Finding Edith

The problem with finding records in South Africa is just that – finding them. Sometimes you have to approach your problem somewhat obliquely, and sometimes you find a record that may possibly be the one you’re looking for but your uncertainty affects your decision to send for it or not. Sometimes you just forget what you’ve seen.

Such a thing happened earlier this year. As you know if you’ve read this blog, I’m looking for my grandfather’s siblings in an attempt to put a lid on my great grandfather’s story, as well as putting the family back together – if only virtually.

In January I get sent a reference to a record in Durban regarding the death notice of a Cornelius De Jager whose surviving spouse is Pauline Edith. I’m not sure why I didn’t pursue it earlier, after all the name is just switched around, and we did believe she had married a de Jager; it’s just the sort of oblique approach I meant. I did spend a little time looking at Cornelius Duggan De Jager and traced his parentage but could not find any further mention of Pauline, especially not a maiden name, and so still didn’t send for the record.

Anyway, by September (2015) I’ve gathered a number of leads I need to follow up and include the de Jager DN. The other requests come through quickly, they were regarding Andrew Joseph Robinson and his erstwhile wife Rhoda and confirmed a number of things, but the de Jager order didn’t come through for another month.

When it does, it’s all there – Surviving spouse: Pauline Edith de Jager, with “(born Robinson)” squeezed in underneath. They have five children; Douglas, Gerrit, Elma, Melva and Edith. They were married on 6th June 1929 when he was about 28 and she roughly 24. He was born in Prieska, they married in Kimberley and he died in Durban in February 1962.

So Edith/Pauline was still alive in 1962 at least, which starts to narrow the search for her demise, and we also have five children to search for in case they know what became of their grandfather.

We now have a developing picture of the lives of four of granddad’s five siblings; Andrew, Ralph, Connie and now Edith, it’s now just Doris we know so little about.



I really need to sort out the Leiths.

and the Leitches.

and Leeches.

But it’s a bit daunting. Snatches of information and too many people with the same name and, of course, all the inherent problems with Irish records.

There are lots of good trees leading up to the early 19th century, but once you get to Ballymena and its environs the picture starts to break up and we get several Johns who may or may not be the same person, several instances of same name siblings, possible multiple marriages, Archibalds clearly in the wrong place, and it all gets into a bit of a mess.

It’s frustrating

But there was a small breakthrough; a 1983 death notice for Marthinus Swiegers, looking very much like great aunt Connie’s husband. His pre-deceased spouse (1977) was Constance Louisa, no maiden name unfortunately, and daughter Johanna Louisa. All in all a pretty good fit.

So, of course, I spent some time looking for more on Ralph and Edith and anything on Doris but, alas, again to no avail. Very frustrating when you make a minor breakthrough, get all enthusiastic again but find all the old dead-ends are still there.

One down, four to go

Grandfather had five siblings; Andrew Joseph, Ralph Victor, Constance Louisa, Edith Pauline and Doris Magdalene. Tracking them down would both complete the family picture and hopefully someone would also know what became of their father, Philip Joseph Robinson.

One down

We now have a fairly complete picture of Andrew’s life, his three wives and round dozen children, not loved at all by his first family whom he abandoned, his third wife younger than his fourth daughter, and his death in 1973 from aortic and ventricular aneurysms following what must have been a major heart attack. We also now know the names of his children with second wife Rhoda – Brenda and Andrew.

However, the only clue found to PJ’s whereabouts was a memory of him saying his father was in “Pretoria at an old age”, which at least meant we could probably restrict the search to sometime post 1960.

Four to go

As for the others, the picture is far more obscure.

We know that:

  • Ralph was born in East Africa in 1905, married Lauretta Twentyman-Jones and had a son, David, and later married Patricia Campbell.
  • Connie married someone possibly called Tijn Sweigers and had a daughter, Louisa (see comment, will update soon). We do have a photo (see this post)
  • Edith, we think, married Cornelius de Jager.
  • Doris came to mum and dad’s wedding, nothing more.

Official records have not yet come to light so we can only hope that as with Andrew, a relative or two finds this or the Ancestry tree and gets in touch.

Earliest ancestors

Just a quick look at the earliest ancestor found on each of the four branches (my grandparents) of the family.

For the ROBINSON side, the earliest Robinson is still Philip, born c. 1746 but overall we have Wessel Schulte, born in Niedersarchen, Germany in 1566.

On the CURRIE side we reach the furthest back of all to one Richard Mossop born in Gosforth, Cumbria in 1490. The earliest Currie is David born 1825 in Dumfries.

We haven’t fared so well on the ELLICOTT side, although there is still a lot of data to sort through. So far it’s Robert Ellacott born in 1625 who is at least the earliest of the four names found.

Finally, the LEITH side is the least documented with Francis Foster born in 1785 the narrow ‘winner’, although there is tell of a mysterious “Mr Leitch” who would have been born a bit earlier. Otherwise the earliest Leith is John, born about 1800 in Slaght.

So in terms of generations:

Philip Robinson – is my 5 times great grandfather
Wessel Schulte – 11 times great

Richard Mossop – 13 times great
David Currie – 4 times

Robert Ellacott – 9 times

Francis Foster – only 3 times
John Leith – 4 times

Famous skeletons

When you embark upon a genealogical quest you will eventually have to start drawing lines. At some point your tree will start to look more like a hedge unless you limit the number of branches you go down – it is nice to know for example that your second cousin Bob was married to Jean, but you perhaps don’t need to know all of Jean’s ancestors or siblings and their descendants.

You will also, at the start, be hoping that there might be some link to someone famous or notable, someone to start a conversation at dinner perhaps (or maybe only because that will mean an awful lot of work will already have been done for you!).

What this is leading to is that one of the slightly more obscure branches of my tree links in to the Pretorius family, something I hadn’t paid much attention to before. But it would appear that they’re something akin to Afrikaner aristocracy; descendants of Johannes Pretorius who arrived in the Cape in 1666. He was one of the first Dutch settlers and great grandfather of the famous Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius and great-great-grandfather of the first president of the South African Republic, Marthinus Pretorius.

And also, as it turns out, my eight times great grandfather.

This link to one of the most famous Boer families comes on top of being descended from an 1820 settler.

To put that in some context, I suppose it’s a bit like being descended both from a Pilgrim Father and a Son of the American Revolution.

And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Abraham and the two Rhoda Robinsons

This is by way of an update to this post of some time ago regarding my great uncle, Andrew Joseph Robinson, although he only plays a peripheral role in this tale. This is the story of his second wife Rhoda (née Wise), their two so far unnamed children and her relationship as quite literally ‘the younger model’ with Abraham van Jaarsveld.

It all started when I got back in touch with Nick to catch up and see if he’s made any progress. There was no news but it did prompt him to start looking for Rhoda’s two children, those she had had with Andrew in the early 1950s, mentioned in the divorce papers but not named. A day or so later an email from Nick drops into my inbox with a copy of an email from Jan van Jaarsveld with some detail about Rhoda Robinson and Abraham van Jaarsveld, but also, from an obscure reference in the Strydom family tree, listing Rhoda Robinson (born Wise) as de facto spouse to the same Abraham van Jaarsveld. It was clear quite quickly that either something was horribly wrong with one of these sources or there were two Rhoda Robinsons.

It turns out Abraham van Jaarsveld (b 1881) had previously been married (in 1902) to Leonora Strydom (b 1880) with whom he’d fathered five children; Leonora, Ernestus, Pieter, Abraham and Hermina. It is clear from the communication Nick has had with Jan that he later formed a relationship, possibly marriage, with Rhoda Robinson, 32 years his junior and with whom he fathered a further two, possibly three children; Ernst and Cecil, and possibly Johanna. This Rhoda Robinson was previously unknown to me but looks like she was the daughter of a Robert and Lucy Robinson born in 1913. Robert and Lucy also had a son, Cecil, a year later – fans no doubt of the infamous Cecil Rhodes, but not so far in my tree.

Anyway, Rhoda would have been 41 by the time her younger son Cecil Robinson van Jaarsveld was born in 1954 and one can only wonder how soon after this birth (if not before) the old man, now 72, took up with newly divorced Rhoda Wise/Robinson – 47 years his junior and 15 years younger than the first Rhoda Robinson. It must have been a very strange and distressing situation for Rhoda to have been replaced by what would probably have seemed like quite literally a younger version of herself.

The first Rhoda Robinson as well as Abraham’s first wife Leonora were both still very much alive when Rhoda Wise Robinson appeared on the scene, they died in 1974 and 1998 respectively. Abraham himself died in 1963 and Rhoda Wise Robinson and her children were not named in his will. While we are awaiting the paperwork on that, it seems that one of the Rhoda’s contested the Will before a couple of his children from his first marriage opposed that application. All very murky.

None of which has got us any closer to naming Andrew and Rhoda’s children!

The case of James Erith and the revolting settlers

James Erith had spent some months petitioning the colonial office to be allowed to lead a party of settlers, first to America and then to the Cape when that opportunity opened up for 1820. It was clear he was keen to be something of an empire builder and also that he saw his role as a leader of men, not a foot soldier. He eventually secured passage for himself, his wife Jane and their two young daughters, his cousin Robert Robinson and his young family, along with eight other young men all of whom were to be indentured to him for some years after settling. For this he raised the princely sum of £105 (well over £4000 today) paid to the government to set against expenses, tools and rations until the settlement was established.
Thomas Baines painting of the landings
His party, aboard HMS Brilliant arrived at Algoa Bay on 15 May 1820 and it may be that they were already in dispute but the cracks were definitely showing as early as that June when there were complaints to the provisional magistrate, C. Trappes, that rations had not been drawn, they were infested with vermin and the whole party was suffering with bowel complaints due to unclean water. Twice Mr Trappes intervened to settle the differences between the party and Erith, once on behest of the men and then because Erith claimed his party were in a state of mutiny!
excerptEventually forced to intervene again, Trappes called a day to hear grievances and even found work for some of the party in order that they might afford some shoes, and gave out rations charged against Erith’s account.
Some ten weeks into the settlement, the authorities (and who knows what unrecorded conversations took place) decided that parcels of land had been wrongly allocated and that as a result, several parties had to move. Erith’s party was told to relocate to Waay Plaates, which Erith describes as having been abandoned both by the Dutch because of its proximity to the native border and thus at a great risk from cattle raiders, and also by Mr Damant because it was rocky and barren. He was not at all happy. Erith decided to sit it out on his original allocation citing conflicting authority and that the move was motivated by nothing more than private revenge, accusing Trappes and the Landdrost, Rivers, of oppression and injustice. He resisted attempts to move him, claiming illness, firing on those sent to evict them, and destroying wagons. Eventually authority prevailed, knocked down the house Erith had built, evicted him and released his party from their obligations.

There followed several years of correspondence from Erith and Jane, his wife, claiming redress for losses suffered, relief from destitution, and legal grievances against all those involved in what they saw as the architects of their misery.
They eventually sought leave to return to England, separately, he to continue his grievance, she because she was destitute. In September 1827 James is in Lambeth, still petitioning, still complaining:
It’s not yet clear whether Jane and the children did return to England, but it appears that James died in 1868 back in South Africa.

Erith’s story

Mocavo have finally proved useful. They have digitised a whole raft of South African journals and official records including several volumes of “Records of the Cape Colony”, among which we find nearly all the correspondence relating to James Erith’s disputes with his party and the colonial government. Erith was the lead member of the party of settlers joined by Robert Robinson and his young family but said party also fell apart with disputes and recriminations soon after landing at Algoa Bay.

It’ll take a while to read and extract the story to tell but it’s quite an exciting development.

Stay tuned.