Not Our Black Sheep?: Andreas OELOFSE (ca. 1642 – ca. 1709)

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.

Image courtesy of Feelart at

Image courtesy of Feelart at

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…)


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Only Minutes of Life: QUESNELL Daughter — 1914

Those of us who’ve been avidly watching the British series “Call the Midwife” might believe that we know a lot about giving birth at home at a time and place when this was the common method. Despite some dire living conditions in the area of postwar London featured in the series, most of the babies are born alive and well, thanks to the skills of the professional midwives.

However, my most recent finding about my husband’s father’s family has raised questions about home births that didn’t have a happy outcome. A Death Record from the Cape Province of South Africa shows that my husband’s paternal grandmother gave birth to a baby girl on 21 Jan 1914. Sadly, the infant died of “congenital weakness” within “1/4 hour” of being born. She was given no name and was listed only as “Child of Joseph QUESNELL — Female.”

Excerpt from 1914 Death Notice for Infant QUESNELL Source:

Excerpt from 1914 Death Record  for Infant QUESNELL

What was “congenital weakness?” It seems to have been a generic term for a number of conditions that modern medicine would probably be able to identify more precisely. The Birth Injury Guide website lists seven specific conditions, but concludes with a description of hypotonia, “a medical condition marked by weak and/or limp movements, and … often referred to as ‘floppy infant’ syndrome.” Two causes that might apply to this infant are genetic disorders and birth trauma or injury.

Regardless of the cause, there was probably nothing that could have been done for such an infant born at home in 1914. Even if the birth had taken place in a hospital and the child had survived, she might well have done so with serious disabilities at a time when there were few treatments for such defects.

It’s not clear whether Dr. Forsyth, named on the Death Record, was present for the birth or was called when it appeared there might be difficulties with the birth or after the baby had died. Since Alice had given birth several times before, she might have been attended by a midwife, at least in the early stages of labor.

For a family historian, other questions push to the fore.

Where were the other three children during the birth and its aftermath? Victor was 15 years old, Richard was eleven, and my husband’s father, Harold, was only seven. Did their father take them to be looked after by a neighbor or a relative once labor started? Or were they told to stay in their rooms until called to see their new sibling? The Death Notice doesn’t state the time of death; perhaps they were asleep during their mother’s labor.

Were there other births in the nearly eight years between the births of Harold and this infant? It seems likely although no records have yet been found for additional children. Alice WÜRGES was 32 or 33 in 1914 so she would have been in her prime child-bearing years before then. Given the spacing of two to three years between prior births, I would expect to find at least one other birth during this period.

Where is the infant buried? According to the Death Notice, she was to be buried in Maitland Cemetery, but she is not included on the common gravestone (see photo) with her brothers and her mother.

What effect might this death — and possibly those of other younger siblings — have had on Harold? I don’t recall my father-in-law ever talking about other siblings, even his older brothers, and always thought him to be an only child. Perhaps these early memories had faded by the time I met him. Perhaps such memories were too painful to be mentioned to a newcomer to the family. Then, too, certain topics were not addressed so openly by South Africans of his age and courtliness as they were by Americans of the time.

Alas, as too often happens, the chance for asking such questions evaporated years ago, leaving us with only our imaginings.

Next Steps

1) Ask researcher Anne Clarkson in Cape Town to obtain the burial cards for the QUESNELL family in Maitland Cemetery.

2) Ask my mother about the circumstances surrounding the home birth of her youngest sibling when she was nearly five years old.

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Provisional Findings: The QUESNELL Family in Port Nolloth

Perhaps the symbols used in genealogy to indicate various events in an ancestor’s life should be expanded to include one that means “provisional,” which can be used in conjunction with any other symbol to show that more work needs to be done to find proof of the event. Until then, the word “provisional” in the title for this post is meant to alert readers that research continues, even as I share what I’ve found so far about the QUESNELL family in Port Nolloth.

The Children and Grandchildren of
Richard John QUESNELL (1836 – 1917)
& Caroline Jane MCGARRY (ca. 1837 – 1914)
Married 6 Jan 1862 in Cape Town

(1) Elizabeth (1862 – ?)

(2) Caroline Jane (1865 – ?) = Henry Josiah COOPER (ca. 1864 – ?)

Arthur Richard (2 Jun 1890 – 13 Jun 1890)
Herbert Henry (19 Sep 1891 – bef. Oct 1893)
Christopher (27 Oct 1893 – 29 Mar 1894)
Edgar Ernest (20 Jan 1895 – ?)
Gwendoline (31 Dec 1896 – ?)
Gertrude Alice (27 Jan 1899 – 7 Feb 1899)
Olive (21 Mar 1900 – ?)
Edward (5 May 1902 – 5 May 1902)
William (23 Nov 1904 – 25 Nov 1904)

3) Elizabeth Mary (1869 – 1937) = William JANSEN (ca. 1855 – 1915)

Elizabeth Mary (21 Jun 1890 – bef. Sep 1937)
Minnie (4 Aug 1892 – bef. Sep 1937)
Richard John (11 Feb 1894 – bef. Sep 1937)
Edgar Ernest (13 Jan 1895 – ?)
Edith Gladys (6 Jan 1898 – ?)
Arthur Alexander (? – ?)

4) Harriet Annie (1873 – ?) = John HAMER (? – ?)

5) Wilhelmina Rebecca (1875 – ?) = Sydney Smith JONES (1866 – ?)

David Evan (5 Apr 1895 – ?)
Iris Baden Powell (24 Mar 1899 – 7 Feb 1999)
Vivien (1902 – ?)
Claude Redvers (1906 – 1999)

6) Joseph Robert (1877 – 1965) = Alice WÜRGES (ca. 1882 – 1939)

Victor Robert (7 Mar 1898 – 23 Oct 1918)
Esme Doris (4 Dec 1899 – 23 Dec 1902)
Richard John (Jan 1903 – 14 Sep 1926)
Harold (8 Mar 1906 – 29 Aug 1981)

Research Notes

As always, specific sources are available; simply send a comment requesting them.

(1) Elizabeth — It is assumed that Elizabeth died, probably in Cape Town, since she is not found in the marriage or burial records for St. Andrew’s in Port Nolloth. Unfortunately, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Cape Town has no records of burials. Although church records from St. Andrew’s show that her sisters served as godparents and witnesses to marriages, no one I can identify as the original Elizabeth is mentioned. Her younger sister Mary added the name Elizabeth at some point to her baptismal name. Given the ages of those who usually stood as sponsors to baptisms and witnesses to marriages, I am assuming that Elizabeth Mary is the person shown in the records.

(2 ) Caroline Jane — The civil birth registration for their son Edgar Ernest gives a marriage date of 2 Oct 1887 for the couple, but there is no record of their marriage in the St. Andrew’s records, and the civil marriage records for Port Nolloth have not yet been published on FamilySearch. All of their children’s births and some of their deaths are found in the St. Andrew’s records.

(3) Elizabeth Mary — Marriage 21 May 1889. The civil marriage record shows that William could not sign his name, which was recorded as William JOHNSON, and that his mark was attested to by Richard QUESNELL and Harriet Annie QUESNELL. Only Edgar Ernest, Edith Gladys, and Arthur Alexander are listed on their mother’s September 1937 Death Notice. I have assumed that the other children died before that date.

(4) Harriet Annie — The St. Andrew’s records show that the couple married 7 Dec 1895, but no children are found in the Port Nolloth records. Harriet Annie might have married a second time, but I’ve not yet searched the records for proof.

(5) Wilhelmina Rebecca — Marriage 4 Mar 1894.

(6) Joseph Robert — Joseph and Alice were married 4 Oct 1897. Their oldest child was born in Port Nolloth; the other children were born in Woodstock and Somerset West, although not all of the baptism records have been found.

Posted in COOPER, HAMER, JANSEN, JONES, MCGARRY, QUESNELL, WÜRGES | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments