There seems to be a growing interest in personal ancestry – or maybe I’ve just become more aware of it.
Two new family histories have been published: one about the Bruwer family whose forebear, Estienne Bruere van Mer, came to the Cape from France, and the other the Ferreiras, the first of whom, Ignatius Leopoldus Ferreira, arrived from Portugal in one of the more original ways to set foot in |Cape Town.
He was washed ashore on a wine barrel when his ship sank.
A Bloemfontein genealogist, Johan Pottas, has helped countless South Africans trace their histories which, for the most part, are of interest only to themselves.
I have a reasonable interest in my own family background, but it doesn’t go much further into the past than great-grandparents, unlike my Pretoria cousin Robert Scott who, in his retirement, has become a fanatical researcher into our ancestry and is mystified as to what happened to an alleged family fortune made by the blanket-manufacturing Earlys – our paternal grandmother’s maiden name.
Then last week I got an e-mail from Dawn Handy in Somerset, England, who seems convinced I’m related to her mother, born Stella Scott, who grew up in Woodstock, Cape Town.
Dawn tracked me down after I wrote a column in April about the teenage son of Gerry and Liza Dalton, who was severely bullied in Irish schools because of his South African accent.
Liza and Dawn were school friends in Cape Town before they emigrated respectively to Ireland and England.
Dawn, having studied the photograph that accompanies my on-line blog, insists I bear “more than a passing resemblence” to the menfolk in her family.
In her first of several e-mails she wrote: “My family have a very distinctive nose – and you appear to have it. I hope that statement doesn’t offend you.”
Well, naturally it didn’t offend me, in the same way I wasn’t offended when I stood for Parliament as a Prog candidate and a woman phoned the party office to say she didn’t intend voting for me because my election posters showed I had “a sensual lower lip”.
It could have been worse. I could have had a hunchback.
Anyway, I wrote back to say we could not be the same family branch, because her mother’s Scotts had lived in Belfast for hundreds of years whereas my father’s Scotts came from Newcastle-on-Tyne, which my grandfather, Robert Henry Scott, had left as a member of the Northumberland Fusiliers to fight the Boers and subsequently became a fitter-and-turner at the Salt River railway works.
Dawn Handy was not easily dissuaded. Newcastle, she replied, was a possibility and I had given her a clue to focus on it. The clue, apparently, was my “rather uncanny physical resemblence” to the Scotts in her family.
“Re the nose,” she consoled me, “it wasn’t an insult at all. It’s a really lovely nose.”
That was a relief. I’ll study it more closely next time I look in the mirror.
It turns out that Dawn and her English husband, Nicholas (whose family she has traced back to the 1640s) celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary on April 5 – my father Kenneth Henry Scott’s birthday.