Every genealogist should have a plaque prominently displayed on her desk: “Keep searching — you can never have too many documents!” A recent finding illustrates the thinking behind this admonition.
In an earlier post, I published a photo of the QUESNELL family gravestone in Maitland, a suburb of Cape Town. The stone listed four members of the family: Alice WÜRGES, my husband’s paternal grandmother, her sons Victor Robert and Richard John, and a daughter Esmé Doris. (Victor died during World War I and is buried in France, but his family obviously wanted to honor his memory.)
The burial place of Joseph Robert QUESNELL, the head of the family, remained unknown. However, the recently obtained Record of Burials maintained by the Maitland Cemetery shows that he was indeed buried with the rest of his family, although his name and death date, 14 Jan 1965, have never been added to the gravestone.
This document may not be complete; it does not list either Esmé Doris or an unnamed infant daughter who died shortly after birth in 1914, both of whose death certificates give Maitland Cemetery as the intended burial place.
However, much to my surprise, the plot does contain the graves of three other relatives.
1) Herman WÜRGES (d. 27 Jan 1920) — Alice’s father. All I had known was his name and that his wife Sarah Maria (surname unknown) was a widow when she died 13 Sep 1920 in Port Nolloth. I assumed that her husband had also died there, but I had been unable to find him in either civil records or church burial records. Now armed with his burial date and place, I was able to find his death certificate (with the surname spelled and indexed as Wurgiss) in the “Cape Province, Civil Deaths, 1895-1972” database at FamilySearch. It states that after more than five months of illness, he died of “a cancer in [the] neck and exhaustion” at Old Somerset Hospital. Why he died so far from where he and his wife lived is a matter for speculation. His occupation was “boatman” so perhaps he had been on a ship docked in Cape Town when he fell ill. Perhaps his cancer was of a type or severity that required treatment in a larger hospital than the one in Port Nolloth. Sarah died only seven months after her husband; perhaps she had been too ill to care for him so their only child, Alice, had taken him into her home. Both Herman and Sarah were only 58 years old when they died.
2) Harriet Annie QUESNELL (d. 26 Dec 1931) — Joseph Robert’s sister. Although her death certificate states that she is married, her residence address is that of her brother, 171 Buitengracht Street, Cape Town. Her first marriage was to John HAMER; I’ve been unable to find out whether they had any children and whether he died or their marriage ended in divorce. At the time of her death, her surname was MCLUCKIE. Her death certificate was signed by A. MCLUCKIE, presumably her husband, who gives the same address.
3) Elizabeth Mary QUESNELL (d. 12 Sep 1937) — Joseph Robert’s sister. Elizabeth was the widow of William JANSEN, a seaman from Finland who had died in 1915 in Port Nolloth. Her Death Notice shows only three of her six children as still living: Edgar Ernest (b. 1895), Edith Gladys (b. 1898), and Arthur Alexander (b. ?). She has a separate headstone.
From now on, my research will always include cemetery burial records. These unassuming little cards can not only save time searching for a death date with which to browse un-indexed South African death certificates and probate records, but can lead to unexpected information. I’m already considering what might be found in mortuary records, another under-used resource.
After the death of Alice WÜRGES, Joseph Robert QUESNELL married Charlotte Louisa VAN REENEN 27 Jan 1942. She died 12 Mar 1962. According to a transcription on the now-defunct site Ancestry24, she was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Observatory, a suburb of Cape Town. Unfortunately, although Ancestry24 was purchased by Ancestry.com, many of their databases have yet to be made available on the latter’s site. The cemetery has been replaced by a shopping mall, but I have read that the gravestones were photographed by the National Heritage Council before that event.
The database “South Africa, Cape Province, Civil Deaths, 1895-1972” on FamilySearch is not yet complete; the last records are from 1954, and the database has not been updated in the past year. It is only partially indexed.
1) Two positions, A and C, are noted on the Record of Burials, but a photo shows the plot with three grave sites bordered by a common concrete curb. Contact the cemetery office to find out where B is located in relation to A and C and who is buried in position B.
2) Six burials — eight including the unrecorded children — would have necessitated multiple burials in each grave. This also seems likely from the notations of depth ranging from 5 to 8 ft. for all but the grave of Herman WÜRGES. Contact the cemetery for clarification.
3) Since Joseph Robert QUESNELL and his only surviving son, my husband’s father, had been estranged for some years, there is a question about who arranged for the burial. “H & Pitt” is listed as “undertaker” for the burial; an online search suggests that this is Human & Pitt Funeral Services with several locations in the Western Cape. Contact the location in Cape Town to get a copy of the pertinent record.
4) Check the availability of the National Heritage Council photographs of the gravestones from St. Peter’s Cemetery, Observatory; the location of the cemetery records, and the current location of the remains that were removed.