Prompted by my cousin, who has started a family album for her children and grandchildren, I’ve started to dabble in researching my family history. The results have made me realise that family history is anything but boring! As I’m a South African, my ancestors were immigrants to the country. Some of them dating back to the 1600s. They worked on or owned a wine farm in the Cape, and the story is told in the family of how my great, great, great grandmother’s life and her daughter’s life was saved by a servant who warned her that the natives were about to attack the farm. With his help, they hid and that night, helped by the servant and her daughter and while the farm was being ransacked and burnt, she gave birth to another child. Nothing more is known about the child or the mother.
My maternal grandmother’s story is interesting. Her mother died when she was born, and her grandmother, Granny Sangerhaus, took her and brought her up. It would seem, however, that she hid the child from her father, even moving away from the area. We don’t really know why, but we do know that her grandmother was of German origin, and her father was a British soldier with the surname Coe. Granny only met her father when she was an adult, apparently recognising his name in a newspaper advertisement.
At the age of about eighteen, she met my grandfather and the two of them decided to get married. Her grandmother didn’t approve of the liaison, however, so the lovers eloped and married without consent. Granny Sangerhaus had good reason for her disapproval – my grandfather was a widow with three children. Nevertheless, he and Granny had a long and relatively happy life together. Oupa loved cars, and Granny often told us how he used to cash in his pension money every year or so to buy a new car. Every time they went on holiday to the coast, they would travel at a snail’s pace because he would be running in a new car! She always laughed when she told us the story.
They also had their share of deep sadness. Their only son and a cousin were drowned when they went swimming in a river or a water hole one day. Many years later, their eldest daughter took her own life and those of her two little girls, when she felt trapped in an abusive marriage. Strangely, she did not take her son, who grew up with his father and later emigrated to Australia. These sad events might have crushed anyone’s spirit, but my Granny came to terms with them in her own way and remained a warm, loving person to the end.
Sadly, there was still greater hurt to come for my granny. Oupa was diagnosed with cancer, and in a state of deep depression, he took his own life. After his death, granny discovered that in an attempt to provide for her future, he had given the house to her daughter and son-in-law, and she lived with them until she moved to a retirement home many years later.
At that point in her life, Granny had never driven a car. She must have been at least in her late fifties or sixties. Oupa had recently bought a little volkswagen beetle. I remember that it was red. When someone said that they assumed she would sell the car, she replied that she wouldn’t – she would get her licence and use it. And use it, she did! For many years she would travel around the country visiting her children and grandchildren in her little red beetle. Picture her, a white-haired little old lady with her hair in a bun on top of her head, tootling along the highways and country roads in her little red beetle. I salute you, Granny!
So, what’s in your family history? Do you have a novel hidden in there? Tell us about your stories.