Security In Knowing Our Roots


Dr. Helen ROBINSON was the guest speaker at the May meeting and kept her audience enthralled as she explained the various sources she investigated to solve the mystery of the missing heirs.
She said that most people were interested in researching their own families. In these times, we all feel a little rootless and there is some security in knowing our own roots.
However, there are other uses for genealogical research and some researchers are engaged in research for other people. We can achieve a better understanding of history through the study of people. Another use involves the tracing of possible heirs of deceased estates.
She was recently commissioned to trace a family for this purpose and found herself using all the resources available to find members of the family.
She was originally contacted because she was known to have researched Wynberg families quite extensively and it was believed that the family had Wynberg roots. Because the details of the family must remain confidential, she could tell us how she went about the search but not any identifying information.
She found it fascinating to trace the interactions and connections between families. The internet was a wonderful tool but she also made use of the old fashioned methods. The Master’s Office, Home Affairs and the Archives were regularly visited.
The Deeds office provided some great information. From deeds one can often find out the financial position of a family and sometimes get to know who are their relatives. In earlier days she had been able to go to the Deeds Office and look through the erf registers herself but now one has to call for a deed as some registers have been damaged by having pages removed. If one visits the Deeds Office it is probably better to go with someone who has had some experience there as it can be quite intimidating. People attach much importance to property so deeds are useful sources if you have the erf number, often referred to in estate papers.
The interesting case she dealt with recently came to her unexpectedly and luck, as well as coincidence played a part in its solution. Some six years ago she had a phonecall from another researcher, followed by a letter which provided some tantalizing information but not really enough to really go forward with any research. She put it aside for the time being.
In October last year, she received a letter from Australia, asking for her assistance in tracing the heirs to an intestate estate. They had been looking since 1994 without success. She realised at once that this tied up with the earlier contact she had had but more details were supplied this time.
She tried all the usual sources for some months. She was able to trace various branches of the family and their connections but not the one needed.
She searched through church registers, visited the Deeds office. Lateral thinking played a great part as she built up a family tree—but still no heirs. She came to the point where she was almost prepared to give up and indicated to the Australian contact that it seemed likely that she had reached the end of the road.
More information was emailed to her. She has found that often crucial material is withheld. It is difficult to understand why this is done but it does happen.
Two pieces of information now provided proved to be the keys that unlocked the puzzle. The deceased had been divorced and his old South African Identity Number was provided.
With cooperation from the Department of Home Affairs she was able to trace the marriage of the person concerned. More digging through records provided the names of two children.
She then resorted to the telephone book, as at least she had some initials. She could have done this earlier if it had been a more uncommon name. She was soon talking to the person who was the likely heir.
She of course had to be very tactful and discreet in her discussion, as she verified that this was indeed the right person, who was quite suspicious at first!
However, finally all the right documents were provided and it was proved beyond a doubt the heir had been found.
She felt she had accomplished one of the purposes of genealogy. It had become a very personal matter as she had grown close to this family as she sifted through all the information relating to them. She had also realised how delicate lives really are.