1.1 James McCarthy

In search of my Great Great Grandfather James Mc Carthy

Where do you begin, buried in the grey mist of the past, forgotten and never diarised, the only thing I knew when I started, he was some brave Irish lad that through famine or driven by religious dispute gave up his green isle in search of a new beginning.

Its now 149 years later, 18 January 2005, it’s a peaceful night in Richardsbay, my family is asleep, not knowing of the struggle of an Irish lad.

You meet special people in your life, Basie Haasbroek is such a man, friend for years, financial consultant, Hendrik start with geneology, he nagged me for 4 years and eventually won and lit the fire that would start and spark a search to try and research my family geneology.

Amazing how little we know, I am 47 and when my parents lived I never asked about my family.

Hendrik, try the search engines on the internet, Naars is an excellent site, great advise from Basie, like a little boy you jump in, soon to come to a grinding halt, no James Mc Carthy that fit the bill. No progress, I even started a little genealogy group in Richardsbay, to my amazement Basie introduced me to great names in genealogy in South Africa: Eileen Russel and Gerda Pieterse, they both live in Richardsbay. With a wealth of knowledge and patience they have shown me the way, taught me patience.

I was advised to start with my living family; get all the existing knowledge you can and built onto that. I was told to join e-mail discussion groups on the internet, even that didn’t help, but let’s not despair. Oupa James for that matter might not even have existed, I didn’t even know if it is his real name, according to living relatives his name was James.

I joined the English genealogy forum; I posted an e-mail requesting whether anybody was doing research on the McCarthy’s. No response.

A few weeks later I got an e-mail from a Scottish lady Sandra Gurney with a document attached. This was my first real clue.

–      Document 1 did not mean a lot at this stage, till I critically looked at document 2, Hercules Jacobus was my fathers grandfather.(marked in red)

–       Eureka for the first time I knew for certain, my brave Irish great grandfather was James. Now I knew that his wife was a Du Preez lass. To my astonishment, looking at her father I knew where the name Hercules Jacobus came from, My dad is Hercules Jacobus and I have named my oldest child after him. I could never understand how the name Hercules Jacobus could fit in with the Irish. Hercules Jacobus came from the Du Preez family (French origin), another little piece fell in place, and I also got the names of their children.

Document 1:

1.  Hercules Jacobus DU PREEZ.

He was married to Margaretha Isabella VAN ZYL.  Hercules Jacobus DU PREEZ and Margaretha Isabella VAN ZYL had the following children:

+2                i.   Katrina Magdalena DU PREEZ.

Katrina Magdalena DU PREEZ was born in 1841 in Humansdorp.  She died on 16 Feb 1902 in Vryburg.  She Cape estate ref. 1647.1

– 4 F Catharina Magdalena DU PREEZ

Birth: 17 Jan 1840    Riversdal

Death: 16 Feb 1902    Vryburg, KP.

Spouse: James MCCARTHY(m 18 Jul 1866)  She was married to James MCCARTHY on 18 Jul 1866 in Humansdorp.  Katrina Magdalena DU PREEZ and James MCCARTHY had the following children:

+3                i.   Margaretha Isabella MCCARTHY.

4                ii.   Johan Jeremias MCCARTHY was born on 12 Jul 1868.  He was christened on 27 Sep 1868 in

Humansdorp.  He has Ancestral File number b2.

5               iii.   Hercules Jacobus MCCARTHY was born on 28 Mar 1870.  He was christened on 12 Jun 1870 in

Humansdorp.  He has Ancestral File number b3.

6               iv.   Daniel Christoffel Benjamin MCCARTHY was born on 1 Feb 1872.  He was christened on 3 Mar 1872

in Humansdorp.  He has Ancestral File number b4.

7               v.   Theunis Cornelis MCCARTHY

Document 2:

1.  Herculaas Jacobus MCCARTHY.

Susanna Cecilia Stoffelina Elizabeth TERBLANCHE(daughter of Daniel Johannes Phillipus TERBLANCHE and Hester Jacoba PITTO) was born in Feb 1878 in Fauresmith.  She died on 29 May 1909 in Marico.  She Gauteng estate ref. 14093.1  Herculaas Jacobus MCCARTHY and Susanna Cecilia Stoffelina Elizabeth TERBLANCHE had the following children:

2                i.   James Daniel Christoffel Benjamin MCCARTHY was born on 2 May 1899.

+3                ii.   Daniel Johannes Jacobus Philippus MCCARTHY.

4               iii.   Herculas Jacobus Johannes MCCARTHY was born on 18 Mar 1904.

5               iv.   HendrikGert Ramsbottom MCCARTHY was born on 14 Apr 1907.

6               v.   Hester Catharina Jacoba MCCARTHY was born on 14 Aug 1908.

NB: Take note 1.5 is my Grandfather, interesting phenomena in this document, the third name should be Rautenbach, but here it is shown as Ramsbottom. I found a wealth of information in two small documents.

Two years have gone by, I searched through all of the South African sites, and I was so excited, but got nowhere.  In this period Basie relocated to Cape Town, a few months later he was visiting doing business in the Richardsbay area. Basie I am stuck, this is going nowhere.

Hendrik I have been doing research for 20 years, what are you moaning about. When using the search enjin on Naairs spell the surnames you are looking for, purposefully incorrect. One night spelling my surname “Maccarte” incorrectly, I struck gold. I found a reference on Naairs in the Freestate. Not knowing what to do, I discussed this with Gerda Pieterse. She referred me to Fritz Fourie in the Freestate. I wrote to him and he kindly transcribed the death certificate for me. This was my first break through. It was the first physical proof of my great grandfather’s existence.

  Thanks to some of the amazing people in genealogy, Fritz, Basie and Gerda I found the first facts on paper that Oupa James existed.

Frits copied the death certificate for me, a handwritten copy. A Year later I was fortunate enough to visit the Church of Latter Day Saints in Parktown Johannesburg, here I found an original copy of his death certificate.

The facts I got from his death certificate:

–      He was born in 1835 somewhere in Ireland(Calculated using the dates on the death certificate)

–      His father’s name was also James.

–      His mother name can’t be identified on the death certificate.

–      He died on 30 April 1881 at the age of 46 on the farm Waterval, district Ladybrand.

–      He was a farmer

–      His wifes name is Katrina Magdalena Du Preez.

–      The value of his estate was: 46 pound 10 sjielings

–      The names of his children(all minors) were:

  • Margaretha Elizabeth
  • Hercules Jacobus
  • Daniel Christoffel Benjamin
  • Theunis Cornelis
  • Johanna Catharina
  • Catharina Jacoba
  • Embrenicia(not readable) Cornelia
  • Four of their children were born in Humansdorp.

In January 2006 I visited Humansdorp while on holiday. Maybe I could find some information about James and his wife here. Document 1 indicated that they got married in Humansdorp.

I enjoyed the town, and found the people very helpful and kind. Where to start, I initially tried the museum in town. It has old newspapers and a display of old furniture and implements used in the late 1800.This search was to no avail.

Next stop was to try the churches, asking around; I found that the oldest church in town was the Dutch reformed church. To my dissapointment, I had to wait till the office opened in the new year. What an experience, I was given the old church registers to read through. All the christenings from 1845 were there.

I found my great grand mother Catharina Magdalena du Preez christening. She was christened in 1857 in Humansdorp on the 4 th of April. She was 15 years old when she was christened.  Calculating from this evidence, she was 24 years old when she got married on the 18 July 1866 in Humansdorp. According to document 1, three children are given as born in Humansdorp with the latest date known as 1872. Unfortunately I could not find their christenings. Using the current evidence I must deduct that James relocated to the Freestate after 1872. They stayed in the Ladybrand area on the farm Waterval.

Its six months later, 5 June 2006, life is stranger then fiction. A friend of mine Les Austin retired due to ill health. He gave me a call a while ago, Hendrik I have a midweek holiday week at Golden Gate, are you interested? Caught off guard I didn’t really know if I am interested. My wife is a teacher and it’s difficult for her to take off out of season. I had a look on a map then realized, but this is close to Ladybrand where my great grandfather lived and died. It took some gentle persuasion and begging.

We left late on the 5 th of June and arrived late the night at Kiara lodge after a six hours drive. The lodge is two kilometers past the Golden Gate reserve. My perception of the Freestate is that of typical highveld grassland. What splendor unfolds the next morning? Kiara is situated in the mountains. The Tuesday started with an artist’s play of violets and blues, as the sun touched the mountain tops it changed to crimsons and reds. The Dolerite Mountains are like a chameleon changing and adapting to early morning sunshine, what breathtaking beauty. We enjoyed every moment.

I wowed the family and spent time with them. We spent most of our time in Clarence a colourful town now heisted by artists. On the Wednesday we drove to Bethlehem. My son was battling with hay fever and the closest chemist was in Bethlehem thirty five kilometers’ from Clarence. How amazing, asking around I were told there is a museum in town, lets have a look, it’s a small little museum with an astonishing array of physical displays, photos and curios covering the history of Bethlehem and lots of material on the Anglo Boer War.

We wandered through and finally just before leaving, My eye caught a little booklet on the Boer war. I flipped through it with no specific interest and lo and behold, my eye caught the surname McCarthy. It was one of the sons of my great grandfather that died in the Boer war. I had no facts on him, and here another little clue fell in place. According to my calculations Daniel died at the age of 28 years at Kromspruit in the Boer war, date of death given 22/09/1900. Daniel was born on 1 Feb 1872 in Humansdorp, Daniel fought under Commandant A.M. Prinsloo. Slowly the jigsaw puzzle pieces are coming together. The chance visit to Betlehem paid off; here I had another little glimpse in the life of one of my family members.

The rest of the day we spent in Clarence enjoying the little shops and art. Thursday I allocated to find the farm that my great grandfather James lived and died on. I invited my wife and son with, but they don’t share my burning passion to find my ancestors history, I left early. Finally I drove into Ladybrand, I only had a day. I programmed myself to first start with the easy possible sources of information. I would do my excursion to the farm if I locate it, in the afternoon. I asked around and located the Methodist church, a beautiful little church in the centre of town, nobody around.

Next stop the municipality, the technical department referred me to the administration officer a Lady called Dianne, what a helpful lady. I tried the graveyard register. She brought an old book, my heart pounded, and yes a McCarthy inscription. Sadly the names did not tie in. After explaining that he might be buried on the farm where he stayed, she told me that no registers existed for cemeteries on farms.  She introduced me to the town clerk. To my astonishment he could remember a farm Waterval, and it belongs to an attorney from Bloemfontein. A beautiful farm but desolate, nobody stays there apart from a foreman looking after the farm. Its roughly 30 km, he drew me a map. he told me that it was more then 2 years since he had been there.

Afterwards Dianne took me to the graveyard, a disappointment. We found the grave, but it had no headstone. Dianne also prompted me to visit old Oom Joubert a senior burger of Ladybrand, He knew the history of Ladybrand well. She also directed me to the scribe of the Methodist church. After this I rushed to the Dutch reformed church, and was welcomed with the same hospitality as experienced at the borough. The scribe new immediately that he couldn’t help me, al their old records have been sent to the archive at Bloemfontein. Kindly he offered me a book on the history of their church, he hope that would help. Some members of the congregation were busy baking cookies for a bazaar. I was handed a packet as a gesture of their kindness and hospitality. What a beautiful church, built of sandstone, but it was inaugurated after the death of my great grandfather. The verger of the church then showed me the original church. It is used as a pizza shop currently. To think that my great grandfather must have attended some church services in this little church.

Then I stopped at the old age home and chatted to Oom Joubert, he was a farmer and new the history of Ladybrand well. Again a dead end, but I got some wonderful articles written by him. I made photocopies at the MTN shop. After this I wanted to savor in the moment, the feel of Ladybrand. I wanted to lift the 125 years veil hiding the life and death of James McCarthy. The rustic scenery added to my mood, I had a countryside breakfast.My last stop was to visit the scribe of the Methodist church, a grey haired lady who welcomed me into her house. I was escorted into the house by a friendly little pug. I told my story. Regrettably she couldn’t help me. All their records were kept at Modderfontein with the priest. She would obtain them and see if she could find anything on the McCarthy’s.

It was time to drive to the farm, I took the road to Maseru, the first turn off was Marseilles, 15 km`s out of Ladybrand I found the turn off. It took me past a small little post office. Oom Joubert told me to take a photo of some tiles on the post office wall, it showed a scene from the Anglo Boer War. I followed the dirt road for 5 kilometers, past a closed shop, another turn and eventually, a strange feeling came over me.To think I am going to walk on the same ground then my great grandfather did, the little hand painted board read Waterval. 

My time was running out, it was already 13h30; I walked on the farm, no people in sight. I had to get somebody, finally I saw a little house hidden amongst some trees. I found the foreman. He was the only soul on the farm.

The farm now belongs to an attorney staying in Bloemfontein. “George do you know of any graves on the farm” He told me he will go and show me. We rushed of and walk and walked, I quickly realized how unfit I am. The graves were located high up in the mountains;
there were many, hidden in the undergrowth, varying in states of appearance. 

My heart was pounding; maybe today I will find the grave of James McCarthy. To my astonishment there were many graves, at least twenty, some unreadable. Many were graves of the family Nel. Unfortunately after checking all the graves, none was Jame`s grave, although some were not readable.

The foreman showed me the ruins of some of the old houses on the farm To think James might have stayed in one of them. The one was clearly marked 1913. My great great grandfather might have stayed in one of these houses. James must have stayed on this farm in the years 1865 – 1881. I drove away from a beautiful moment in time June 2006 and my mind wandered back 125 years ago, when James stayed on this beautiful farm with lots of water and the impressive mountain ridges, like me the smell of dry grass, the sound of birds and call of the cows herding together in the late afternoon must have made him want to stay here.

In the late afternoon sun I drove into Ladybrand, it was time to go home to my family in Clarence.

On a visit to my brother in law Zack van den Berg in Fochville, I took a trip to the church of latter day saints in Parktown, Johannesburg. This paid off, I found Katrina Magdalena`s death certificate.  She died on the 16 December1902 a widow in Vryburg on the farm England. I could establish the following:

–      She wasn’t married

–      She relocated to Vryburg.

–      Children’s names:

  • Margaretha Isabella
  • Hercules Jacobus
  • Theunis Cornelis
  • Johanna Katrina
  • Katrina Jacoba
  • Emily Cornelia
  • Margaret Marian Richards(later established not a child of James)

–      She was 61 years and ten months old when she passed away on the farm England, district Vyburg.

It’s the 13 of March 2008. A long time has passed and I had no luck in finding any additional information on James. I started looking critically at all my old information. I saw the reference to the estate of Catharina McCarthy.   I found a contact in the Cape archives. (Cape estate ref 1647) He faxed the transcribed estate documents to me. Another piece of the history fell in place. This is discussed in detail in Catharina’s document. I also found James`s estate documents. Cab C292. James left:

–      46 Pounds 10 Shillings in total

–      His wife inherited half of the estate 20 pound 10 shillings

–      His children each received 2 pound and 18 shillings

My wife and I decided to go to the Cape for our annual holiday. It’s December 2008. We stayed in Somerset Wes. I used 2 days for genealogical research. I tried the Cape archives and found a possible lead. It’s a death certificate for a James McCaffry who possible could be the father of my great grandfather. The age listed for his son James ties in. This James was a British Soldier from Ireland. My challenge will be to link the two together. My next day for research was spent in Stellenbosch. What a beautiful town with so much character.I went to GIZA on recommendation of Basie Haasbroek and met Leon. He explained the ropes to me and I started my search on the micro films. What an amazing day. I found four of James’s children’s baptismal records on film. They were all of the Dutch reformed church baptismal records of Humansdorp. This proved that the list of children on James’s death certificate was incorrect. His oldest child was not Johan but Margaretha Elizabeth. I could now establish the correct sequence for his children:

– Margaretha Isabella MCCARTHY born 17 July 1866.

– Johan Jeremias MCCARTHY was born on 12 Jul 1868.  He was christened on 27 September 1868 in Humansdorp.

Hercules Jacobus MCCARTHYwas born on 28 Mar 1870.  He was christened on 12 June 1870 in Humansdorp.

– Daniel Christoffel Benjamin MCCARTHY was born on 1 Feb 1872.  He was christened on 3 March 1872 in Humansdorp.

Next I tried the records of marriage certificates for Humansdorp. Refer to document 4. Here I struck gold. I could not believe it. I found the marriage certificate for James dated 1866.

I could not believe it.I could now verify the following:

–  Date of marriage

–  He was a Mason by trade

–   Married in Humansdorp 1866

I then frantically tried to find marriage certificates for his children, no luck. I then tried Lindley and again was amazed to find the marriage certificate for his son Hercules (my father’s grandfather).From knowing nothing of my ancestors to unraveling all the information found.

Some questions remain and will keep me searching:

-When and where did James set foot in South Africa?

-From what county in Ireland did he come?

-Where is he buried in South Africa?

-When did he come?

I again must pay tribute to all my wonderful friends Gerda Pieterse, Basie Haasbroek, Eileen Russel, Tinkie de Lang and the great people doing genealogy Frits Fourie, Sandra Gurney and Thys du Preez for their contributions.

Historical Summary:
  • 1807 – Hercules Jacobus DU PREEZ (Katrinas Father) born 1 April 1807 in Tulbagh
  • 1816 – (1) Margaretha Isabella VAN ZYL (Katrinas mother) born.
  • 1833 – HJ du Preez got married to Margaretha Isabella VAN ZYL On the 18 Aug 1833 in George 1
  • 1840 – (2) Katrina Magdalena born on the 17 January 1840 in Riversdal
  • 1865 – Economic depression in South Africa 1865 -1866.
  • 1866 – Katrina married to James McCarthy on 18 July 1866 in Humansdorp
  • 1866 – (3) Margaretha Isabella MCCARTHY born 17 July 1866
  • 1868 – (3) Johan Jeremias MCCARTHY was born on 12 Jul 1868. He was christened on 27 Sep 1868 in Humansdorp
  • 1870 – (3) Hercules Jacobus MCCARTHY was born on 28 Mar 1870. He was christened on 12 Jun 1870 in Humansdorp.
  • 1872 – (3) Daniel Christoffel Benjamin MCCARTHY was born on 1 Feb 1872. He was christened on 3 Mar 1872 in Humansdorp
  • – Katrina`s father HJ du Preez died on the 22 Nov 1872 at Donkerpoort, Winburg, Freestate
  • 1880 – First Anglo Boer War 16 December 1880 – 23 March 1881
  • 1881 – 30 April 1881 James McCarthy died at the age of 46 on the farm Waterval, Ladybrand


  1. Sandra

    1. Sandra says (25.06.2012 at 4:56 am):
    Interesting Story, Did you find James where he came from in Ireland.?
    My gg grandfatherJames County m Catherine Mc Carthy 26/1/1860 ( My gg parents ) who married in Adelaide South Australia 1860 ?however we cannot find any trace of
    either James or Catherine coming to Australia !!!nor their parents
    this seems to be the problem we know that the came from Thurles area Tipperary Ireland and they were Roman Catholics and settled in Chilwell Geelong,Victoria Australia
    James County’s Parents were Michael County ? married Antice/Anastasia Manton cannot find them either. Catherine Parents were James McCarthy who married Mary Ryan
    all from Ireland.
    There are too many James McCarthy’s …… been researching for 35 years plus….
    Kind regards
    Sandra nee County

  2. theunis

    hi,do not even know were to start with all this.i totally confused .all i know for sure is my names and father names.theunis cornelis mc carthey. my father was adopted and boyens was added as last name.they lived in heidelberg/germiston transvaal.from fam i have learned there were two brothers james mc carthey and tjoep. tjoep worked as a station master or something were he had an affair with my fathers mother and one more long story.any info will be great help as i just started.

  3. charlton Mccarthy

    hi- I was born in Vryburg (now 41 years of age) and most of my family originated from the Vryburg area according to what I was told. the farm England (now New England) is still there, although I have never had the opportunity to visit. there are still some of the McCarthy’s who own farms in the Vryburg area. I lived in Port Elizabeth for quite some time. my wife once questioned why I have such a strong urge to purchase property in humansdorp while we could do same in jeffreysbay (could not explain it to her). just something that kept calling me.

    I think you will find a great deal of information at the Catholic church at Vryburg. the Father was of Irish origin according to what I was told, but he was transferred to Kimberley somewhere in the late 1990’s. he had a great deal of knowledge of the McCarthy’s in the area, thus he apparently insisted on my second name; Shamus (the Gaelic spelling of James).
    I unfortunately do not have knowledge on the branch of family which originated from the farm, but an uncle (Douglas Du Plessis) of mine is still on the clergy of the Catholic church.

    hope this was of assistance.

    Charlton Shamus McCarthy
    son of Joey Johannes McCarthy
    and grandson of Johannes McCarthy

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