Family tree research sometimes puts one in mind of an old movie in which a prisoner tries to escape by digging a tunnel through the wall of his cell using a teaspoon.
This week, I managed to chip away at the brick wall separating my husband’s great-grandfather, Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR, from his ancestors. The most recently acquired document tells me more than I had expected, but less than I had hoped to find.
An earlier post laid out the research that seemed to indicate that Hendrik’s parents were Voortrekkers — Afrikaners who had made the journey from the British Cape Colony to Natal and the Transvaal during the Great Trek of the 1830s and 1840s. The index to the records at the National Archives of South Africa lists no probate file for the possible father, Philippus Andries MINNAAR. However, his second wife, Helena Dorothea STEYN, who died in 1904 and is a likely candidate for Hendrik’s mother, does have a file.
The first half of the Death Notice, which is the cover document in South African probate files, concerns the deceased, her parents and her spouse. The informant was Helena’s daughter, Augusta Cecilia WARREN, whose position as the youngest child in the family may explain her inability to answer questions about events that happened before she was born or when she was quite young.
Helena’s birth in 1827, as calculated from her age at death, was unlikely to have been in “Olifant’s River, Transvaal Colony” since this date precedes the Great Trek by a number of years. This information was taken from Helena’s will, made two years before her death and included in the probate packet. Olifant’s River may have had some significance within the family; more research into the movement of her family may uncover the reason for her thinking of this location as her birthplace.
A more likely birthplace is shown in an online family tree whose information appears to have been derived from original documents. It gives her birthplace as George, Cape Colony, her birth date as 19 Jan 1827, and her baptism as having been performed in Uitenhage, Cape Colony, on 15 Apr 1827. This specific birth date is consistent with her age of eighty-seven years eleven months at her death on 9 Jan 1904. That her baptism took place three months after her birth and nearly 200 miles to the east may indicate that her family was already on the move toward Natal (her will states that she was raised in Pietermaritzburg, Natal).
Augusta’s not knowing her parents’ marriage date is understandable. However, she also does not know the approximate date of her father’s death, suggesting that she might have been quite young when he died.
Fortunately, Augusta’s recall appears to be excellent in regard to her siblings, whom she lists, presumably chronologically, in the second half of the Death Notice.
The online tree mentioned earlier gives only the names of Helena’s two oldest children, Petronella Helena (b. 1845) and Johannes Christoffel (b. 1848), both named after their maternal grandparents, Petronella Helena SCHOEMAN and Johannes Christoffel STEYN. It would appear that Petronella Helena died prior to 1904 since Johannes is listed first.
Hendrik had died in 1903, so I was gratified to find that “estate of Hendrik Minnaar” is listed after the estate of Stephanus, another son who must have died shortly before Helena. However, in “consideration of having been looked after for many years past, and in doing so still,” her will names Augusta and Frederick WARREN as “sole and universal heirs.” None of the other children or their estates are mentioned in the will.
The fact that Hendrik’s widow, Engela Aletta Jacobmina STEINHOBEL, did not start her late husband’s probate process until nearly three years after his death is a lucky break for those of us researching his tree. If his estate had been settled by the time of Helena’s death, it would not have been listed in her Death Notice. However, without further proof, the Hendrik referred to can only tentatively be considered my husband’s great-grandfather.
Recently, a seminar was advertised online that included a talk titled “Assumptions: A Genealogical Slippery Slope.” To avoid placing my foot on shifting ground, for the time being I’ll consider what I’ve found about Philippus and Helena simply as clues to be proven by further research.
I can find no evidence of a settlement named for the Olifant’s River.
Despite several requests for help from the MyHeritage.com support team, I have been unable to find a way to contact Malcolm FISHER, site manager for Fisher Web Site, where I found the detailed information about Philippus Andries MINNAAR and Helena Dorothea STEYN and their two oldest children.
Before initiating probate for Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR, his widow Engela Aletta Jacobmina STEINHOBEL, in an affidavit sworn before a Justice of the Peace on 6 Jun 1906, declared “that at the time of death of my late spouse aforesaid there were no assets whatsoever active, prospective or contingent, belon[g]ing to the joint estate.” Perhaps an affidavit was required because she had waited nearly three years to start probate and the court wanted assurance that there had been no estate to administer at the time of Hendrik’s death.