John Boles is my 3rd great granduncle. He is the younger brother of my 3rd great grandmother Catherine Boles. John, his wife Christina, and his 7 living children who were all born in Scotland, just up and disappeared in 1890.
In 2014, a serendipitous connection with a kind stranger from Scotland, led me to an immigration record for all 7 Boles children traveling to Natal, South Africa without their parents.
Then there were the 3 marriage records for Elizabeth, Christina, & Helen Boles. All 3 marriages took place in Natal, South Africa. Helen’s 1906 marriage record stated that she had the permission of her parents to marry.
This was the first clue that indicated John & Christina Montgomery Boles might have also gone to South Africa.
I scoured FamilySearch and Ancestry looking for any record collection that might help me build on what I knew but I couldn’t find anything. The collections were sparse and had very limited time frames. I did some basic googling with no great results so I did what we all do at times, I set the John & Christina Boles family aside.
Fast forward to sometime last year, when I revisited this part of my tree. I was committed to adding something to this story. So I dove into some google searching to see what record collections exist for Natal, South Africa. The National Archives for South Africa led me to a bunch of potentially helpful records. The only problem was that they look like this:
I wasn’t entirely sure where I could go next based on this data. So I went to my good friend, the FamilySearch wiki. But. I went to it through google. The wiki itself has a terrible search algorithm so it’s best to use google as your entry point. I found myself on a page entitled “South Africa Natal Death Notices“.
Close to the bottom of that screenshot you can see the section “Microfilmed records at the Family History Library”. This link takes you to a catalog entry on FamilySearch.org for microfilms containing Estate Files for Pietermartizburg (Natal). The collection includes 419 microfilm reels organized by year and file number.
This discovery got me pretty excited so I searched the National Archives of SA website as thoroughly as I could to identify as many potential estate files for John, Christina, their children, and the 3 sons-in-law that I knew of. I had quite a list. I compared it to the FS Catalog entry to identify microfilm numbers. My list of microfilms was growing.
My big question was this – What exactly will I find in those Estate Files?
When I go to BYU for research, I can order two microfilms from the FHL in Salt Lake City for free, every two weeks. No more. I was trying to decide how much of my precious research time to dedicate to this family. Which films should I order?
While pondering on this set of questions, I discovered that there is a 5 year window of estate records available on FamilySearch in a browse only collection for Transvaal. I checked this against my list and discovered one candidate: William Wise, husband of Christina Boles.
Hooray! This meant I could view an estate file from home to get a sense of what this record type, for this location might tell me. This was just what I wanted.
Because finding this particular record took several steps, I will outline those steps in detail.
The first step was finding William’s file number on the National Archives of SA website.
I was looking for file number 3681 in the year 1959.
It was time to take that information over to FamilySearch. I went to the main “Search” menu on FamilySearch and got myself to the South Africa landing page that looks like this.
Then I scrolled down to the bottom to find the browse collections. These are collections that only have images with no index. You search them like a digital microfilm.
Then I selected the Transvaal Estate Files.
From here, I clicked on “Browse through 191,580 images“.
Then I selected the appropriate year of 1959.
That led me to a screen filled with file number ranges. My file number was further down the page so I scrolled down.
I am looking for file number 3681 which falls into the very last number range of 3660-3736. I clicked that range.
Now I am essentially looking at digital microfilm. You can see that first image has a large stamped code of “3660/59”. I am looking for 3681 which is only 21 files later. I left this page on the “thumbnail” view and scrolled down until I could see the first page of file 3681.
There is my file on the third row, far left. I can now click on the thumbnail to view the first image of my file. Then I click the little arrow in the black menu bar to arrow through the file. What I discovered was a 5 page estate file. Page one is the cover sheet. Page two is the death notice. Pages three and four are William and Christina’s will. Page five is “Acceptance as Trust of Executor”.
Just to give you a little taste, here is the death notice for William.
From this record I learned so much new information! I added a birthplace in Scotland of Trenent, age at death in years and months (which helped me narrow down a time frame for birth), address at time of death, date and place of death, and the names of William and Christina’s 3 children (including their daughter’s married last name).
Finding this file got me really excited to see John and Christina’s Estate Files. I moved those microfilm right to the top of my BYU list. On my next visit I ordered both microfilm and hoped for the best!
Was I finally going to learn when and why John Boles went to South Africa?
…to be continued…
8 thoughts on “Unraveling the John Boles Mystery – Part Two”
I loved reading this post, and I really like that you have explained in detail how you got to the actual records on familysearch. Its so easy to get lost on the way! I recently discovered all kinds of brilliant new ways to search the freebmd website but I can’t put any of it in to words to explain to other people. Maybe now I will have another go! Thank you 😊
Thank you Em! I hope you do write about your tips for using the freebmd. I have just started really digging into a small sliver of my tree in England and have lots to learn. 🙂
A great post–I also really appreciate how you described each step and provided screen shots. I just wish there were index cards for some of the databases I need to search!
Thank you Amy. I feel your pain! But new stuff is being digitized all of the time, maybe what you need is right around the corner. 🙂
I hope so! Thank you.
Great detective work! It’s a wonderful feeling when we go back and discover more records in our area of research are available – even if we have to browse for them! This post would make a great example for those who think everything is available through those shaking leaves on Ancestry. I love it, but it’s by no means the be all and end all for genealogy research. Thanks for sharing!!
Thank you! And thanks for stopping by! I am pretty hardcore and love microfilm time. It’s funny to me when I hear a relatively new hobby genealogist make a comment about not finding something online so it must not exist. Depending on my mood I have to either suppress a giggle, a sigh, or a full on eye-roll. 😉