The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
— Robert Burns
The first two lines of “To A Mouse” could probably apply to the plans of most genealogists at some point in their research, although such situations in my experience more often end not in grief and pain, but in the joy of discovery. The current post is a good example of plans gone awry — with the hoped-for joy still to come.
My plan seemed straightforward: To publish the vital information for my husband’s 2x great-grandfather, Philippus Andries/Andreas MINNAAR, his two wives and his many children. The book Voortrekkerstamouers: 1835 – 1845 by J. C. Visagie had provided the wives’ names and the dates of both marriages. I wanted to verify the information, but microfilms of the original records were not available through the Family History Library.
Scott KOTZÉ in South Africa responded quickly to my request for the marriage record of Philippus Andries’s second marriage in 1844 to Helena Dorothea STEYN, the mother of my husband’s great-grandfather Hendrik Nicolaas MINNAAR. He contacted the archives of the Dutch Reformed Church in Pietermaritzburg who, in lieu of copies of church register pages, sent him copies of pages from Genealogieë van die Afrikaner Families in Natal by Dr. Ben Cilliers, a compilation of the vital information for Voortrekker families and their descendants in Natal up to 1910.
Philippus Andries’s first wife was of passing interest to me, although I wanted to know the vital information about the children born to the couple. I planned to list these family members and then move on to the “more important” second wife and family. My scheme broke down as soon as I noticed the seeming discrepancy of the dates of the first marriage in 1837 and the birth of the first child of this marriage in 1836.
Family of Philippus Andries MINNAAR (1813 – ca. 1868)
& Anna Christina MARÉ (1814 – 1844)
Married 9 Jul 1837
1) Philippus Petrus (b. 30 Apr 1836)
2) Susanna Sophia (b. 30 Jan 1841)
3) Paul (b. 13 Apr 1843)
Initially I thought that the most likely explanation for the discrepancy was a typographical error in the preparation of the Cilliers book, e.g. the substitution of the number “6” for the number “8”. A birth date of April 1838 instead of 1836 would mean that Philippus Petrus was born nearly ten months after his parents’ marriage instead of more than a year before.
Another possibility was the incorrect rendering of the marriage date. Might the year have been 1835 rather than 1837? Visagie cites Cilliers for the 1837 date, and Cilliers cites Erasmus SMIT, the unordained minister who kept a diary of the trek from the Cape Colony to Natal and who held Sunday services and otherwise ministered to the religious needs of the Voortrekkers in the group led by his brother-in-law Gerrit MARITZ.
Reverend H. F. Schoon, in his introduction to SMIT’s diary, which he edited and then published in 1897, tells how he made it more interesting for the reader:
In this extract from the Diary I have omitted everything that appeared to me to be of little importance to the public. So I have for example — just to mention something — passed over many religious services, christenings, and marriages, and other such things, in order that the book should not become too monotonous.
As a genealogist, my hair stands on end at the loss of the many “monotonous” things (aka people!) “passed over.” If only Schoon had excised some of the numerous mentions of the “inyoking” and “unyoking” of oxen to make room for the names of those to whom Reverend SMIT had ministered. However, Schoon did not cut out the entry which Cilliers must have used as the source for the date of the MINNAAR-MARÉ marriage.
Sunday, 9 July 1837. Church was postponed till the evening on account of the absence of the men who had to collect the strayed cattle. In the afternoon I married F. Minnaar and C. Mare with a licence from the Governor. In the evening there was a sermon from Numbers 13:1-33.
If there had been only one MINNAAR-MARÉ couple making the Great Trek, I would be relatively certain that SMIT was referring to Philippus as “F” and Anna Christina as “C”. However, Cilliers also lists another couple, Roedolph Johannes MINNAAR and Cornelia Petronella MARÉ, for whom no marriage date is given. Might SMIT’s handwritten “R” have looked like an “F”? Might SMIT, therefore, have been referring to the marriage of Roedolph and Cornelia in his diary entry?
If this is the case, Philippus Andries and Anna Christina might have been married earlier by SMIT (the first part of his diary, prior to 14 Nov 1836, has been lost) or they might have married before leaving the Eastern Cape.
I’ve spent the better part of three days now on this detour from my original plan, trying to solve the sort of puzzle that makes genealogy such a compelling endeavor.
Source of the lines from “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns: http://www.robertburns.org.uk/Assets/Poems_Songs/toamouse.htm
Genealogieë van die Afrikaner Families in Natal is commonly referred to as GAFN.
The birth and death dates for Philippus Andries MINNAAR and Anna Christine MARÉ are derived from additional research using sources other than Cilliers.
H. F. Schoon’s book was translated into English in 1972 by W. G. A. Mears, from which I took the quotes from Schoon’s Introduction and SMIT’s entry for 9 Jul 1837.
Preliminary research indicates that Roedolph Johannes MINNAAR was the brother of Philippus Andries and that Cornelia MARÉ was the sister of Anna Christina.
Locate the handwritten diary of Erasmus SMIT, from which H. F. Schoon derived his published version of extracts, and obtain a photograph of the page with the 9 Jul 1837 entry.
Order Family History Library microfilm #1295254 — “Graaff-Reinet Marriage Registers 1830 – 1866” — to see if P. A. MINNAAR and A. C. MARÉ might have married there prior to starting the Great Trek.