalyst for an explosion of activity.

Even so, by the time March 2014 rolled around things were no further advanced. During one of my regular, fruitless, Internet searches I stumbled across a thread on RootsChat.com which, although in itself was not helpful, it prompted me to post a new request for information. I listed the bare facts of what I knew; my grandfather and his siblings and their parents – Philip Joseph and Louisa. Quite soon I had a reply and after some to-ing and fro-ing it looked like I had some new leads. There were records pertaining, it seemed, to two of grandfather’s brothers. More flesh on the bones at least. Then, possibly the most helpful person on the Internet dug a little further. Buried in the eGGSA site were records of people attached to units involved in the Anglo-Boer War and in the Kimberley Horse was a certain Philip Joseph Robinson – could this be my ancestor? I found the papers and it looked promising, but then I read “Next of kin: Mrs S. Conradie, mother”. I had no idea who this might be so, downhearted, I passed it on to my Ancestry contact from October. At this time I still thought PJ’s mother was called Hester and the ‘other’ PJ was the son of Andrew and Sarah née Vercuil – this record must be theirs.

On March 28, 2014 my tree was blown apart. First, that death record for Philip Robinson in 1941 came through. There it was in all its gory detail; names, dates, places, a spouse, children, his sister, her husband, it was all there. This was definitely the Philip Robinson who was the son of Philip and Hester, the one I thought was my Philip Joseph. But it wasn’t him. Not even possibly. I felt bereft.

It looked like everything was wrong.

And then, on the same day, the death notice for Sarah Cahill dropped into my inbox. She had died in a Kimberley nursing home, no will, no estate, no helpful details except, written in another hand under her name was “(born Vercuil)”.

By the end of the day my head was spinning.

“Oh yes, after Andrew’s death Sarah married Johan Conradie” came the response to this information. So, Sarah Vercuil had married Andrew Joseph Robinson, who had died in 1883 aged only 27, and then married Johan Conradie but died a Cahill. It was starting to become clear that the two PJ Robinsons were, in fact, one person and not cousins living on the same street.

Two weeks after first posting on RootsChat my tree had been blown apart and was slowly being put back together. We had various records starting to filter through, some more useful than others, some we had seen before, we have a much better picture of the relationships involved. The line now reads: Philip – Robert – Philip – Andrew Joseph – Philip Joseph – Phillip Benjamin – Dad – Me. And this time it’s pretty robust.

As I write this there are still some things to confirm; a baptismal record for Philip Joseph would be useful, we haven’t found the particular Mr Cahill that Sarah married, and even after all this frantic activity I still don’t have a clue about PJ’s death. I also feel honour bound at some time to try and find the true ancestors of the people believed to be the descendants of the “other” PJR, but for now I’m incredibly grateful to Liz and still looking for a death.

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