If anyone asks you about social media and how to use it for genealogy (or why you would even bother sharing your life online), here’s a story for them.
Yesterday morning I received an email telling me that the documents that I’d ordered from the Genealogical Society of South Africa were ready to download. There had been some issues at work the night before, and I was half-dreading what would come that day. But opening this email and finding 120 pages of estate files and court records washed it all away! And I shared that on Twitter.
This led to a reply from a Twitter genealogist friend, who also has South African roots, sharing her family surnames and asking about mine. Long story short, we discovered that we have a common surname in our family trees–Heyns–and that there may even be a connection. We spent several minutes (maybe more) comparing notes, running DNA comparisons on gedmatch.com, and getting ourselves all excited about finding distant cousins (probably third- or fourth-cousins). All because of a simple tweet about an email. So the moral of this story: just share your genealogy adventures. You never know who you might connect with.
So now I’m revisiting my Heyns research. The Heyns line is actually in my husband’s family. His great-grandparents were Carel Nicolaas Sauer van Pletzen and Dirkje Salmina Eliza Heyns. Her death record lists her parents as Gert Frederik Heyns and Dirkie Salmina Gertina Dannhauser, and that she was born in Uniondale, Cape Colony, around 1871-1872. This is confirmed by her baptism record I found on FamilySearch, showing that she was born on 28 July 1871, and baptized on 5 Nov 1871 in the Dutch Reformed Church in Uniondale.
Gert Frederik Heyns is becoming a little more of a mystery. A while back I received a transcript of his death record from the Free State Archives in Bloemfontein with some notes about a second death record in his file with discrepancies. The Genealogical Society of South Africa offers a service to take digital photos of records in the archives, and I was able to get copies of the original documents in his estate file. There are two death records. The first shows that he died on 31 Dec 1902 in Rouxville, Orange Free State; that he was 73 years old, born in Cape Colony to Jan Heijns and Martha Dannhauser. This death record is signed by Maria Catharina Heyns, “daughter of the Deceased”, and dated 2 January 1906–three years after the actual death.
The second death record was signed by M C Heyns, “Daughter of Deceased”. The handwriting on the two forms is VERY different, but the signatures are quite similar. A third page in the file is an affidavit signed by Maria C Heyns stating that she is his daughter and knows of his affairs, and the signature is again quite similar to the other two. This affidavit is dated 3 March 1903, only three months after her father’s death. However, the information on the death record has some significant discrepancies from the first.
On the second record, his name is listed as Gert Frederik Hendrik Heyns, born in Oudtshoorn district (Cape Colony), and that he died on the same date listed on the first record but that he was 71 years old (not 73). It also lists that he died in Rouxville on the farm Wonderwater. Most significant, however, are the names listed for his parents: Cornelis Dannhauser and Rachel Zondag. Very different names!
This is where some sleuthing and deductive reasoning makes its way into genealogy, and I love the problem-solving. Clearly, the names of his parents on the second death record are wrong just by looking at the last names. Fortunately, I have the estate file for Dirkie Salmina Gertina Dannhauser, Gert Frederik’s wife, and it lists Cornelis Dannhauser and Rachel Rautenbach as her parents, so I can safely rule that out. (But that creates another mystery to solve–is her mother Rachel Rautenbach or Rachel Zondag, or maybe neither?)
There is also the added bonus of a fairly reliable naming convention in Afrikaner families: the first son is always named after the father’s father, the second son is always named after the mother’s father, and the third son is always named after the father. Likewise with the daughters: the first is named after the mother’s mother, the second after the father’s mother, and the third after the mother. On both death records, the order of the children lists the first two sons as Jan Dirk Heyns and Cornelis Johannes Dannhauser Heyns. (Neither death record has a Gert Frederik listed as a son, but I have baptismal records for most of the children in this family, and they show that the third son was named Gert Frederik Heyns. He presumably died as a child, or before his parents and with no children of his own.) The first three daughters are listed as Rachel Heyns, Martha Maria Magdalena Heyns, and Dirkie Salmina Gertina Heyns. Based on this information, I can safely assume that Gert Frederik Heyns’ parents were probably named Jan Dirk and Martha Maria Magdalena (and that Dirkie Dannhauser’s parents are probably named Cornelis Johannes and Rachel). This would make the information on the later (1906) death record more accurate and possibly explain why two records exist, though there is no actual explanation in the documents I received. If the later record is a correction, it would also explain why it is the first document in the estate file.
This is where my Twitter friend comes back into the story. We think that Jan Dirk Heyns may be the common ancestor in our connection. My information (according to what was supplied by a granddaughter on a death record) shows that Jan Dirk Heyns was married to Martha Dannhauser, but Twitter friend’s information (also from a death record for one of their children) shows his wife’s name as Martha Maria Magdalena Scheepers. So now I’m wondering about Martha’s surname on Gert Frederik’s death record: was her surname really the same as her son’s wife’s surname? Both show Dannhauser as the last name.
A quick search of the National Archives of South Africa doesn’t turn up much for Martha Dannhauser, but it does for Martha Scheepers. In particular, there are death records and wills for Martha Maria Magdalena Scheepers, wife of Jan Dirk Heyns.
So now some investigative work: order those records from the Cape Town archives (a bit more difficult than the Free State Archives since they have a ban on photographing records), and see what other records I can find for Gert Frederik Heyns, particularly birth and/or baptism records. I need a more solid connection between Gert Frederik Heyns and his parents in order to say who exactly they were.