There’s nothing like a tempting new genealogy mystery to keep enthusiasm running high!
A two-part article published last year in Genesis by the Genealogical Society of South Africa had shown that my husband’s 6x great-grandmother, Sara Magdalena, was “probably not” the daughter of Andreas OELOFSE, although her mother Sara JANSZ was his wife and likely his widow by the time of the child’s baptism (see earlier post).
The author’s reasons did not fully convince me, possibly because I was still hoping that mutineer and convict-at-hard-labor Andreas would be a good candidate for family black sheep. And I thought there was enough “wiggle room” in his timeline to allow the possibility that he was the child’s father, but that she had been born after his death.
However, Anne Clarkson, a researcher in Cape Town who has wide experience working with early records from the Cape, reviewed the research and was persuaded by the evidence, especially the baptism record, a copy of which she forwarded to me.
5 May 1709 Baptism Record for Sara Magdalena JANSE – Dutch Reformed Church – Stellenbosch – Cape Archives
“The most telling point, to my mind, is that her father is ‘onbekend’ in the baptism register. If a father had already died by the time his child was baptised, this is usually indicated in some way.…But, generally speaking, when the father is described as ‘unknown’, the child was born outside marriage.”
So I bowed to Anne’s superior experience. But that didn’t mean that I sighed and turned to other matters. In fact, after the initial deflation of acknowledging that Andreas was not in the family line, I perked up to the challenge of finding out the identity of Sara Magdalena’s “unknown” father.
The baptism record kept nagging at me. Why did her mother decline to name the birth father? It’s not difficult to imagine that in a town the size of Stellenbosch, most of the town, including the minister, would have known the father’s identity. But for some reason, they weren’t divulging this information for the record.
A logical explanation might be that the natural father was a person of some standing in the community and thereby considered above the law and that neither Sara JANSZ nor the minister was prepared to face the consequences of naming him.
The second Genesis article gave one clue to follow. Widow Sara JANSZ’s estate inventory of 12 Jun 1713 listed her and Andreas’s seven children in descending birth order, all with the surname OLOFSZ. At the end of the list was her youngest child, Sara [Magdalena], with the surname MEURS. Assuming that this was the surname of the child’s father, was she listed with this surname because the inventory was a legal document with negative consequences for incorrectly stating information? Or was the natural father dead by the time the inventory was drawn up?
Fortunately, the author of the Genesis articles cited www.tanap.net as one of her sources. The TANAP site showed two searchable databases for the Cape of Good Hope. The first, Inventories of the Orphan Chamber, listed four documents for the years 1709 and 1710 in which a man named Samuel Martini DE MEURS bought property from the estates of deceased persons. He is the only person of that surname in these records. In the last three documents, his title is given as landdrost, or chief magistrate of the district.
The other TANAP database, Resolutions of the Council of Policy, yielded six documents with dates ranging from 7 May 1707 to 11 Mar 1710 in which DE MEURS is listed as the landdrost. Three additional documents in the years 1716, 1720, and 1724 mention his “widow” Aletta BECK who had remarried in Dec 1715. Church records show that she and DE MEURS had married in 29 Dec 1709, eight months after Sara Magdalena’s baptism.
What might have been the effect on both his position in the government and his impending marriage if it had been known that he had fathered an illegitimate child? Studying the timeline of events, it appears that Sara Magdalena’s mother and DE MEURS were probably involved in an adulterous affair prior to the death of OELOFSE, thereby adding to the scandal that likely would have resulted from an open admission of paternity.
My reasoning about Sara Magdalena’s baptism record seemed to have some validity. Samuel DE MEURS was an important personage in Stellenbosch. An online biography of Aletta BECK states that she was the sister-in-law of a Dutch East India Company (VOC) official, thus making it more likely that her husband-to-be would have wanted to keep secret his fathering of a child.
BECK’s biography also indicates that “as early as the beginning of 1711,” DE MEURS had died following a long illness, which supported my reasoning that Sara JANSZ’s inventory listed her youngest child’s surname because the birth father was no longer alive.
I was convinced that I had found Sara Magdalena’s father. Hoping that Anne Clarkson would concur with my conclusion and also find additional supporting documents in the archives, I compiled the above information and was preparing to send the list to her in Cape Town.
But, right before e-mailing the document, I did a final online check on DE MEURS — with astonishing results!
(To be continued…)
TANAP is an acronym for Towards A New Age of Partnership in Dutch East India [VOC] Archives and Research. Two of its objectives are to preserve the VOC archives and improve accessibility to them. There are two searchable online databases for the Cape of Good Hope: 1) Resolutions of the Council of Policy – The Council of Policy was the highest authority of the VOC at the Cape of Good Hope. The Council discussed all problems that arose and took decisions on governing the settlement. The minutes, which include reports and decisions taken, are called the Resolutions of the Council of Policy. The transcriptions of these documents are available on the site, and 2) Inventories from the Orphan Chamber – The establishment of the Orphan Chamber at the Cape of Good Hope arose out of the need to provide for the collection and administration of the property of persons who died intestate and left heirs who were absent from the Colony or who were under age.
The biography of Aletta BECK, wife of Samuel Martini DE MEURS, is included in Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland (DVN), an online dictionary of Dutch women. It states that Aletta was the “only heir” of DE MEURS.
Try to locate a probate or inventory record for the estate of Samuel Martini DE MEURS.