Tee-Tyd is a bi-weekly online call, bringing together all interested in mixed race history, culture and heritage in South Africa. This guest speaker is Aubrey Springveldt, Genealogist, Genealogy Trainer, Tour Guide and ex-teacher. Enjoy the discussion covering methods, Khoi and slave routes, his personal journey, as well as advice for the community, and lastly thoughts on identity and history in the South African context.
It is often said that one should study the past in order to understand the present and anticipate the future. Serious genealogical research takes time, patience, and persistence. The most sensible and effective way to start investigating your family tree of ancestors, known as genealogy research, is to start with the known: yourself and your immediate family. You can then work your way back to the unknown. Identify what you know about your family, then find the vital records to prove what you know and from there you venture into the unknown.
There is no set process to follow to locate information on your family. Each family should be traced as an individual unit. Remember that a family unit consists of two parents and their children. Do not neglect to research maternal as well as paternal lines. As you move back in time, the number of grandparents doubles with each generation. By the time you have gone back five generations, you will be researching thirty-two direct line ancestors and inevitably you will see the fallacy of notions of racial, ethnic and national purity of lineage… and singular lineage.
You will need to follow the different courses indicated by the clues that you have uncovered and be able to master the technique of searching for documents in the various states as dictated by the migration of your ancestors. No information, published or unpublished, should be taken for granted. All information should be documented, questioned, and verified whenever possible. You will be concerned with pulling, from many varied documents of recorded history, five basic items: names, dates, places, relationships and stories. The three main recorded events in anyone's life are birth, marriage and death, but there are other records such as census records, probate records, land transactions, tax transactions, property acquisitions, education, religious rites such as baptisms, military records, migration and naturalization records all of which provide vital information for reconstruction of the past. These official records are known as primary sources.
Today many of these can be researched online, but archives, places of worship, educational institutions, courts, government internal/home affairs, graveyards and so on are also all part of record trails. When looking for your ancestors, you will want to gather as many of these records as you can find.
There are also secondary sources which include obituaries, newspaper articles, published family history, and history books. Although not official sources of information, these records can still hold valuable information. In all of these searches many dead-ends will appear. Do not be disheartened as with persistence you will always find new avenues to pursue. Joining a credible online family tree recording system can be immensely valuable.
A system like Geni is most useful in that it connects you into an automated worldwide database system that can help you resolve many gaps through interfacing your information with that of other researchers. Systems like FamilySearch also can give you access to huge databases of digital records.
Genealogy must be looked at together with history, so reading and evaluating the past, including its contradictions, is important. Today we also have access to genealogical genetic DNA testing that helps to fill in the gaps. Exploring your ancestral roots is a physical, emotional and spiritual journey which goes way beyond temporal identities based on race, colour, ethnic group or tribe, national and other political identities. You will realize that human beings collect identities and discard identities constantly in one’s lifetime and over ages. Identity is not something singular. Enjoy the journey.
Be patient and persevere in your search. There are challenges that exist around identifying indigenous ancestors, enslaved ancestors, free-black ancestors, and the various waves of other migrants of colour. Specialist resources exist to assist you in this regard. Once you patiently and perseveringly get into a rhythm of exploring your ancestral roots you will find it most rewarding and revealing because every name also has a story. The Example Family Tree of Patric Tariq Mellet took 45 years to compile and in starting out he did not even know his father and did not have his father’s name. Compiling a Family Tree is not always easy, but it is not impossible, and it will teach you many things. Here are some resources that you can consult in your search.
GISA Library Resource: Genealogical Society of South Africa – 18 volumes of searchable surnames.
Can be found in the Archive research reading room – Roeland Street, Cape Town.
Also, can be found in the National Library in the Gardens, Cape Town. GISA also have a micro-film record library at their offices in Stellenbosch.
Documents: Births, Deaths, Marriages, Baptisms and other original documentation available to the public.
Can be found in the Archive at Roeland Street, Cape Town.
Can be tracked on a search engine and ordered at – www.ancestor.co.za.
Digital Documents: Digitized Births, Deaths, Marriages & Baptisms available online.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) in Utah have an extensive database of digitized Cape records with access for free and ability to print out original documents.
Register, search and print at – www.familysearch.com.
Slavery Resources: First Fifty Years is a specialist web resource established by Delia Robertson and a team of researchers containing a searchable name index for records between 1652–1702.
These records combined with biographical information includes that of enslaved, indigenous people, Free Blacks and Europeans, and inter-marriages or other relationships between all.
You can find these records at www.e-family.co.za/ffy/ It also contains a section on remarkable writing. Here you will find original research using primary sources that gives much detail of the lives of individuals, particularly the enslaved, Free Blacks, and Indigenous people not easily available elsewhere. The work of micro-historian Mansell Upham is particularly helpful.
Burial Sites: Visits to Graveyards to read tombstones and visits to churches to read baptism and marriage records.
Here the focus would be on old churches and their records.
After identifying a church, you would need to first make an enquiry as to whether the records are viewable and then make an appointment.
Genealogy Online: A Netherlands based online genealogy website GENI is an amazingly useful resource for networking into South Africans who have already built their family trees online.
www.geni.com is a website that you can join for free and begin to build your website online where others can discover you, and where you can discover a wealth of work already done. If you want, you can buy into a more comprehensive wealth of information.
When searching names (for example those in the 17th and 18th century where you don’t have enough info to draw on, by typing names into the search engine the system will tell you whether you have a connection to that person and will show exactly all the names in the line of descent and the nature of the relationship.
Further slavery connections: You can consult Prof. HF Heese’s book which has lists of marriages and relationships and children born of these between the enslaved, between enslaved and Free Black and between enslaved or Free Black and Europeans.
“Groep Sonder Grense” by HF Heese published by Protea Books and also available in University Libraries and the National Library.
For further resources Mogamat Kammie Kamedien at the University of the Western Cape and the late Dr Robert Shell produced a comprehensive list of resources on slavery and Kammie can be consulted through his presence on social media for further information.
Naming Practices: When consulting older written records, it is important to note a progression in naming practices at the Cape. A first-generation enslaved person usually has a first name given by enslavers plus a toponym denoting from which slaver market port that they came or which area they were originally taken from. Only further investigation can confirm an actual place of origin.
First names sometimes were indigenous names but in most cases it was either a month of the year, a Biblical name, a facetious insulting name, a name from the Greek and Roman classics, or the name of the slave-master or his son. Surnames were the place of sale or place of origin – e.g. van Batavia, van Bengal.
In the following generation, the surname of the father (enslaved or Free Black or European) would usually become the first name, and the surname would be "van der Kaap" (or a variant), "van Afrika", or "Afrikaner". The latter two names were usually used for offspring between enslaved and indigenous people. It would be abbreviated as "vdk" or "vs", the latter being "Vrij Zwarte" (Free Black). So, when using the GISA volumes, look for these abbreviations alongside a name.