In somewhat random fashion, during War Graves Week last year, I went to Rosebank Cemetery in Leith, with an eye out for Commonwealth War Graves. Scottish cemeteries often have obelisks and tall headstones that make it less easy to pick out the CWGC headstones among them. I am always looking for the people who are overlooked—women, Allied soldiers and airmen, buried so far from home, seamen in the Merchant Navy and civilian dead.
On the following day, I tackled Edinburgh’s Eastern Cemetery, chosen because it is also within easy walking distance for me.
In both cemeteries, I photographed many CWGC headstones, but the ones I chose to research were chosen afterwards at home, almost at random, and when I set about researching, I found stories that I could never have imagined. In my research, I start with the information in the matching CWGC entry. Often the sparse details provided, prove incorrect, and other important, helpful details, like ages and the names of next-of-kin are missing. Don’t let that deter you. You start with broken threads, and end up with a fairly neatly woven tapestry.
You can find posts on some of those I found and researched on my newest blog, PassersbyRemember, set up to cover accidental discoveries, rather than the planned research that results in posts on my other War Memorial blogs.
Here’s the web address:
An introductory aside here, for anyone who has not come to this blog post via my post on Adriana’s husband, Georg Jacob Wiehahn. I am aware of some inaccuracies on online family trees relating to this couple, based on misunderstandings or mis-transcriptions of records, rather than on the original records themselves. If you have relied purely on extracts for these records provided by Family Search in the past, you may not be aware that many of the 19th century Church records on Family Search have been indexed with the corresponding images now accessible online. It is always preferable to view the original record where you can. Because of the additional information provided in the DRC and Lutheran registers, this post reveals perhaps more about the records than the life story of Adriana Jacoba’s life. I hope that the lists of sources at the end of the post will help direct you to the documents I have viewed, and discussed in this account, and also that they are useful to you in your research of this family.
I am one of the many great grandchildren of Jacoba Adriana Wiehahn (1854–1932), one of the daughters of Gerrit Adam Wiehahn (1817–1892) and Cornelia Sophia van der Poll (1823–1891). Known always as Adriana, my great grandmother, Jacoba Adriana Wiehahn, was named after her paternal grandmother, the subject of this post. She is regarded as the Stamm-Mutter of the South African Wiehahns, and is recorded in most of the baptismal records of her eleven children as Jacoba Adriana van den Burg (or van den Berg). Sometimes, as with her marriage record, the Adriana is written first, suggesting that it may have been the name by which she was familiarly known within her family and community. For consistency, I will refer to her by her first name, Jacoba and to my great grandmother as Adriana, the name by which she was known within our branch of the family.
I learnt many years ago, from the historian Professor J.S. Marais, that the surname van de Berg very often indicated that the person concerned was ‘a person of colour’ as he cautiously expressed it. So when, a few years later, I discovered that I had in my Wiehahn line an ancestor named Jacoba Adriana van der (or den) Berg, who had been born during the Dutch Occupation of the Cape of Good Hope, I knew that she could well be a descendant of one of the indigenous peoples, or of an ‘immigrant’ slave or servant. Other indications of mixed race in those early communities were ‘suffixes’, such as van de Caap, van de Caab or van de Cabo (all three meaning of the Cape), which were applied in the absence of an official surname, just as Catharina van Colombo would describe a woman from what is now Sri Lanka.
Some time ago I located, via Family Search, digital images of the baptisms of eleven children born to Jacoba and her husband Georg Jacob Wiehahn but it was not until the first of the 2020 pandemic lockdowns that I had time to try to find the record for their marriage.
1798 Marriage Record for Georg Jacob Wiehahn and Adriana Jacoba van de Caap The snip below is an extract from the register that records Adriana’s marriage to Georg Jacob Wiehahn. This particular marriage register has been digitised, but not indexed, so the entire film needs to be browsed in order to view the page on which the marriage is recorded. I started about the time of the birth of their eldest child, Anna Elisabeth Wiehahn in 1799, and then ‘paged’ backwards in the register until I found this record for their marriage:
[The marriage record for George Jacob Wiehahn and Adriana Jacoba van de Caap.]
Eleven marriages are noted against the date of the event, written in the margin as 2 xber 1798. This translates to 2 December 1798, with an abbreviation for December (xber) which dates back to the time of the Julian Calendar when the new year began in March, December being the tenth month of the year. X is the Roman numeral replacing the decem (the Latin word for ten, as in December. Theirs is the first marriage in the above snip.
I included in my snip the two marriage records that followed theirs, because I noticed they also involved women identified without surnames, and whose origin was described as van de Caap. You will note that Georg is described as a Jongman (bachelor) and van Orlishausen (from Orlishausen), which matches the place listed for him on the pay ledger of the ship Buitenverwachting in the VOC Opvaarenden records. It looks to me as if the minister or clerk had begun to write a surname for our Adriana Jacoba because it appears to me that the vanhas been struck out. This could suggest he intended, in her case, to record van den Burg/h but perhaps decided, or was formally informed, that this was not her legitimate surname. It was a genealogy-happy-dance-worthy occasion to get confirmation of Orlishausen as a match with the man on the Buitenverwachting and to know that he was a bachelor at the time of his marriage to Jacoba. (Saved me from looking for earlier marriages!) In addition, having Jacoba recorded without a ‘proper’ surname, with her origins described as van de Caap, had been absent from every other record I had, until then, found for her.
Apart from the entries for family members in the early Cape Directories, the baptisms of all their children, and the death notices, for as many as I have been able to find so far, I have not yet learnt very much about the married life of this couple. We know that during their marriage, the Stellenbosch kerk was their ‘local’ church, and that the birthplace of their children was often noted as Caapsche Duine (Cape Dunes) which were probably somewhere in the sandy area known as the Cape Flats. In those same children’s Death Notices, however, the birthplace of their children was frequently given with the more precise location of Kuilsrivier. They do not appear to have lost any children in infancy and on the whole their children made what their parents would have regarded as ‘satisfactory’ marriages.
The baptisms of Georg and Jacoba’s children record the respective Getuige/Getuie—the witnesses, or godparents—for each child, and give us some idea of their parents’ network of family and of their close associates. From these eleven baptisms, I have been able to identify two relatives, potentially Jacoba’s parents, who are recorded as witnesses in four of the baptismal entries.
Key Witnesses at the baptisms of the Wiehahn children
The last of three witnesses recorded at the baptism, in 1799, of Georg and Jacoba’s first child, Anna Elisabeth, was Ger[ri]t van den Burg. It’s a high frequency Dutch surname, so one has to be wary of jumping to conclusions with regard to any relationship. However, an uncle or grandfather was often asked to be one of the witnesses at the baptism of his nephews or grandchildren.
At this point I began to pay attention to Gert van den Burg. Gert is a nickname for Gerrit, and I also knew that, in 1817, the name was given to the couple’s youngest son, Gerrit Adam Wiehahn. At that time, the traditional naming patterns were often followed within the Lutheran and Calvinist churches, whereby the first daughter in the family was named after the maternal grandmother. And in this family, Anna Elisabeth was that first-born daughter.
Moving on to the baptism, in 1801, of their second child, Johan Carel, the last of five witnesses was recorded as Anna Elisabeth van de Caap. It was at this point, that I began to wonder whether this Anna Elisabeth might be the maternal grandmother of the Wiehahn children—their first daughter having been given the names Anna Elisabeth. If Georg and Jacoba were following the traditional naming pattern, then, if de Villiers and Pama were correct in identifying his paternal grandfather as Christian Valentin Wiehahn, why had he not received at least one of the names of his putative grandfather? The ‘leading’ witness at the baptism was Carel Solg, perhaps a particularly close friend, while another of the five witnesses was the infant’s uncle, Johann Christoph Wiehahn.
At the baptism in 1815, of their tenth child, Petrus Johannes, Gerrit Adam van den Burg was a witness, this time the fourth of five witnesses. (We can’t be sure that he was the same Gert who had been a witness in 1801.)
And finally, their eleventh and last child, born 31 December 1817, was baptised Gerrit Adam. The name Gerrit Adam would, in time, be given to several of this infant’s grandsons, one of whom was my beloved grandfather.
It is beginning to feel as if we may have identified here a significant male relative—perhaps a grandfather, or an uncle—of Adriana Jacoba van de Caap, who, in all records except her marriage record, is recorded with a surname in one or other form of van den Burg/Burgh or Berg.
Death of Georg Jacob Wiehahn
After the death of Georg Jacob on 8 June 1819, life must have become more difficult for his widow and for their eleven children, all under the age of 20 with six of them under the age of 12.
In 1820, their eldest child, Anna Elisabeth, married an Italian immigrant, Felix Orlandini, and settled in the village of Stellenbosch. About that time, Jacoba seems to have transferred her church membership from Stellenbosch to Cape Town. The following year she married, in Cape Town, a widower, Johan Christiaan Loock, a long-time family associate, and a witness at the baptism of at least one of Jacoba’s grandchildren. Johan Loock had children from a previous marriage, so their marriage enabled them to share the role of raising, and providing for, the younger children of both previous marriages.
Death of Anna Elisabeth van den Burgh (c.1750–1834) My lockdown research bore further fruit when I found the official notice for the death, in Stellenbosch, on 24 February 1834, of Anna Elisabeth van der Burgh. This records her birthplace as Cape of Good Hope. It includes the following information:
Names of the parents of the Deceased: Unknown.
Age of the Deceased: 84 years.
Condition in Life: no occupation of late, was formerly married to a Farmer.
Married or Unmarried, Widower or Widow: Widow of Gerrit van der Burgh.
At what House, or Where the Person died: at Felix Orlandini in the village ofStellenbosch.
Names of the Children of the Deceased, and whether Minors or Majors: Jacoba van der Burgh, Widow of Johan Christiaan Loock and formerly married to Georg Jacob Wiehahn.
Whether Deceased has left any Property, and of what Kind: no property whatsoever having been supported at the sole Expence (sic) of Felix Orlandini, the Subscriber hereto.
Felix Orlandini (1780–1849) made his mark to confirm the information he had given about “Anna Elisabeth van den Burg”, his wife’s maternal grandmother, for whom he had provided in her old age.
Taken at face value, this document seems to confirm that Jacoba’s parents were Gerrit van den Burgh and Anna Elisabeth “van den Burgh” (who is almost certainly the Anna Elisabeth van de Caap, who was a witness at Johan Carel’s baptism in 1801). This ties in with the striking out of the beginnings of a surname, that van in the 1798 marriage record so that no surname was provided for Adriana Jacoba, but merely a place of origin, namely, van de Caap. I am not certain whether, or at what point, Gerrit and Anna were married. The document notes that Jacoba was the only child born to Anna Elisabeth. This is helpful in that a person of interest, the 72 year old Gerrit van den Berg, who died “beyond the Boundaries” aged 72 in 1839, husband of Maria van Biljoen (sic), was too young to have been Jacoba’s father, though it is not sufficient to exclude his having perhaps been Jacoba’s legitimate half-brother. This Gerrit would have been born in 1766 or 1767, if the age given for him on 26 July 1839 is correct. He would have been eleven years older than Jacoba.
Death of the Widow Wiehahn, female progenitor of the Wiehahns (c.1778–1835)
Jacoba died the year after her mother, on 6 July 1835, at 5 Piper Street, Cape Town. She was then inher fifty eighth year, which should be interpreted as not yet 58 at the time of her death, giving Jacoba’s birth as having been on a date from 7 July 1777 to 6 July 1778. Her death notice helpfully identifies her birthplace as Cape Town. The informant for her death was her second daughter, Catharina Jacoba Jacobsz, whose first child, Adriana Jacoba Catharina Jacobsz, had been born the previous year, barely a week after the death of her great grandmother, Anna Elisabeth and named after her maternal grandmother.
There is a line in this death notice that is puzzling and that is the names provided for Jacoba’s parents. Death certificates often have errors, partly because the informant is often a close family member, who may be suffering from shock or grief. Also, if the informant is performing this role for the first time, he or she may be unprepared, for all the questions that will be asked. If innumerate and illiterate, the task is much more difficult.
The names of Jacoba Adriana’s parents as recorded on her death notice.
I think the line reads G [H?] van den Burg & Joh[ann]a Elis[abeth] but the surname at the end of the lineis less clear than the others: Here’s what I make of the letters, with question marks representing a letter that’s not clear: ?i?ha? OR ?i?he?
Taking the three problematic letters in the last word, the initial capital is most likely to be an M, possibly a W, or even an N or an H.
The second problematic letter is either a, c or e. The letter d is not impossible though it would affect the following letter, which I’ve assumed to be the letter h.
The third problematic letter (or letters) could be l, ll, le.
Of course, Wiehahn is a fairly obvious name that would fit the ?i?ha? pattern, but no Wiehahns have been found in the Dutch and the VOC records matching a woman of child-bearing age in the Cape of Good Hope when Jacoba was born.
Surnames, besides Wiehahn, that would fit around the visible letters are the surnames Micha[u] or Michell, perhaps the most likely. I could not find a potential Johanna Elisabeth, but I did find an Anna Elisabeth Michiels, the mother of Maria Margaretha, who was baptised in Cape Town, in 1759, the father being named as Fredrik Jacob Wesler.
This month it will be two years since I first came across this death notice, and was so astonished by the names provided for Jacoba’s parents that I remember exactly where I was at the time. I’m a little miffed with myself that I haven’t yet any further information that could decide whether or not Catharina Jacoba understood the question, or whether she was confused. It’s not uncommon to realise that mistakes are made, even with regard to relationships, when a grandchild is the informant at the time of death.
The challenge here is with Item 3 on the death notice, in which the informant has to provide the names of the deceased’s parents. Here, Catharina records her grandmother as Johanna Elisabeth, rather than as Anna Elisabeth. Catharina would surely have known that her elder sister was named for their maternal grandmother. Did she assume that the name Anna was a nickname for Johanna?
A year earlier, Catharina and her husband had followed the traditional naming pattern in naming their elder daughter after her maternal grandmother. I should also make clear that, while Catharina’s signature does not quite match the handwriting of the person who filled in the rest of the death notice there are enough similarities for me not to be completely sure it was not someone else’s handiwork. In the latter case, if there was an intermediary between Catharina and the receiving official, there would be more opportunities for error.
Gerrit Adam van den Burg is almost certainly Jacoba’s father and it seems probable that Anna Elisabeth van de Caap, also known as Anna Elisabeth van den Burg, is Jacoba’s mother.
There were earlier van den Bergs at the Cape. Eight weesmeisjes (orphaned girls) from Rotterdam were sent to the Cape in 1687, arriving in Cape Town on the Berg China in 1688. They were intended as wives for some of the Dutch bachelors at the Cape. One of the orphans was Adriaantje Jacobsz van der Berg but she is not under consideration here, since she married a man whose surname was not van der Berg.
I’d also like to point out that there was at least one Dutch settler with the surname van der Berg in the early days of the Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope and that he had descendants, of whom Gerrit van den Burgh could conceivably have been one.
I would welcome comments on my arguments, and look forward to hearing any theories you might have on the interpretation of the documents to which I have referred.
How to replicate my research, if only to satisfy yourself
Please note that you should be able to find most of the records fairly easily on Family Search. With the marriage record, however, you will need to apply the advice I give, below, for finding the image that has the Wiehahn record. Make sure to restrict the location for your search to South Africa, before you enter the search terms in their relevant boxes. Alternatively, digital images of all the records can be viewed at the Family History Library in Utah, or at your nearest Family History Centre or Family Search Affiliated Library.
Useful Websites Family Search’s Search Page, https://www.familysearch.org/search/, accessed 19/10/2020. Start by clicking on the continent of Africa, on the map under the heading Research By Location. Then scroll down the pop-up list of countries, and click on South Africa. Only then should you fill in the names of interest. Do not click on the small boxes next to First Names and Last Names as there are often variations in the spelling of names within records for the same person. ‘Find a Family History Center (sic) and Family Search Affiliated Libraries’, https://www.familysearch.org/help/fhcenters/locations/, accessed 19/10/2020.
List of documents These are the documents mentioned in this account and all are available to view and download on Family Search. I will shortly upload a post providing a list of the various godparents at each of the eleven baptisms. If this will be useful to you in your research, I suggest you follow my blog so that you can be notified when I upload new posts.
1798 Marriage of Georg Jacob Wiehahn and Adriana Jacoba van de Caap, Cape Town. You can access this record using the FHL Film No 008039065. I can save you time here—it’s image number 690 of 876 . (You’re welcome! 😉) It will have a number of subsets, so use the image numbers to leap along until you find yourself in a section that has 876 images. The original records are included in the Cape Dutch Reformed Church Records, reference G1/13/5 ‘Cape Town Marriages 1790–1800’.
1799 Baptism of Anna Elisabeth Wiehahn She married firstly, Felix Orlandini in 1820, and secondly William McDonald in 1849, whom she married soon after Felix’s death of Felix. Felix’s own death notice reveals that he and Anna were officially separated at the time of his death.
1801 Baptism of Johan Carel Wiehahn I have not yet found further records for Johan Carel. He may be the Carel Wiehahn who was a witness at the christening of Carel Wilhelmus van Druten in 1835, the son of his sister, Maria Isabella Wiehahn. There are several Carels in subsequent generations of Wiehahns but all would have been too young to be the Carel who was a godfather in 1835.
1815 Baptism of Petrus Johannes Wiehahn He married Johanna Hendrica Smit, daughter of Abraham François Smit.
1817 Baptism of Gerrit Adam Wiehahn He married Cornelia Sophia van der Poll, daughter of Hendrik van der Poll and Susanna Maria Vermaak.
1834 Death of Anna Elisabeth van den Burg, Stellenbosch
1835 Death of Jacoba Adriana van den Burg, Cape Town
Genealogical Periodicals Genealogical Society of South Africa, Genesis, Ball, R[ichard], Weesmeisies, Issue 15, July 2007, p.6–12. This isalso available on the eGGSA website, https://www.eggsa.org/articles/Weesmeisies.htm accessed 19/10/2020.
Among the benefits of the Lockdown, along with the birdsong, was having time to tie up some loose ends relating, for once, to my own forebears. Research into two Deutschmann servicemen for one of my war memorial blogs, South Africa Remembers, had reignited my interest in, and curiosity about, people of German descent who served in the British Army during the First World War. I became curious about the role my relatives of German descent might have played in WW1 and WW2.
But when I found them, I found gaps in the information available for their parents, particularly for the Wiehahn who died in Germany while a prisoner of war, a victim of the 1918 pandemic. I realised that this would require what amounted to a #OneNameStudy for the Wiehahns of at least the first two or three generations. I subsequently found that, besides our POW in Germany, back in South Africa a number of young Wiehahn men of his generation were also losing their lives in that pandemic.
This led to a decision to review what I knew of this couple, from research I had done in the 1970s, into the ancestry of my Wiehahn great grandmother, herself a granddaughter of the progenitor (stamvader or Stammvater) of the Wiehahns of South Africa.
Georg Jacob Wiehahn (c.1767–1819) has long been identified as the Wiehahn progenitor. He is listed as such in Christoffel de Villiers’ opus, Die Geslagregisters van die Ou Kaapse Families. A significantly revised edition of this book by Pama, in 1981, was followed by Die Groot Afrikaans Familie-naamboek, in 1983. The Wiehahn entry in the latter, summarised and transcribed by Pieter Conradie, closely resembles what I remember of the original entry in de Villiers & Pama. It translates as follows:
Georg Jacob WIEHAHN, from Orlishausen (Germany), born 15.4.1767, son of Christian Valentin WIEHAHN and Catharina Elisabeth WÜRZBURG. Soldier 1786; [later] left the service, and [became a] carpenter at Kuilsrivier. Died 8.6.1819. Married 2.12.1798 to Adriana Jacoba VAN DEN BURG (10 children).
Georg Jacob was indeed a carpenter at Kuilsrivier, and at some point he employed, as a house carpenter (huistimmerman) in his business, his younger brother, Johann Christoph (c.1774–1824), sometimes recorded as Johan Christiaan. Johan Christoph has also been reported in the past as having followed his brother to Southern Africa.
One of the benefits of returning to South African research after a long interval, has been that, increasingly, more records for the 19th century are being made accessible online, including, in recent years, some VOC records, which provided further information about Georg Jacob and his brother Johann Christoph.
I was intrigued to discover, when I accessed Wie Was Wie, that passenger lists (Opvarenden records) listed two Wiehahns in the records of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, (VOC) —the Dutch East India Company.
The two Wiehahns turned out to be, as I’d hoped, Georg Jacob and Johan Christoph Wiehahn, and the record listing them was a pay ledger for the Company’s vessel, the Buitenverwachting, for the years 1794 to 1795. As this date fits in with Georg Jacob’s arrival “at about the time of the First British Occupation” of the Cape of Good Hope, I immediately set to work to find the related images.
The brothers appear in this ledger on consecutive spreads in the Scheepssoldijboek (Pay Ledger) for the Buitenverwachting, a ship built in 1789 for the Chamber of Amsterdam. (Each Company employee is recorded across a spread of two pages.) The ledger records, for both brothers, their entry into the service of the VOC on 5 May 1794 which seems to contradict the old story that his younger brother followed Georg to Southern Africa—though, you will see that there is an alternative explanation for this.
Georg is recorded in the pay ledger as arriving at the Cape on 20 September 1794.
Here’s a glimpse of part of the record for Georg Jacob as provided in the pay ledger.
The ledger also notes that the brothers were born in Orlishausen, which is in Sömmerda, in Thuringia. For anyone inclined to maak ‘n draai, it’s not far from Weimar. However, the record for the death of Johan Christoff (sic) Wiehahn in Cape Town, on 12 April 1824, recorded his birthplace differently, as Leibzig in Saxen, the city we now know as Leipzig.
According to the Buitenverwachting‘s pay ledger, each brother was employed by the Company with a contract to perform the function of a huistimmerman, (house carpenter) and it appears to have been VOC policy that, in contrast to the ship’s carpenter, house carpenters would not work onboard, and that their service as carpenters would commence only after his arrival in Asia.
Georg Jacob left the service on 10 October 1794, the reason given for his ‘departure’ from the service being that he had not appeared for the inspection or roll call—Niet bij de monstering verschenen. Next, it notes the reason for his absence as his having been missing (vermist). Since he was expected to appear for the monstering, perhaps before the Buitenverwachting sailed for Batavia, it seems possible that he simply decided quietly to abscond.
It is possible that Johan Christoph continued his voyage to Asia on the Buitenverwachting when it sailed on 10 October. It completed its voyage to Dutch East India on 29 January 1795. The pay ledger entries suggest that Johan Christoph might, in contrast to his brother, have worked off part of his debt, either on the voyage or in Asia. However, his records show Johan as leaving the service at the Cape, but without providing an associated date or stating the reason for his departure from the Company’s service. The reason for leaving was laatse vermelding, which was used to describe a situation where a reason was not given, not known, or unclear. Johan’s account in the ledger was not, however, closed.
After 1795 there are no entries for the brothers until June 1803 when there is an entry for each brother, made four months after the British returned the Cape of Good Hope to the Batavian Republic. The timing suggests that the time lag between the entries, was because of the capture of the Dutch Colony in 1795, and that the Cape’s relatively brief return to Dutch hands probably resulted in some tidying up to settle debts or missed payments. The entries in 1803 concern a further payment with regard to a Schuld (obligation or debt), the amount recorded being greater for Georg than for his brother.
Initially Georg employed his brother in his own business, as a house carpenter, but Johan subsequently set up shop in his own right, as a cabinetmaker in Cape Town, where the African Court Calendar, lists him at 21 Plein Street. An entry in the register in which Johan’s death, on 12 April 1824, is recorded, helpfully provides his age at death precisely, as 50 years, 3 months and 11 days, giving him a date of birth of 1 January 1774. Johan had married, in 1806, Gesina Cristina Ahlers, widow of Johann Heinrich Wulff. The couple had two daughters, Gesina Cristina and Maria Catarina. As far as I can discover, Johan had no surviving sons, so, apart from his daughters, those with the surname Wiehahn, are descended from Georg Jacob and his wife, Adriana.
Stay tuned! Georg Jacob’s story is continued in the post for his wife, Adriana Jacoba.
A blog post on what the baptisms of their children reveal about the family’s social network in the first two decades of the 19th century will be uploaded on a later date. If you follow my blog, you will automatically receive a notification when I upload a new post.
Documents that have made it possible to find this information now
1. Family Search has made digitised images of South African records accessible online. I found I could access the record for Georg Jacob’s marriage, as well as the baptisms of his eleven children. Finding his marriage, however, involved browsing the register, going backwards through the register, starting with the baptism of their first child. The marriage record confirmed that Georg was a bachelor and also provided a significant, but not unexpected, piece of information about his wife, Adriana Jacoba.
2. The baptisms of the first generation of Wiehahns are also now accessible on Family Search, and were more informative than is the case with similar records in England, Scotland and Wales. The records provided the date, and place, of birth of each child, as well as the date and place of their baptisms, but with the added bonus of listing at least three witnesses/godparents. It was interesting to gain some knowledge of their associates and those within their more intimate circle.
3. The National Archives of the Netherlands take seriously their role as custodians, rather than as sole owners, of public records, and therefore make it possible for us to access a wide range of digitised records online, at no cost.
For those who are interested in following up the VOC Opvaarenden lists, I also intend to upload a post which will demonstrate and explain the steps I took to access the relevant images. This will be uploaded to this blog, my professional blog. If anyone were to express a particular interest, I will prioritise that post!
Abbreviations DEIC: Dutch East India Company VOC: Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie
Sources Conradie, P., ‘WIEHAHN, Georg[e] Jacob Wiehahn’ https://www.stamouers.com/stamouers/surnames-v-z/620-wiehahn-georg-jacob, accessed 22/9/2020.
de Villiers, C.C. and Pama, C., Die Geslagregisters van die Ou Kaapse Families, 1966, revised 1981.
Family Search, https://www.familysearch.org/en/, accessed 26/
Genealogiese Genootskap van Suid Afrika, Rekeningen uit de Scheepssoldijboeken, https://documents-at-eggsa.org/main.php?g2_itemId=1057235, accessed 23/9/2020. This web page is in English, despite the Dutch title, and provides background to the Accounts from Ships’ Pay Ledgers.
Nationaal Archief, Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), Opvaarenden, Nummer Toegang 1.04.02, Inventaris nr. 6842, folionummer 180, ‘George Jacob Wiehahn’.
Nationaal Archief, Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), Opvaarenden, Nummer Toegang 1.04.02, Inventaris nr. 6842, folionummer 181, ‘Johan Christoph Wiehahn’.
Pama, C., ‘Wiehahn, Georg Jacob’, Die Groot Afrikaanse Familie-naamboek, https://www.stamouers.com/stamouers/surnames-v-z/620-wiehahn-georg-jacob, accessed 16/9/2020. 1983 edition.
TANAP, ‘Layout of the Ship’s Pay Ledgers of the Six Chambers of the VOC, 1700–1795), http://tanap.nl/content/voc/appendices/payledgers.htm, accessed 23/9/2020.
Wie Was Wie, https://www.wiewaswie.nl/, accessed 23/9/2020. This is the Dutch language version. There is a link on its home page to the English site, which will be useful for understanding descriptions and instructions, if your Dutch or Afrikaans is rusty or non-existing. Or you can simply go to https://www.wiewaswie.nl/en/.
Deutschmann #2 was a German sailor, Werner Deutschmann, who died aged 21 on 13 July 1946 and is buried in Darlington Cemetery. His story will have to wait, but he will be remembered as well.
Deutschmann #3 , Edward William Deutschmann turned up after I’d found basic details of the first two men via the database of War Dead maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
I found this third Deutschmann while seeking further information on Herbert Deutschmann from digitised documents in South African archives, and happened, as one does, to come across another Deutschmann in the official South African Death Notices for Edward William Deutschmann, formerly a Trader’s Assistant and killed while on Active Service on 12 April 1918. Why had I not found him sooner on the CWGC database?
This Death Notice revealed that Edward had been born in Johannesburg, the son of Edward and Emma Deutschmann and was aged 28 years and 6 months at the time of his death, on 12 April 1918, while on active service in France. He is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, despite his death being within the given dates for the Pozières Memorial which commemorates most of the South Africans without a known grave, and killed during the first weeks of the Kaiserschlacht.
Edward’s case puzzled me immediately, because his name did not seem to appear on the CWGC list nor could I find him, using wild cards, via the usually extraordinarily helpful South African War Graves Project. It wasn’t impressed by my wildcards, so I knew I should focus on finding a military document on which his name was recorded.
It was the use of the most basic of wild cards that got me there. Here is the search I undertook after my initial failure to find him the ‘normal’ way.
The most straightforward wildcard to use is the asterisk (*). It’s easy and powerful. Each search engine has its own peculiarities as to what each wildcard actually represents, but with most of them, you can apply the asterisk within your search syntax in an easily defined way. An asterisk placed in your search syntax can represent simultaneously three possibilities:
There is no character (letter) filling the place of the asterisk;
there are two characters filling the place of the asterisk; OR
there are any number of characters filling the place of the asterisk.
I eventually begin to hoover up records for Edward, after I searched the Register of Soldiers’ Effects using the wild card D*t*man* for the soldier’s name. This series is one of my favourites when stuck for records for WW1 servicemen. You can also use it with Commonwealth servicemen. Their next of kin would receive any payments due via their respective High Commissioners.
Notice how few of the characters in the surname are represented in my search term. I couldn’t be sure how an English ear might transcribe either the German “eu” or the German “tsch” so I went for a space where the eu might fit, and reduced the tsch sound to a single t which I felt was likely to be one of the sounds most easily identified. (I would have tried again with ch instead of the t, had I not found the result I needed.)
I didn’t want to exclude a ‘mann’ ending either, hence the third asterisk, though I don’t think it was really necessary.
Here’s what resulted:
Result: 5 Dutchmans, 2 Dettmans, and 2 Deutchmans. Once I knew how Edward’s surname had been spelt in this document, I was able to use that spelling to find his records in other army documents.
And if I can sneak in another extremely useful family history research tip…
Where the speaker’s accent (when providing his or her name) might be a factor in your failure to find a record matching what you are convinced is the only spelling for that name, try suspending that conviction. Replace vowels, wherever they appear in the name with an asterisk. So my D*t*man* above, could have been further reduced to D*t*m*n*.
Testing (for your benefit) the omission of the vowel a between m and n, got me all nine of the above servicemen and also a tenth. He was 10889 Acting Corporal Arthur Henry Dotamone of the Essex Regiment. Arthur was killed on 1 July 1916, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
If your interest in ‘my’ Deutschmanns has been aroused, there are links to my posts on Edward and Herbert from the hyperlinks below. Visitors help as currently curious, modern-day Deutschmanns will not find these blog posts on their relatives anywhere near the top of their search results. For war memorial research, I have a number of posts with advice for this elsewhere on this blog.
Sources The Soldiers’ Effects Records (1901–1929) are held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea, and have been digitised. You can find them on Ancestry and if you do not have an Ancestry subscription, your local library is likely to have a library subscription: ‘UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects’, https://www.ancestry.co.uk/search/collections/60506/, accessed 25/4/2020.
The mystery man Readers who have come across my Ham Remembers blog post on Alec Willows will know that, in many respects, he was, and still is, a man of mystery. Part of the mystery is that he is not commemorated on the Ham War Memorial and is thought not ever to have resided in the parish. Yet his name was on an interim, handwritten Roll of Honour in the Parish Church, added to in the course of the Great War, as news of fatalities reached the parish. Identifying his connection turned out to be a more difficult search than finding why Ernest Parsons was commemorated on this memorial. Who the heck was Alec?
For the three censuses in which Alec is recorded—1891, 1901 and 1911—there is conflicting evidence for his birthplace and for his age. I located him first of all in the 1911 Census, as a Bombardier serving in the Royal Field Artillery at Headley in Hampshire. That census recorded his age as 28 and his birthplace as Eastbourne. One might suppose, as I did, that the Army would have based this age on some documentation or information provided to them when he enlisted. If this age was calculated with any accuracy, and if one can rule out a transcription error, at the time his details were transferred to the census summary sheet, this would mean he was born in 1882 or 1883.
I went on to Alec in the 1901 Census, when he was enumerated at 26 Southlands Road, Bromley, aged 16, and with his birthplace recorded simply as ‘London’. He was described, moreover, as the ‘adopted son’ of Ellen Tracey, the head of the household, and a widow, aged 55. If this age was accurate, Alec was born in 1884 or 1885. I was curious about the connection, and have to admit to having wondered whether Alec was the natural child of either George Tracey or his wife, Ellen Tracey, née Reason. It took a while to be able to rule that possibility out.
Despite being armed with conflicting information from the 1901 and 1911 censuses, I was able to find Alec’s whereabouts in 1891. Ancestry had conspired, as it often does, to mistranscribe his entry but I eventually matched him to the David Alexn(sic)Williams (sic) in the household of George and Ellen Trang (sic) aged 6, and described as a ‘boarder’. All the members of the Trang family in this household match, apart from their surname, the names and ages of the members of George and Ellen Tracey and their children, in earlier as well as subsequent censuses. The age of Alec in this census is consistent and his birthplace is given as London—N. K. (Not Known). It appears that the Tracey family believed their boarder turned adopted son had been born somewhere in London.
As for his parentage and his birth, it may be some time before those details can be clarified. I have, of course, searched for the registration of his birth, but not found it in England, Wales or Scotland, nor in any of the regions or districts that could be included in a broad interpretation of either London or Eastbourne. In my searches I have entered as first names David and/or Alexander, and for surnames I’ve used Willows, and even Williams and Tracey, searching for similar sounding and phonetic variations. I’ve considered illegitimacy, maternal post-natal mortality, illness or imbecility. I’ve used a wide range of possible birth years, but I cannot yet identify his mother.
Over one hundred years after his death, the families of Ellen Reason and of Emily Spencer have different perceptions of his relationship with their relative. Both families had been led to understand, that their relative was Alec’s fiancée. Did this fearless Serjeant hesitate to commit himself because he could not bear to disappoint one of them?
Emily Spencer of Bromley (1883–1965) About ten years ago, Ellen Reason’s great-nephew, Christopher, and Emily Spencer’s great-niece, Claire, made contact with each other online, via Ancestry. They shared documents and photos, in the course of which an alternative story unfolded about their respective great aunts. Emily and Ellen each believed, until the end of her life, that she was Alec’s ‘intended’.
It seems that the two women knew of each other—certainly the letter that Alec’s Commanding Officer, Major Ballingall, sent to Ellen Reason, following Alec’s death, was in Emily Spencer’s possession at the time of her death. The letter itself increases the mystery about Emily since the salutation, “Dear Miss Reason” seems to have been altered to read “Dear Miss Spencer“.
Emily is likely to have met Alec when Ellen Tracey, his adoptive mother, moved her family to Bromley, following the death of her husband. The Spencer family had also moved to Bromley—from their home in Gravesend—and were living at 22 Bourne Road, a road parallel to, and only one block away from, Southlands Road, where the Tracey family, including Alec, were living at number 26. Alec and Emily were almost certainly good friends by the time he enlisted: a photo of Alec, taken about the time he joined the army, was among Emily’s possessions. She may have been given it as his ‘sweetheart’.
Alec had been employed locally as a rent collector, until his enlistment in the Royal Field Artillery, towards the end of the Anglo-Boer War, the first war in which news of battles in distant parts of the Empire could rapidly reach those ‘at Home’. By the end of the 19th century almost everyone under the age of 30 had benefitted from at least five years of compulsory education and could read newspaper reports of war and be inspired, alas, by the prospect the army offered of adventure and ‘thrills’. Was this what attracted Alec to the army? There was also the opportunity, during military service, to acquire a trade or skills that would provide stability and a decent income on when the 12 years was up, and the soldier returned to civilian life.
The birth of Emily Hester Spencer was registered in the fourth quarter of 1883. She was baptised at Holy Trinity, Tulse Hill on 10 February 1884, the second of the four children of William Spencer, a house painter, and his wife, Amelia Elizabeth Payne. At the turn of the century, Emily was a dressmaker, as was her elder sister, Ada Lucy, both still at home with their parents and two younger brothers John William and William Arthur. By 1911, only Emily was still living at home. Perhaps by then, she was in love with Alec, a young man, about to embark on a military career that would end only with his death. He appears to have been popular with his fellow soldiers, and by his sorrowing commanding officer, Major Harry Miller Ballingall, who was to describe him as ‘my best Serjeant and a very good comrade”.
Emily’s other life as a military nurse
Emily had taken steps, as soon as war broke out, to contribute to the War Effort, by preparing to train as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. First she was required to complete introductory courses in First Aid (completed in December 1914) and in Home Nursing (completed in April 1915). Further training followed with an examination and certificate in First Aid to the Injured in November 1915. In July 1918, at the time of the first and milder wave of the 1918 pandemic, Emily was again sent on a course in Home Nursing. By October 1918, she would certainly have been exposed to the risks of nursing patients in the more deadly wave of the 1918 pandemic which was at its height from then until the Spring of 1919.
In the aftermath of the war, and the resulting ‘Great Silence’ Emily became a founder member of the Paddington Nursing Division, later renamed the St Marylebone Nursing Division. We know that she participated in its divisional meetings throughout the period between the wars.
In 1930, the Paddington Nursing Division was registered as a Voluntary Aid Detachment. By the end of the decade, Emily was in her mid-50s, the age at which women of that age were taking their pensions.
By maintaining her involvement with the Nursing Division, Emily was one of those called up when war was declared. She was immediately deployed to Millbank Barracks, under whose ‘direction’ she was to work for 9 years. During that time she was deployed to a number of hospitals and military hospitals in London and the Home Counties.
After the war, Emily worked for a period at the Hertford Bishop Hospital in Paris. Her release testimonial in July 1948 describes her Military Conduct as Exemplary and goes on to say:
She hasan excellent record and has had first class reports from all officers under whom she has served. A most efficient nurse, a conscientious nurse, and shows a keen interest in the comfort and welfare of her charges.
Her service in the military hospitals and further afield was acknowledged in the medals she was awarded at the end of the Second World War.
Emily deserves to be remembered, not merely for the mystery surrounding the man she loved, but also for the dedication and care she displayed in her nursing of wounded servicemen between, and during, two world wars. Often, as she tended them, she must have been reminded of ‘her’ Alec, who had not been killed instantly, but who had died after suffering grave injuries. Her service in military institutions and hospitals, nursing the injured and caring for those who had suffered life-changing injuries, was reflected and honoured in the nursing medals that her devotion had earned.
Emily was also a much-loved daughter, sister, aunt and great-aunt. She did not marry and died in Bromley, in 1965.
Ellen Reason of Ham(1880–1961) The Register of Soldiers’ Effects records “Miss Ellen Reason” as Alec’s sole legatee. After locating this document, my next question was what the relationship might have been between Ellen Reason and Alec Willows? By taking the line of Ellen Tracey, Alec’s ‘adopted mother’ back to her parents, and of Ellen’s father, William Reason of Ham, back to his parents, it became clear to me that Ellen Tracey was the elder sister of William Reason. Alec’s ‘adopted mother’ was the aunt of her namesake, the younger Ellen Reason.
In the photograph above, Ellen is in the centre of the back row. William and Eliza’s eldest three children, Ellen, Ada and Arthur were born in Ireland, where their father was stationed in the early years of the 1880s. William’s mother had died when he was a toddler, and he and his step-mother did not, unfortunately, get on. As soon as possible, William left the family home in Suffolk and joined the army. After 12 years’ service in India and Ireland, it was the recommendation of an officer that led to his finding work as a Coachman and Groom in Richmond, a move that ultimately brought the family to Ham. Numerous Army Officers had connections with Ham, and it would be interesting to know whether one of them was responsible for the family’s ending up at 3 Victoria Terrace, home to the Reason family for well over 60 years.
Ellen was so deeply affected by Alec’s death that she, like Emily, never married. She was to cherish a locket containing a lock of Alec’s hair, until the end of her life, more than half a century later. As Alec’s sole legatee, Ellen was the recipient of the letter from Alec’s Commanding Officer, which described Alec as “my very best Serjeant”. It was probably Alec’s closeness to his ‘adoptive’ cousins in Ham, and to his relationship with Ellen in particular, that resulted in his name being written on the Interim Roll of Honour in Ham’s Parish Church. When decisions were made as to who ‘belonged’ to the parish, Alec’s name was not, however, included with those inscribed on the permanent War Memorial.
Just skimming one more pebble…am I going to discover other women in Alec’s life, when their descendants type “Alec Willows” into a search engine?
Sources Edge, C.L., My sweetheart is somewhere in France, published privately. This is the story of Emily’s life. Her great-niece, Claire, has been researching her family for many years, her curiosity having been aroused at the age of eight, when she was told that her great-aunt’s fiancée had been killed in the Great War.
Museum and Library of the Order of St John, Correspondence with C.L.Edge, dated 18 June 1996, containing information on the wartime career (1940–1950) of Emily Spencer.
Acknowledgements To Christopher Reason and Claire Edge for sharing with me information about their respective great aunts, Ellen and Emily, and for their generosity in allowing me to include their family photographs in the relevant blog posts.
I spent a highly satisfactory fifteen minutes in the Shelter bookshop in Stockbridge just over a week ago, and came away with some finds, which included Doris Hawkins’s Atlantic Torpedo. The book’s sub-title is ‘the record of 27 days in an open boat, following a U-boat sinking’.
Once I’d read the slim volume (41 pages of text), I embarked on what @Dave_Lifelines (of Lifelines Research) might justifiably describe as “fanciful hogwash”. On this blog, and on my various War Memorial blogs, I’ve gone down this alleyway many times, as in this post ‘A very dear, polite, old South African regular’ but I am, perhaps, most proud of having identified the ‘Laura’ in the tattoo of a soldier on the Ham War Memorial. A case of unrequited love, alas—for ‘his’ Laura was to become the war widow of another soldier on that memorial.
With Atlantic Torpedo, I was less ambitious. I decided to follow up the bare details provided by Doris Hawkins—the individual’s surname, plus role—to find out a little more about that particular lifeboat’s passengers., using simply the CWGC database. By providing their full names and details below, I hope that relatives of the people identified below may discover this post and learn that this book provides a first-hand account of the lifeboat’s voyage.
William Edward Henderson, Fourth Engineer, Ship’s Officer. He was 23. He was the son of Charles and Eva Henderson. (p.23)
Geoffrey Charles Purslow, Surgeon, Merchant Navy. M.B, Ch.B, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P. Dr Purslow was 26 and the son of 2/Lt George Purslow and of Mabel Beatrice Purslow of Chadderton Heath, Staffordshire. He died 19 days after the sinking. (p.29)
Lieut. Leopold John Tillie, R.N, D.S.C. and Bar, aged 23. He was the son of Lieut.-Col. W. Kingsley Tillie D.S.O, M.C. and Victoria H C Tillie of Westward Ho, Devon. (p.10–11)
31298 Squadron Leader Horace Rudyard Kenneth Wells R.A.F., died 28 September 1942, aged 26. He was the son of Horace and Annie Wells, and is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial. (p.18)
The baby, Sally was Sally Kay Readman, aged 14 months, of 31 Sharia Mohamed Mazhar Pasha, Zamalek, Cairo. Her parents are not named on the CWGC database. (p.7 and p.9)
Interestingly, the date of death provided for all those who perished on the voyage in the lifeboat is the date of the sinking of S.S. Laconia, Saturday 12 September 1942, even though it’s clear that many died considerably later.
Searching the CWGC database, by date of death, in order to identify Doris’s friend Mary, I found there were 468 names which I filtered down to the 19 Civilian deaths on that day. Fifteen of those were casualties of the S.S. Laconia. Mary turned out to be The Lady Grizel Mary Wolfe Murray, daughter of Captain the Earl of Glasgow, RN, DSO and the Countess of Glasgow, of Kelburn Castle, Glasgow, and wife of Major Malcolm Victor Alexander Wolfe Murray, The Black Watch.
There is more to Mary’s story and the clues can be found in one of the hyperlinks listed below for further reading, should any readers feel compelled to fill in the missing bits. There is always a fix for those burdened with insatiable curiosity.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission, https://www.cwgc.org/, accessed 4/3/2019.
Further Reading or viewing
Dimbleby, J., ‘Gloves Off: The Battle of the Atlantic’, https://www.historynet.com/battle-of-atlantic-laconia.htm, accessed 4/3/2019.
Hall, D.W., ‘Now is the hour’, http://www.nowisthehour.co.uk/the-story/, accessed 4/3/2019.
Hawkins, D. M., Atlantic Torpedo, London, 1943. Reprinted 1969, Bath.
Wikipedia, ‘Laconia Incident’, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laconia_incident, accessed 4/3/2019.
I’ve uploaded a short post about a soldier who caught my eye at the CWGC South African Cemetery at Castiglione dei Pepoli.
He is Guardsman Walter Hardy Geddes (1924–1944) of the Scots Guards. You’ll notice, I’ve attached this to my South Africa Remembers blog. The 24th Guards Brigade was attached to the 6th South African Armoured Brigade and those killed in Italy, are buried alongside their allies.
The image below shows that Face of the Ham Parish War Memorial which lists the parish’s casualties as a result of that war. It is a stark list of initials and surnames, arranged in no particular order, and includes mistakes and spelling errors. You might even notice that the son of Lord Sudeley, who had been Chairman of the Parish War Memorial Committee, is listed twice. It’s not hard to guess the reason why that had to be corrected, but difficult to understand why they left the error on the face. As you will see, they had form for erasing.
The WW1 Face of the Ham War Memorial
The explanation for the errors on this particular face is that this list dates from after the Second World War. That’s not because it took the good folk of the parish over two decades to get round to erecting it. This face replaced what had previously appeared on the War Memorial.
Like the War Memorial for the neighbouring parish of Petersham, the original Ham War Memorial included the rank, full name and military unit of each casualty, and planning for this memorial started halfway through the First World War.
Between the two World Wars, the population of the parish of Ham had increased dramatically, with the building of housing estates on open land, to meet the urgent housing needs of the boroughs of Kingston and Richmond. (The parish of Ham was formerly entirely within the borough of Kingston.) This population increase meant that as many lives were to be lost in the Second World War, as had been lost in the first. In addition there were several civilian dead.
Rather than erect another memorial, the Parish Council decided that the names of the First World War casualties would be erased, and their ‘entries’ condensed to initials and surnames. This provided the opportunity for transcription errors along the way, and this, as well as the minimal amount of information, caused considerable difficulties for me as the lead researcher.
E. PARSONS was one example. A search of the CWGC Casualties’ Database will generate 55 casualties for E. PARSONS, during the First World War, and with no rank, regiment or first name to go by, that’s quite a crop to eliminate. Readers of the War Memorial blog, Ham Remembers, may remember similar challenges, particularly with those, before I could identify Ernest Parsons, who had passed through the parish yet left no record there.
One of the names on the 1914–1918 face was W.S. BENSON—it’s the tenth name in the first column. As is the case with many local historians, familiarity with parish registers meant that I cheerfully recognised this surname as that of a large local family and surmised that he was probably the descendant of Thomas Benson.
Thomas Benson had arrived in Ham as a Market Gardener in the late and built up a business as a Potato Dealer, living in a comfortable house on Ham Common until his death. The domestic arrangements were a little complicated since Thomas’s first wife abandoned him, contracting a bigamous marriage, leaving behind six young children under the age of twelve, the youngest being an infant. Two children had died in infancy. Thomas soon embarked on a second relationship with his housekeeper, Sarah Fisher, having by her nine more children, most of them registered as Fisher but with Benson as a middle name. The Fisher children simply dropped the Fisher after their parents’ marriage, some 25 years after the start of the relationship and a decade after the death of Thomas’s first wife.
While eight of Thomas’s sons survived to adulthood, I also had to factor in the possibility that W.S. Benson might be the illegitimate son of one of Thomas’s daughters, whose surname would also have been Benson. Since the youngest of Thomas’s children was born in 1878, only he and the two a little older than him, would have been old enough to be conscripted, even when the ceiling was raised in 1916. While I took stock of these sons, I focused more closely on the grandchildren.
In researching war memorials, one turns first to the CWGC database. This search did generate a W.S. Benson. Following up the search results up, I found a casualty named Walter Stanley Benson, and then another, plain Stanley Benson, both serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. There was also Rifleman Jack W. S. Benson, a casualty from The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. Another Walter Stanley Benson, born in Hackney, served in the Royal Navy but survived. It was helpful that the deaths of these men occurred close together, in April, May and July 1917, but a careful search of the local newspapers for that period did not report the news of the death of a Benson from either Ham or Petersham.
It was some time before a list of the original inscriptions, capturing them before their removal was found in a box in the Local Studies Library and Archive by one of our team from the Friends of Ham Library. Fortunately, a local historian, Sylvia Greenwood, had had the foresight to draw up a list of the names on the war memorial before the masons erased their details. The belated discovery of this ‘Annex 4’ showed that the War Memorial had originally listed W.S.Benson, associated with the Scottish Rifles (The Cameronians). We also found a list, drawn up by the Parish Council, and published in 1915, listing the inhabitants of the parish who were then ‘serving with the colours’, and this included StanleyBenson of Old Malt Cottage, serving with the 2nd Scottish Rifles.
I then searched the CWGC database, with a filter to extract a list of Benson casualties serving with The Cameronians. There were five, all privates, listed in search results in the following order:
Tearing my hair out by then over Walter Stanley Benson, I tried a search of the Database Soldiers died in the Great War, for Benson. Top of the list was someone in Brixton, Surrey (Go figure, as they say) but I scrolled down and further south on the list skimming over Bensons born in Islington and Whitehaven, Cumberland. Just about to leave that page, with the mouse heading to exit, I spotted Frederick Benson, born Ham Surrey, and serving in The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). Looking for the Medal Index Card of this Frederick Benson, he was at the top of the list of Fredericks and serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Cameronians, his service number being 10129. Replicating this search more recently, searching for just Frederick Benson, he headed the list of 14 Search Results.
There was a Frederick in the Benson brood, the youngest child of their grandfather’s first marriage and the uncle or half-uncle of Thomas’s grandchildren. He was born in 1856 and would have been too old to serve in the First World War. His life was not easy but that is another story.
Soon after, as I worked through Thomas’s grandsons, I was to discover a Walter Stanley Benson. It seemed I’d found a match. He was the eldest child of Walter Benson Fisher and his wife, Ellen Stevens and had been born at Mayleigh Cottages, and was duly baptised in Petersham.
By this point, I was ready to concede that this Frederick was in all likelihood ‘our’ W.S. Benson, and that it was possible that the Army had made a mistake or that he had adopted an alias. On his card in the Medal Rolls Index, he is down as BENSON, F., and another hand has filled in ‘rederick’ to complete the Frederick. Indeed it occurred to me as I looked at it, that the F could well be a transcription error, if he had become known in the Army as Stanley, and if someone, somewhere along the line, had misheard thn S as an F.
People sometimes reinvent themselves and change their names in a new town or even in a new job. We know from the surviving parish lists that he was known as Stanley, and that indeed, in his family unit there was a second Walter in the family, Walter Henry, nine years younger than Walter Stanley. At that time it was not unusual for children to be named after a parent, thereby carrying on family tradition, but to be always known by their middle names. The younger Walter, Walter Henry, was born in the year before their father’s death and if their father was known to be in declining health, that might explain why he was also given his father’s name. The two boys appear in the 1901 Census, shortly before the death of their father, Walter, as Walter S and Walter H.
Walter S appears in the 1911 Census as Walter, perhaps because the Military Enumeration Officer, like Walter Senior had been in 1901, was a stickler for the facts. And it was the 1911 Census that brought us full circle. Walter Benson is listed at the Meeanee Barracks in Colchester, as a Private in the Second Battalion of the Scottish Rifles. He’s 20—the right age. (Walter Stanley was born on 11 January 1891, and would have been 20 on 2 April 1911.) Unlike his Benson cousins, who were born in Ham or further afield, he was born at Mayleigh Cottages in Petersham, so his birthplace is also correct here.
Finally, a search in the Register of Soldiers’ Effects, has ‘Stanley’ entered as Frederick. There he is, with his gratuity divided equally between his mother, his brothers and sisters, his half-sisters, who included “Emily Morphew” (sic). I think ‘Emily’ is Violet Emmeline Buckner, the wife of Robert Morffew. I have written elsewhere about the Benson connection with the Morffews of Ham.
This makes me inclined to think that he did indeed voluntarily change his name. Prior to making the entries in the Register, the Army would have corresponded with the family to confirm their relationship with the deceased soldier. He does indeed at last appear to be a safe match for the man recorded as Frederick on the CWGC Database.
Finally, a check of the panel list, confirms that our man is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial as F. BENSON.
Frood, M.W., ‘Decision as to tribute to the gallant dead’, https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/decision-as-to-tribute-to-the-gallant-dead/, accessed 20/1/2018.
Frood, M.W., ‘Ham’s War Memorial as it was between the Wars’, https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/hams-war-memorial-as-it-was-between-the-wars/, accessed 20/1/2018.
First, another plug for Secret Lives, another major conference from the inimitable Halsted Trust in collaboration with AGRA, the Society of Genealogists and the Guild of One Name Studies. This will be held at Hinckley, in Leicestershire (31 August–2 September 2018). It’s an opportunity not to be missed and Early Bird bookings are still available.
In my own research it’s Secrets and Lies that seem to be heading my way—or perhaps I’ve just got a bit smarter at anticipating them. Recently it was a succession of examples of marriages within the prohibited relationships, about which I have already posted.
More recently still, it’s been finding evidence of a bigamous marriage. One such marriage has a link with the grandfather of WalterStanleyBenson,one of the men on the Parish War Memorial in Ham, Surrey. Stanley was the grandson of Thomas Benson, a Potato Dealer, who lived for many years at Malt House Cottage, Ham Common. His records identified his father as Walter Benson.
Because Stanley’s service records are missing, only military documents relating to his death are available. They give Stanley’s first name as Frederick, and the match seemed open to question since there were Frederick Bensons of military age in Ham. Consequently the research was taken back to earlier generations in order to eliminate cousins, uncles and others with that name as candidates for this particular soldier. And that’s how the bigamy was discovered.
In the 1891 and 1881 Censuses, Walter’s parents, Thomas and Sarah Benson, appeared as ‘head’ (of the household) and ‘wife’ respectively, with their Benson children. In 1871 however, Sarah Fisher was the ‘housekeeper’, and some of the Benson children appeared as Fishers. Walter Benson was there as Walter Fisher—his birth registration was subsequently found as Walter Benson Fisher. In 1861, the census return showed that Thomas was ‘married’ and presided over a household which included five young Bensons aged from 15 down to 4, a housekeeper named Sarah Fisher, and two young Fishers, Emily (3) and Joseph (1 month).
Who was the wife missing in 1861 and 1871, and why could I not find a marriage for Thomas and Sarah between 1871 and 1881? I dug further.
About 15 years before Walter’s birth, Thomas Benson had arrived in Ham with his wife, Mary Ann Martin, and two children of that marriage. Mary Ann, the daughter of a wheelwright, Thomas Martin and his wife, Sarah, had been born in the parish of Ham on 9 February 1824 and baptised in Kingston the following month. She married Thomas Benson, then a butcher, in 1845 at St Mary’s, Sunbury, despite her birth in Ham, when he was 23 and she was 21. Thomas and Mary Ann moved to Ham, towards the end of the 1840s, with two children, another six being born in Ham. The last of these, Frederick James Benson, was born on 7 July 1856.
Mary Ann’s absence from the household in the 1861 census, where Thomas was clearly recorded as ‘Married’, did not, initially, seem particularly unusual. Perhaps she was visiting relatives? Perhaps Thomas had a housekeeper because his wife was incapacitated?
It is understandable that, following Mary Ann’s departure, and with an infant in the household, Thomas would have looked for domestic help. At some point—whether before or after Mary Ann’s departure is not clear—Thomas embarked on a relationship with Sarah, the daughter of an agricultural labourer, William Fisher who lived a few doors away in Ham Street. By the time Sarah’s son, Walter, was born in 1863, Sarah had already given birth to three children—Emily (3), Henry and Joseph. These births were all registered in Kingston under the surname Fisher.
As each Fisher child had a turn to create further civil records, the Fisher was quietly shed. In 1882 Emily Fisher married as Emily Benson, a full two years ahead of her parent’s eventual marriage. Any doubts about her parentage were further reduced by the identification of her father in the marriage register, as ‘Thomas Benson, Potato Dealer’.
Emily’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1858 which means she was born between about mid-November of 1857 and 31 March 1858. If Thomas was Emily’s father, then his relationship with Sarah Fisher must have begun during the first half of 1857. This cannot have been much more than 9 months after the birth of Thomas’s last child by Mary Ann Martin, Frederick James Benson, who was born on 7 July 1856.
In time, the children christened as Benson Fisher swapped the two surnames round—marrying, for example, as Fisher Benson. Emily and Arthur, given simply the surname Fisher when registered, subsequently added Benson. Eventually, in 1885, only seven years before Sarah’s death, Thomas did marry his long-term long-suffering housekeeper.
In preparing my piece on Walter Stanley Benson, I decided to ‘kill off’ all seventeen of his father’s full and half siblings whom I had not married off, and/or killed off already. It’s basic family reconstitution, about which I can—and do, elsewhere—go on and on. My U3A groups have learnt to anticipate that I’m going to prod them to reconstitute their family groups—they’ve learnt it’s trouble taken that will pay back.
While following up Thomas’s other children, I duly found Mary Ann’s daughter, Mary Ann Benson, in the 1871 Census, in Hammersmith. She was there as ‘step-daughter’ in the household of George Hedger, a brewer, and his wife, Mary Ann Hedger. Mary Ann Hedger’s birthplace matched that of Mary Ann Martin, though not her age. Subsequently it became clear that she was at least eleven years older than her second husband, which might explain the fudging.
Indeed, at the time of the 1861 census over which I had puzzled, Mary Ann and George been ‘married’ for about six weeks. All Mary Ann’s surviving children by Thomas were living with their father in 1861, with their mothering needs, and those of her own children, presumably catered for by his “housekeeper”.
Please click on the image below to enlarge it.
The entry in the Hammersmith Marriage Register for Mary Ann’s bigamous marriage.
Notice that Mary Ann declared herself to be a spinster, and stated that her father was Thomas Benson, with “Dead” under the heading of occupation. Thomas Benson was her husband, not her father, and he was anything but dead. Perhaps she was thinking of her father, Thomas Martin, who was dead? If the latter, the problem here was, that having lied about her marital status, and perhaps having already become known in Hammersmith as Mary Ann Benson, she could not easily switch surnames for this public event. One small fib almost always leads to additional fibs in support of the story.
While Mary Ann Martin had given her age correctly in 1845, when she married Thomas, in 1861, the couple were simply declared to be of full age. Having found Thomas with his “housekeeper” in 1861, I’d been pretty quick to pass judgement on Thomas. Finding Mary Ann with George, casts a different light on this. Who bolted first?
Here are the ages provided for Mary Ann in various official records, with what I estimate was her ‘true’ age in square brackets. At Mary Ann’s baptism on 28 March 1824, her birthdate is given as 9 February 1824.
6 June 1841: 15 [17, but fair enough, ages were rounded down].
12 May 1845: 21 .
30 March 1851: 25 .
24 February 1861: Full .
7 April 1861: 24 .
2 April 1871: 40 .
1876: age at death, 45. .
This fudging of her age certainly made Mary Ann more difficult to find when I started this research some years ago. Did George Hedger know that he had been party to a bigamous marriage?
Mary Ann died in 1876, so why did it take so long for Thomas to marry Sarah? No, they weren’t married at the time of the 1881 Census. That didn’t happen for nearly ten years.
Isn’t it often true that you solve one mystery, and a whole new set of questions bubble up?
More on the Bensons
Frood, M.W., ‘Walter Stanley Benson’, https://hamremembers.wordpress.com/2018/01/25/walter-stanley-benson-1891-1915/, accessed 30/1/2018.
Frood, M.W., ‘Challenges in matching a name on a War Memorial with the correct military record’, https://www.discoveryourfamilyhistory.com/family-history/unravelling-an-error-on-a-parish-war-memorial/, accessed 30/1/2018.
Rebecca Probert’s Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide (Kenilworth, 2012) is what its title says. It’s also lucid and fascinating.
London Metropolitan Archives, Dl/DRO/BT Item, 062/039, Saint Mary, Sunbury On Thames: Surrey, Transcript of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1845 Jan-1845 Dec, 12 May 1845.
London Metropolitan Archives, P80/PET, Item 007, Saint Peter, Hammersmith, Register of marriages, 24 February 1861.
Things were more than just ‘somewhat quiet’ on this blog in 2016, so here’s an update on what I’ve been doing.
What readers of this blog may have worked out, is that since 2012, much of my time has been spent on military research, particularly on the people commemorated on four local war memorials. I blog about them and you can find the fruits of this research on those blogs. If you scroll down the right hand sidebar, you will see a blog roll for three of these war memorial blogs. I also collaborate with other war memorial researchers, give talks to groups, young and old, with an interest in the war memorials and also in local history—the younger ones being school parties and Scouts. I have also been doing some training of groups researching war memorials in Surrey.
Among those servicemen I researched last year, at the request of their relatives, were two WW2 fighter pilots in the RAF. I continue, where I’ve been able to trace relatives of the men and women on the war memorial, to share their stories, including, sometimes, some indiscretions that I have n’t upload for public view.
One of my personal projects has been researching the South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park. I shared my research at the time with the Hearsum Trust, and I subsequently contributed the information that appeared for that hospital in the Richmond at War exhibition in the Museum of Richmond. I even managed to sneak in a photo of my grandfather in his hospital blues. When I think of the slightly baffled looks when I mentioned this hospital not much more than five years ago, I’m pretty chuffed that these days hardly anyone—at least locally—blinks to hear of its existence. I see from What’s On, The National Archives’ guide to forthcoming events, that, among other WW1 related topics, there’s going to be a talk on the hospital at the National Archives in September, organised by the National Archives and the Richmond Local Studies Library and Archive. You can read about the South African Memorial in Richmond Cemetery on in several posts on my South Africa Remembers blog. [http://southafricaremembers.wordpress.com]
Teaching and Learning
I attended the Final Conference for The Fleming Project held at the University of St Andrews last June. In December I completed a module, Understanding Latin in Documents and Archives, offered on its M.Litt pathway by the University of Dundee. I absolutely relished that, and also the Ecclesiastical Archives course I had taken immediately prior to it. The Lambeth Palace Library is a haven for a researcher, and I hope for reasons to revisit it, as also the Church of England Record Centre in Bermondsey and Dr Williams’ Library. And at the National Records of Scotland, the church records for the parish of Lethendy and Kinloch provided insight into the compassion and values of its Minister, my relative, Andrew Kessen.
In courses and events that provided some of my Continuing Professional Development, a Study Day at the fascinating Freemasons’ Museum stood out. I have sought advice from the librarian and archivist in the past, but even during this Study Day, as I listened to the speakers, I began to feel that I was developing a ‘nose’ for freemasons—and went home to run a check on a family of shipbuilders, ancestors of one of my younger relatives, finding not only a lodge named after him but also an East End school, one of eleven which he founded. In my research for clients, a man’s following certain professions, or turning out to have associates or mentors who were freemasons, has often provided the nudge to follow up in Freemasons’ records.
Come January this year, I was preparing for a module in Palaeography & Diplomatic, so that month I did my usual ‘stunt’ of including my current enthusiasms in the Dundee syllabus for the U3A family history groups I lead. While I was engaged in all manner of Latin in archives, they had had a fast-track guide to making sense of Memorial Inscriptions—and it’s not a one way flow of knowledge in the U3A. A member of another group of experienced researchers offered a suggestion that provided a clue to solving an enigma in one of a group of Latin memorial inscriptions which I was translating in All Saints’ in Kingston. (Thank you, Alistair Brechin.)
Unfortunately, thanks to careless (and thoughtless?) builders renovating a local shop, a piece of grit tore my cornea, the worst such tear I’ve ever had. Never have I appreciated the value of the zoom function, which allowed me to continue to develop skills in Palaeography, but the tear took several weeks to heal. In the final week, I went to the National Archives to look for a drawing in the State Papers. I became quite emotional when I found I was able to follow every word of the supporting document with ease—thanks to our brilliant tutor.
Because of these research and educational commitments, I’ve not marketed my own family history practice this past year, beyond responding to fresh research requests from some of my regulars. Amongst those r eturning for more over the past year have been my own relatives, returning clients and three scientists from two academic institutions. And of course, members of my U3A groups who bring to our meetings their research hurdles and challenges.
Within 24 hours of submitting my Final Assignment for the Oral History module last week, there was an intriguing request in my Inbox. So, as I have loose ends to tie up—war memorial posts, mainly, but also long-term projects that were on ‘pause’ and intriguing research requests—I’m delaying starting my dissertation until next year. This family and local historian is officially back in business.