The missing years fall away

If the younger Joseph Edelman had been born in Oudtshoorn in 1887, then I could now reasonably assume that my grandfather – aged 11 – was  also living there at that time.

I had hoped that the estate file for Barney – bachelor, resident of Pietersburg, hotel employee and brother to Joseph – would at least consolidate evidence of my grandfather’s early connection with South Africa.


And it did.

Barney’s parents are clearly identified as Harris and Sarah Edelman.  I could now account for seven of their nine children: Barney, John Albert, Reuben, Maximilian, Isidore and, of course, the two Josephs.

The death notice is signed by his brother, Max who, it would seem, had at some point after 1911 returned from Edinburgh to make a life in South Africa.

The death notice also suggests that Barney is the Mr Edelman who lived in the Northern Transvaal town of Soekmekaar.  Why Barney – “the sole Jewish inhabitant of a nearby place (Soekmekaar)” according to a local rabbi – chose to end his days in this undistinguished place, is something one can only wonder about.

Almost twenty years after his death, an attack on the local police station would lift this town out of obscurity.  While no-one was killed, the three men who committed this offence were given the death penalty in 1980.  A sentence that two years later would be commuted to life imprisonment.

Like the younger Joseph, Barney was born in Oudtshoorn.  Having regard to his age – 80 years and six months – he is likely to have been born in September, 1881.


The abridged death certificate confirms this: Barney, the second son of Harris and Sarah Edelman, was born on 11 September 1881.

Exactly 120 years later, four acts of terrorism in New York City and Washington D.C. would rock the global community to its core.

Barney’s date and place of birth suggest that Harris Edelman may have left England for South Africa later than I’d previously thought, that is, sometime during the first quarter of 1881 rather than two to three years before.

More importantly, this event suggests a very strong likelihood that my grandfather – a boy of five at the time – was living in South Africa as early as September 1881.

Thus sometime between 3 April 1881 – the date of the English Census – and 11 September, 1881, Sarah Edelman and her two older sons, Harris Saltman and Joseph Edelman, would have left Liverpool for a new life in South Africa.

If it had taken me a while to find Barney, then the wait had been worth it.  The circumstances of his life had helped reduce the missing years in my grandfather’s movements between England and South Africa to a matter of months. Or 131 days, to be precise.

It had taken me over 15 years to reach that point.

I felt satisfied.


6 thoughts on “The missing years fall away

    • Thanks Catherine. There have been fallow periods along the way, but I think that there is a time for everything to happen and it wasn’t until fairly recently that things aligned to make this particular discovery possible.

  1. Thanks Jacqui. I do seem to have come a fair way in the last six months and I’m still forming new contacts in SA to help me with other research. We can talk about Soekmekaar later in the year. Could be fun.

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