Like many genealogists, I love finding black sheep in the family, those ancestors whose behavior falls far outside the accepted norms of the time and place in which they lived, perhaps even outside those of our own more open-minded times. Unfortunately, when I find such a person in a usually pedestrian family tree, I may throw genealogical search standards to the wind in a rush to claim him or her. So it was with Andreas OELOFSE, my husband’s 7x great-grandfather through his youngest daughter Sara Magdalena.
Based on information I had found several years ago in Geslagregisters van ou Suid Afrikaanse Families as published on the now-defunct Ancestry24 site, I added Andreas, his wife Sara JANSZ, and their children to my husband’s tree. Like all conscientious researchers, I planned to gather documentation to verify his marriage and the vital information about his wife and children — someday.
When the quarterly publication Genesis arrived last August from eGSSA, the online branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa, it contained an article by member June Barnes about Andreas, who was also her 7x great-grandfather. And to my delight, her research showed that he was the “baddest” black sheep I had ever found in anyone’s tree!
Andreas, a Norwegian, arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in 1668 as an employee of the Dutch East India Company, which recruited men from all over Europe. Unlike most of the other men, however, during the voyage out he had taken part in an unsuccessful mutiny, having agreed “to help murder all the ship’s officers as well as to enter the cabin of the constable and murder everyone there.” He was sentenced to a severe lashing and “…to serve 25 years in chains on public works without pay and be banned to Robben Island….”
In my haste to get to the “good stuff,” I had blithely skipped over the last sentence of the editor’s introduction to the article which stated that the “conclusions” would be published in the November issue of Genesis. I could fault June for not hanging a red flag over that word, but any experienced genealogist would have been on high alert just by reading it. Instead, I trumpeted the discovery of their ancestor’s misdeeds to my husband and his brother — and to anyone else who would listen. Surely, the second part of the article would just clarify how Andreas, even after being sentenced to additional years for yet another crime, had managed to serve only 22 years of his combined sentences before he married in 1690, presumably as a free man, and became father to a family with Sara Magdalena as his youngest child.
Due to a mix-up about my membership renewal, I didn’t receive the November issue until recently. One conclusion in the second half of the article was quite different from what I had expected and threatened to lop off that branch of my husband’s family tree, thereby losing the distinction of his having an ancestor who was a mutineer: “Sara Magdalena was probably not the child of Andreas Oelofse.”
This experience taught me yet again that one shouldn’t add someone to the family tree based on incomplete or unproven information. However, even though June had obviously done a lot of solid research to come to her compelling conclusion, I wasn’t ready to concede that Andreas is not my husband’s ancestor. I latched on to her use of the word “probably” to qualify her statement and determined to do as much additional research as I could to prove or disprove it. In doing so, I learned far more than I could have anticipated.
(To be continued…)