170-Year Gap: Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR (ca. 1857 – 1903)

“Brick wall” is the genealogy term for a seemingly insurmountable research problem. With diligence and tenacity, most brick walls eventually come tumbling down. Until they do, the researcher usually doesn’t have any idea what’s on the other side.

However, the brick wall for one of my husband’s maternal lines is unlike any other I’ve encountered. I already know what’s on the other side! If I were to stand on this wall, I could gaze all the way back to the Cape of Good Hope in 1688 and the arrival of the French Huguenot MESNARD family (later known by the Dutch spelling MINNAAR). But that long view doesn’t help at all because I have yet to find the ladder that would enable me to climb down the far side of the wall and follow the trail back to the original family.

How can I be sure that this is the correct ancestor family and not another one with the same surname? Transcribed passenger lists show that just one French family by that name arrived at the Cape. By 1691, eleven-year-old Philippe was the only surviving family member, making him the ancestor of every South African who bears the MINNAAR surname.

Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR, my husband’s great-grandfather (born ca. 1857), is one of Philippe’s descendants. Between the arrival of the man I think of as the “Adam” of the MINNAAR family in South Africa and the birth of Hendrik lies a stretch of nearly 170 years of undiscovered family history, probably five or six generations. However, even identifying the one generation before Hendrik is proving to be a challenge.

In South African research, the Death Notice filed at the time of probate contains the richest source of family information. On Hendrik’s 1904 Death Notice, filed nearly a year after his death, his parents are listed as deceased with no names given. His wife, Engela Aletta STEINHOBEL, provided the information; either she didn’t know the names of his parents or the clerk did not ask for them when he learned they were no longer living. Hendrik’s birthplace is listed as the province of Natal.

Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR – 1904 Death Notice
Family History Library Film #1367314

However, at the time of his marriage on 28 Aug 1882, Hendrik listed his birthplace as the town of Potchefstroom in the South African Republic, a province commonly known as the Transvaal. Unlike marriage records for the same period in many parts of the United States, parents’ names were not required on the marriage registration.

Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR & Engela Aletta STEINHOBEL – 1882 Potchefstroom Marriage Register Extract
Family History Library Film #1259235

During this period, the two fathers often signed the register as witnesses to their children’s marriage. However, the only two witnesses who signed the register for this marriage were the parents of the bride, Frans Frederick and Aletta STEINHOBEL. Perhaps Hendrik’s parents had already died — or perhaps they were still alive and living in Natal, some distance from Potchefstroom. It’s likely that Hendrik gave the correct place of birth at the time of his marriage, but I can’t rule out the possibility that he was born in Natal.

So I’m left with Hendrik, his estimated birth year of 1857 and two possible birthplaces, one a town and the other an entire province. The optimist in me believes that if I could just identify Hendrik’s father, I might be able to hitch a ride on another researcher’s coattails since many of the early Cape settler families have been well documented. I could also work forward from Philippe and his sons — a daunting task even if I lived in South Africa with easier access to records. I’ll reserve this method until I’ve exhausted all other avenues.

In the meantime, I’ll follow recommended genealogical practice and continue to search for Hendrik’s father. And, who knows, perhaps another of Philippe’s descendants is also searching and will see this blog. Even if he or she has no additional information, we can exchange notes on the view from the top of the brick wall.

Research Notes

A number of online sites list the Huguenots who arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in the late 17th and early 18th centuries after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Dutch East India Company kept excellent records; therefore, the sources for passenger lists generally agree on the names of the Huguenots who arrived.

Hendrik’s birthplace as written on his Death Notice appears to be the province of Natal, although the entry looks like “Nalat.” As can be seen elsewhere on this document, the clerk is cavalier about the crossing of the letter T. Sometimes, the cross looks like an afterthought, as in the name STEINHOBEL, where the H is given the honor of the cross mark. At other times, as in the age of the deceased (forty-six) and his occupation (carpenter), the cross is truncated to a mere point floating somewhere to the east of its rightful position. As for the final letter of the place name, if the clerk was writing quickly, as appears to be the case, he might have transposed the letters T and L. In any event, I can find no other place with a name that would fit the alternate spelling. Natal was also one of the places where the Boers who trekked out of the Cape in the first half of the 19th century came to settle.

Next Steps

1) Look for the christening of Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR in Potchefstroom. The Family History Library catalog lists microfilm #1439118 for “Potchefstroom Christenings 1842 – 1987” (with some missing years) from the church records of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Afrika. Before ordering this film, I must verify that I didn’t search it during my last trip to Salt Lake City.

2) Look for the marriage of Hendrik’s parents. The Family History Library also has microfilm #1492538 for NHK Potchefstroom “Marriages 1838 – 1937.” If Hendrik was born in Potchefstroom, it is likely that his parents married there also. Civil Marriage Registers for Potchefstroom for the years 1838 – 1852 are found on films #1367182 and #1295378. Should I order all of these films at once? It will cost more to do so, but will reduce the number of 35-mile round trips I have to make to the Family History Center.

3) Send queries to various online message boards.

4) Send an e-mail to the owner of Thomas MINNAAR’s Family Tree on Ancestry.com. This tree may have been uploaded recently or I may not have checked Ancestry.com when I was doing the initial research on Hendrik MINNAAR. Although members of Thomas’s direct line appear to have stayed in the Cape, his information may help me to narrow my search.

5) Contact the Huguenot Memorial Museum in Franschoek, Western Cape, South Africa. On its site, MINNAAR is among the names for which the museum will undertake genealogical research.

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46 Responses to 170-Year Gap: Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR (ca. 1857 – 1903)

  1. b. shafer says:

    fun stuff! happy huntin’ . . . – b

  2. frederickmb says:

    It IS fun! Why doesn’t everyone do family history research?

  3. Stephen Minnaar says:

    Very well researched. I too, would like to research my ancestory, but have just not had the time to ‘knuckle’ down to it. My father passed on 5 years ago, so I am abit lost on where to start. Researching my Grandfather has come up with no hits so far. Maybe you can suggest the best place to start? I, like my father, was born in Cape Town

    • frederickmb says:

      Stephen, First of all, please accept my apologies for not approving your comment for publication sooner. The month of May has been THE busiest period of the year so far. I’m woefully behind in my self-imposed schedule for posting to this blog, too. However, it’s a pleasure to meet one of my husband’s relatives, even if only virtually.

      If both you and your father were born in Cape Town, perhaps your branch has been there since the original MENARD/MINNAARs arrived at the Cape in 1688. Because my husband’s branch ended up in Potchefstroom, I am assuming (for now) that they were part of the Great Trek.

      You didn’t mention specifically where you looked when researching your grandfather. Finding his Death Notice and probate records at the Cape Archives would be the first step since they would probably list his parents, birthplace, etc. If you know your grandfather’s church affiliation, you should check the church’s records for his marriage and christening since these records should also list his parents. Note that you would be working backward from most recent to most distant events, as is always the case in genealogy.

      It’s always a good idea to interview relatives, especially older ones, and find out what they remember about the family, either proven with documents or just as family stories which can be used as clues for other sources to search. Although my husband doesn’t remember many details about his family, his younger cousin was able to provide a surname that’s been vital to my research — so don’t forget to talk to younger relatives, too, for their memories of what their parents and grandparents talked about.

      Go through every paper, family bible, folder, file cabinet, etc., for further information. Genealogy is detective work. You can also use resources that I can only dream about, e.g. newspaper archives to find obituaries or other articles about family members which might provide clues about their history.

      Joining a local genealogy society is important, not so much because the organization might have data about your family, but because the members can help guide you in your research and make suggestions on how to conduct it. I’ve never done resesearch “on the ground” in South Africa so local society members would be more useful than I could ever be. Also, go to the local Family History Center at the nearest LDS Church; the Mormons have the largest collection of microfilmed documents in the world, both civil and religious of all denominations.

      I’m sure that you and my husband are related. Let’s hope that together we can establish the link that connects you!

      Mary Beth

      • Dewrall Minnaar says:

        Nice i like the way u put all that together. Maybe we family

      • Mary Beth says:

        Hi, Dewrall,

        It looks as if your comment might have been truncated. I’m intrigued to know the rest of the sentence and how you might be related to my husband.

        Mary Beth

      • Hendrik Frederik Minnaar says:

        Why did I not start researching when I was younger and both my grandmothers were alive. Now I am in my 60’s and all my uncles, aunts and cousins have died. Anyway I see this as a new challenge.
        My names are Hendrik Frederik Minnaar and my father Hendrick Fredrick. He had three brothers. Abraham (eldest) Carel and Dick(most probably Diederik). I have yet to find out my grandfathers details and will gladly share it with you should you be interested.. All I know is he died before I was born and my grandmother (Anna) re=married a van der Merwe.
        The search is on!

      • Mary Beth says:

        Yes, I’m interested in whatever you find about your grandfather! Given the fact that both you and your father carry the names Hendrik and Frederik, it’s possible that your grandfather was Hendrik Frederik MINNAAR, born ca 1892 in Potchefstroom, who was the son of my husband’s great-grandfather Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR. H.N. died in 1903, and Hendrik Frederik was named in his father’s Death Notice. However, he was not named in the 1941 Death Notice of his mother Engela Aletta Jacomina STEINHOBEL so he must have died in the interim. I haven’t been able to find out if/when/who he married, or whether he had children. Obviously, this is just a clue, which may or may not pertain to your family.

        Happy Hunting! And let me know what you find.

        Mary Beth

      • Hendrik Frederik Ninnaar. says:

        Thank you for your response Beth. You may also pass on my e-mail address to Imogen. It appears that my uncle DICK is not the same person Imogen mentions in an earlier posting. My uncle Dick married Evelyn (spelling) and the daughters name was Ina. The younger brothers names I forget at this point.

    • Roz says:

      Start with what you know – Your Parents & get their birth certificates which will give their parents on it, & go back from there – I’ve been doing mine for 15 years & sometimes you get REAL lucky & have a windfall & not only get the people you were after but loads of people – perhaps down to 1700’s. I got some info from the library near by which had family records book on thepeople I needed for my husbands side & he translated the info to me, because it was all in Afrikans + I went to Albany Museum Genealogy section & William Jarvious for help on a particular woman who I only knew as Hester & he gave me loads of Info’ I can tell you. This is not an over night fill in the gaps sort of thing, but needs patience & more patience. Good luck & keep on going.

  4. Imogen M says:

    “Brick Wall” is what I have been up against for over four years! My father was born Richard John Minnaar and his parents got divorced when he was about 2 years old. His father was never mentioned again. The name Minnaar only surfaced much later and I only started research some time after my father’s mother had passed in 2005. Along with her any information that could have been shared. I have since located a marriage certificate, divorce certificate and a postcard written to my grandparents from a relative. I am hoping that the following might help one of you and possible ring a bell and help me discover more.
    My parternal Grandfather’s name: Dick Jacobus MINNAAR b. abt 1908 married Anna Magdalene COETZEE b.1911 d.2005. They were married in Johannesburg on 4 September 1929. His occupation is listed as ‘Commercial Traveller’. The had 2 children. Judith Annette b.1930 d.2008 and Richard John b.1938 d.2004. I found a postcard DATED 1929 amoungst my grandmother’s photographs addressed to my grandparents in Johannesburg from a John Stephen MINNAAR and Ruby MINNAAR. They were traveling in Europe en route to the USA. I have since discovered that John Stephen MINNAAR travelled quite a bit and on familysearch.org I found an image of him on a Visa Application for Brazil in 1948. It lists his parents names as Hemdrik (possibly Hendrik) and Anna. There is also a passenger record from 1951 listing John Stephen, Ruby (b.1907) and June (b.1932). Listed as going to stay at Piccadilly Hotel, London. John Stephen listed as Company Director, Ruby as housewife and June as S.H. Typist (not sure if she was their daughter or relative)
    I am uncertain if Dick (Richard?) and John MINNAAR were brothers or cousins.
    So that is all I have…

    • Mary Beth says:


      Thank you for your extensive comment; perhaps the information it contains will help someone who reads this blog. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in doing family history research, it’s that information can pop up in unexpected places, not just the most-used online sites. I apologize for taking so long to reply, but I was visiting my parents and lost track of some of my e-mail.

      Best of luck in your future research.

      Mary Beth

      • Imogen Miramadi says:

        Hi Mary Beth:
        I so enjoy reading your blog and the replies and I was excited to see Hendrik Frederik Minnaar’s reply to you today mentioning that his father had 3 brothers, one of whom is a Dick Minnaar. As mentioned in a previous response to you, my father’s father was Dick Minnaar. I am hoping that this might be the connection I have been searching for. On Dick Minnaar’s marriage certificate it list’s witnesses as R. Minnaar and A. Minnaar. I am hoping that “A. Minnaar” is Abraham Minnaar (mentioned in Hendrik Frederik Minnaar’s post as the eldest brother). I am not sure how often Hendrik Frederik Minnaar reads the blog and would be interested to compare information with him. Could you facilitate this? Thank you again for your inspiring and informative blog. I too am in California (San Francisco up until a year ago and now in Newport Beach) and so access to records in South Africa is a challenge.

      • Mary Beth says:

        Hi Imogen,

        Thank you for your kind comments. May I pass your e-mail address on to Hendrik? (I can see your e-mail although other readers can’t.)

        With the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree coming up in June, I wish I lived in Newport Beach, too. But I have too much happening to make it this year.

        Mary Beth

      • Imogen Miramadi says:

        Yes. please do pass it on. I was not aware of the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree you mentioned (being the novice that I am at this). Imogen

  5. Geraldene Minnaar says:

    Hello Mary.
    I am the daughter of Philipus Carel Petrus Minnaar (born 1928) His father was Jan Hendrik Minnaar (born 1882) and his father was Johannes Andries Izak Minnaar (unknown D.O.B)
    I hope this helps in some way to fill in some missing gaps and also help me with my search of family history.

  6. Mary Beth says:

    Hello, Geraldene,

    Thank you for your comment. I was waiting to answer until my local library had found a copy of “Voortrekkerstamouers – 1835-1845” by J. C. Visagie to see if that would shed some light on our brick walls (which may end up being the same wall). However, the persons listed in his book are probably two generations older than Hendrik Nicolaas. The search goes on.

    Mary Beth

  7. Vivienne says:

    I have MINNAAR family in my tree. I would like to share my information with you.

    • Mary Beth says:

      Hello, Vivienne,

      We have communicated directly as a result of your comment. Thank you for the information you sent. I can’t (yet) find a connection between the MINNAARs in the records you sent, but they provide additional surnames to pay attention to. In SA as in the US, people often traveled and moved in groups of friends and relations. It only takes one connection and then the relationships blossom in a tree.

      Thank you again.

      Mary Beth

    • Louis saaiman says:

      Hi Vivienne
      Please make contact with met at plsaaiman@yahoo.com

  8. Mary, do you perhaps have his (younger) brothers/sisters’ names, because if you do, you can search for them here: https://familysearch.org/search/image/index#uri=https%3A%2F%2Ffamilysearch.org%2Frecords%2Fwaypoint%2F13505313%3Fcc%3D1918294

    Good luck!

    • Mary Beth says:


      Thank you for the link. Unfortunately, I know nothing about the birth family of Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR. I can’t find his marriage in the church records or his family in the membership records for the Reformed Church. He may be one of those ancestors who lets himself be found only when he’s good and ready. The search goes on!

      Mary Beth

  9. Pingback: Gravestone: Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR (ca. 1857 – 1903) | QUESNELL & POOLE Families in South Africa

  10. Pingback: New Clues: Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR (ca. 1857 – 1903) | QUESNELL & POOLE Families in South Africa

  11. Pingback: Serendipity & Generosity: Solution to MINNAAR Puzzle | QUESNELL & POOLE Families in South Africa

  12. Pingback: Parents of Record: Philippus A. MINNAAR & Helena D. STEYN | QUESNELL & POOLE Families in South Africa

  13. HOUTWERK says:


  14. HOUTWERK says:


    • Mary Beth says:

      Hello, Henry,

      I’m happy to make your acquaintance even if it’s over the Internet. Your first comment indicated that you are a great-grandson of Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR. Which of his sons was your grandfather? If you read some of my later posts, you will see that I have found the name of Hendrik’s father and mother, who were Voortrekkers, and their parents. I am now busy trying to verify all of the vital information I’ve found by researching the church and civil records on microfilm from the Family History Library. I’m not sure what property you’re referring to;; from what I can find, Hendrik at his death in 1903 left little to his widow and their children.

      I hope my blog has helped you to learn more about your ancestors.

      Mary Beth

  15. HOUTWERK says:

    I went on the website and find the claims off my great grand father /I want to claim because I am name after my great grandfather

  16. Neels says:

    Hi yet another Minnaar but from a different branch however we did investigate our history and the Huguenot museum was most helpful and we have our full bloodline from 1688 to the current.

    Our branch has rotating trunk names (for lack of a better name) and they are Corneluis Jacobus and the next generation then Antonie Johhanes Jurgens. My great, great granddad was CJ his so AJJ, my grandfather CJ and my dad AJJ the me CJ and my son AJJ.

    I do suspect that the 1st CJ could have been the brother to the HN in your bloodline as CJ’s father was Swart Flip (Black Phippe) and he was one of the 5 families that started Pretoria. If this is the case then my cousin may be able to supply all the info on the other side of the wall ready made.

    Minnaar Greetings
    Neels Minnaar
    Note: The decendants of AJJ No. 1 count more than 350 today as at our last Minnaar feast 3 years ago and my Dad and mom did their bit our family including inlaws count 53.

    • Hi Neels
      I have been working on my family tree for a few years now. I am glad to hear that the Huguenot museum was able to assist you. Would you be willing to share this information with me? I have created a site on Ancestry.com, Family Search and My Heritage. I have added a photo of our family crest to the My Heritage site and it would be wonderful if you could confirm if you have the same family crest?

  17. Louis saaiman says:

    Is there anyone who have information on Izak Christoffel Johannes Minnar, grave at Zoutpansdrift Brits

  18. Willem Schalk Rossouw says:

    Hello, just doing some family research. My grandfather’s name is Johannes Gerhardus Stephanus Minnaar (mother’s side) and his brother’s son did some research and found that their great grandfathers owned the land of a town or village near Pretoria. Their great grandmother’s portrait is also in a museum somewhere. I am not so sure about the whole story though I can ask him for more information (:

  19. Quentin Austin. says:

    Hi Mary Beth.
    I am doing a similar family history project on both my mother and fathers side. My mother was FINCH and my dad was AUSTIN. How does that link with you and the MINNAAR story, well on my mothers side, her mother was born a MINNAAR, one of apparently 6 daughters. Her name was Martha Johanna MINNAAR, born c 1889, who on her first marriage became a ROUSSOUW and on her second, a FINCH. My late mothers names were Mary Louise Mesnard AUSTIN (nee FINCH). As you might know, Mesnard is a version of the origional French name, MINNAAR, or so understand. The farm De Hoop outside Paarl, near Cape Town is apparently the historic family MINNAAR home, well known for its Olives since before the 1900’s. Its how a National Heritage site. If any of these names (MINNAAR/ROUSSOUW/FINCH have come up in your research I would be very greatful to hear from you. Maybe we can both help to break down the brick wall!

    Quentin Austin.

    • Mary Beth says:

      Quentin, None of the names you mention have come up in my research. As you will see elsewhere on my blog, I eventually broke down the brick wall and find my husband’s MINNAAR line. Good luck with your research.

  20. Jean Georges Minnaar says:

    Hi Mary Beth
    My grandfather Stephanus Hendrik Minnaar d.o.b. 14 Mei 1866 and passed away on 01 Oct 1954
    Married to Cornelia Magrieta Roux d.o.b. 25 July 1869 and passed away 25 Nov 1946
    My grandfather had 2 brothers, one named Gustaves Minnaar and the other brother not known as he moved away to another province, not sure whether his name was Andries.
    I am also trying to work back on the family history. Trying to find the name of my Grandfather’s father and his family.
    Regards, Jean Minnaar

    • Mary Beth says:

      Jean, It has been a long time since I worked on the MINNAAR family, but I have searched through my files and can find no one by the name of Stephanus Hendrik b. 1866. I can find no Death Notice for either of your grandparents or Gustaves by searching the National Archives of South Africa. There are a couple of persons named Stephanus Izak MINNAAR in my husband’s tree, but none close to that birth date. FamilySearch.org also doesn’t list anyone by the names of your grandparents. You’ve undoubtedly looked in those sources but sometimes a new eye can spot something. I also couldn’t find Stephanus in “Old Cape Families”, “South African Genealogies” from GISA or “Genealogiee van die Afrikaner Families in Natal” by Ben Cilliers (although I don’t know if your family came via Natal). I’m assuming you’ve searched baptism and marriage records in the churches where your grandparents lived throughout their lives. You will break through this brick wall eventually; all it takes is one record. Please let me know when you do or if you find new information that might tie your family to my husband’s.

      • Louis saaiman says:

        Morning Mary,
        My name is Louis Saaiman and also doing some research on the Minnaar family, specially the Minnaars from Beestekraal near Brits.
        Can you maybe make contact with at plsaaiman@yahoo.com

      • Mary Beth says:

        Louis, I don’t have anyone in my husband’s Minnaar tree from that area. If you could provide some specific names, I can check again.

        Mary Beth

  21. Imogen Miramadi says:

    Hi Jean,
    I would be interested to see if we have a family connection. I have a Hendrik Minnaar (abr 1879)in my tree that I believe is my g grandfather. Prehaps one of the brothers? My email address is genfromct@gmail.com.

  22. Mary Beth says:

    All it takes is finding one record — or one distant cousin. I hope that you and Imogen have useful information to share.

  23. Jean Georges Minnaar says:

    Thank you Mary Beth and Imogen Miramadi for your reply.. I will try to visit the churches in Paarl to try and obtain any proof of baptism and marriage records. My father’s brother Jan Minnaar youngest daughter Elaine worked on the family tree for quite some time. Then they broke into her car and she lost all the papers of hard work. As far as I can remember the family resided in the Paarl and Worcester districts. The family farm Moddergat between Worcester and Villiersdorp is still in the Minnaar family today on my grandfather’s brother Gustaves side. He had three sons Jan and Hennie and Gustav. The son of Gustav still farm today, his name is Gustav and his son is Fouche.

  24. Renier Minnaar says:

    I am also a Minnaar. My grandfather Phillipus Minnaar, author of the power of the positive word, has tracked our lineage back as well. So it is possible.

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