Skip to main content

Proving descendancy

Proving your lineage can be useful for a number of reasons: citizenship, estates, family and general history. For a while British ancestry visas were available for descendants either of whose grandparents were born in Britain. Then the Irish ancestry became easier than the British ancestry. With the tightening of immigration to Britain, the chance of getting or even renewing British passport has become stricter. For some dual citizenship, South African and British may be a privilege of the past but we hope not.

Lineage may be necessary for estates. For the lucky ones, there may be a proportional (depending on how many descendants came direct lineage) pay-out from the sale of property.

Lineage in South Africa can be proved by unabridged birth certificates or baptismal certificates and all other acceptable sources such as death notices and obituaries, entries in family Bibles, contemporary correspondence, wills and estate documents.

Changes of first or surnames can pose problems for descendants. In the case of a Christian who married into the Muslim faith, the new name was recorded in a notebook by the imam of the local mosque but not the registered name. These records will hopefully survive and be archived.

For the soldier who changes his name, proving descendancy is more difficulty. Eric White, a descendant of TC White who lived at Table Farm near Grahamstown, became “Eric MacFarlane” in World War I. Other soldiers who assumed alias included: Davis alias “Newbould”; Naden posed as “Private P Edwards” and is buried as “Edwards” in Abbeville Community Cemetery. (Commonweath War Grave Commission)

Things became complicated, however, in the case of German Diterloff Spiller (born 4-4-1897) who is said to have taken an oath of allegiance to the British Crown during World War 1 as “German Raymond Spiller” aged 18 years in 1915 (therefore born about 1897) and then during World War 2 has a military service record under “Gerald Raymond Spiller” (born 4-4-1897) aged 42 years and 11 months. Family oral history and a matching birthdate is not enough to prove the descendancy of his grandson. A genealogist has to assume Gerhard Diterloff Spiller and German/Gerald Raymond Spiller are two different people until such time as one can prove they are one and the same person.

Records can conflict with family stories. In 1915 William Broderick Cloete son of Lawrence Graham Cloete, grandson of Henry Cloete CC of Natal, travelled from the United States to England on the Cunard liner “SS Lusitania”. On 7 May the liner was torpedoed by a German submarine. The town of San Jose de Cloete, Coahuila, Mexico is named after Cloete who bought land founded the carbon extraction company called the New Sabinas Company in 1900. A Mexican historian wanted to contact his Cloete descendants. According to the Cloete family records, Broderick as he was known, drowned on the “SS Lusitania” but the passenger lists do not confirm this and his name does not appear on 1st, 2nd or 3rd class passenger lists nor as a survivor (which would be impossible as the family believe he drowned!).

For the 1820 Settlers descendants, proving lineage can mean you are eligible for an 1820 Settlers descendancy certificate. Some descendants have ordered these attractive and impressive certificates for themselves, their children and grandchildren. The certificate authenticates the name of the descendant, the 1820 Settler ancestor and the Settler party they joined and of course, is signed by the 1820 Settler Association Genealogist.

For one family, one or two documents proved a stumbling block. Proving descendancy involved searching Free State church records, only to find that there was no record of a second marriage nor baptismal entries for eight children of the second family. Finally by collating family stories, the descendants claimed their certificates through descent from Eliza Rayner, daughter of an 1820 Settler, William Rayner. Descendants of both marriages made contact after years of estrangement. This is another reason for proving descendancy - the positive effect of family unity.

originally published eGGSA Facebook page, 18 February 2016.

  • Hits: 30058