Category Archives: Family history


Howard Thomas Family Tree

This file contains the whole tree going back nearly 70 generations, but detailing only the direct maternal and paternal lines

Howard Thomas tree Direct line only

The following file includes the lines of the uncles and aunts as well

Howard Thomas tree lines of uncles and aunts

I’ve become quite practised at researching and making up a family tree. Specialist software is essential. But I wanted to know where I came from; did I have any identity to get to feel?
It’s taken a long time, probably two to three hours a week over three years. Not much cost, as most of it is published already on the Internet.
But the results are here in the attached document. In short, I’ve traced back 70 generations to about 100 BCE.
That’s why there are so many illustrious people on the tree. Like Mark Anthony, Vercengetorix, Boudicca, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror. There are also pretty ugly people like Olga of Kiev.
But just think about basic arithmetic. You have two parents and 4 grandparents, and 8 great grandparents.
In 70 generations I have 70 X 2 to the power of 69. This comes to: 2 361 183 241 434 822 606 848, which is 2361 billion billion ancestors. In just the last 100 years, I have 30 ancestors. In the last 200 hundred years, there have been 1022. In the last 300 years, it’s a monstrous 524 286.
I’m not sure what the chances are of being descended from Mark Anthony (83 BCE to 30 BCE), who is 66 generations ago, but a genealogist friend of mine says that there are probably 40-million people alive today who are descended from Cleopatra’s lover.
So it’s no big deal. What is interesting is that it’s a chance of fate. This wormhole into European royalty is due to a little Huguenot girl who married a coloured boy on 10 December 1690.

Genealogy is quite simple these days. Most material is on the web. But you do need software, otherwise, you cannot handle the data. I use MyHeritage which is terribly costly, but worth it if you are going to take it seriously. I suggest you put your heart into it, subscribe to the software for two years, and then save all the data as a .ged file. You can use “The Complete Genealogy Reporter to read your .ged file. It is reasonably priced, and you can make charts for anyone within your file.

It’s fun, elucidating, and you get a  kick out of playing “detective”.

Diana the slave

Diana van den Kaap

Diana van Madagascar was a slave in Cape Town, owned by Cornelis Pieterz Linnes. She was originally purchased from the Dutch East India Company, which was the chartered company that owned the Cape of Good Hope, on 5th May 1686 for 48 Rixdaalers. She was about 22 years old at the time. She would have been sold to the company by traders in Madagascar who were either Arabs, or possibly her own family. In some parts of the world, selling off your neighbours for money was akin to going to the pawnshop.

In Cape Town she was owned by William Deeron, who sold her on 5 May 1686 for 48 Rixdaalers to Johann Heinrich Vlok. It seems Linnes bought her shortly after, as she gave birth to a daughter, Susanna on 23 February 1687. The father was, undisputedly, Dietleff Biebouw, and near neighbour of Linnes.

It’s certain that Biebouw took Susannah as his own, as we cannot find evidence that Diana was baptised, which was the only way a marriage could be legalised at the Cape.

So how did the 18 year old orphan from Rotterdam Willemyntje Ariens de Witt feel about Susannah and Diana, when she married Biebouw in December 1688? We will never know, but Willemyntje did take on Susannah, and brought her up well. For on 13 September 1711, Susannah proudly Willem Odendaal, thereby becoming the ‘stam moeder’ (family first mother) of the Odendaal family.

Willemynjie was the half sister of my 9th generation grandmother. This makes me related to Diana van Madagascar.

I am however also a direct descendent of other slaves: Pandoor van Guinea and her husband Abraham van Guinea; Catharina van Bengale (born in 1631 in Palicutta, India); their daughter Lijsbeth Fion van de Kaap; Louis van Bengale who married Lijsbeth.

Catharina also had children by Pieter Everaertz and Hans Snyman. Catharina and Hans’ daughter, Anna married well with Lourens van Ahrendsdorf, and indirect ancestor.

There was Christina van de Kaap (origin unknown but born at the Cape in 1664), who married the Dutchman Andries Pieterz. Then not to mention Maria van der Horst, the daughter of a Hottentot, and therefore officially a ‘Baster’.

Jan van Riebeeck’s servant and translator Krotoa of the Gorinhailkona (blue-blooded Hottentot, whom Van Riebeeck called Eva) is an ancestor, as is Maria van Riebeeck’s washerwoman, the Catharina (Katryn) van Bengale, whom we have already met.

They all worked at the original castle in Cape Town, a mud fort where the Cape Town Post Office now stands.

I use the name Hottentot, despite current fashion that regards it as pejorative, as the people that the Dutch came to name Hottentots had no collective name. They used the name of their family, and the common PC name “Khoi” was only their word for “people”. So what the hell? Doesn’t make them any less of a very exciting people – especially Eva’s evil uncle Doman – but that’s another story.

“Hottentot” came into use, and the Hottentot clicky pronunciation was a total mystery to the Dutch, who thought they were stammerer. They thus called them the stammerers, or in Dutch “Hut-en-Tut”.

This is all very important to me. It makes me feel really South African. As I get closer to them, and the fading documents of the past, come to life – and the more I get to know of them, the more I become them. It makes me feel very African, where the roots of my tree are more alive than the leaves.

I feel that coursing through my veins is blood that comes from people who over the 400 odd years have reached across the length and breadth of South African history. Cattle rustlers who became Voortrekkers; English who hated Dutchmen and vice versa. Old women who died in concentration camps in the Boer War. Huguenots; and slaves from all over the east, and Portuguese has-been navigators. Xhosa who stole cattle from each other and the Dutch settlers, almost always in partnership with other Dutch settlers.

America does not a world-wide monopoly on the “Wild West”.

Somehow I even met the 200th anniversary of being the first white Van Rooyen to marry a Xhosa woman. In the 150 years before then, marrying blacks was not only recommended, but at times, it seems compulsory. I know that at least one ancestor was a prostitute, which gives me the freedom and pride to say that my occupation is “anything for money”.

But as I finish this, I must go and wash the dishes while my family watch E! Entertainment on satellite.

I will be up to my elbows in soap suds, dutifully carrying on another proud family tradition – slavery.