Volunteers at the Heemkring are currently working on what will possibly become one of the Heemkring’s single largest collections of personal documents. The documents – personal and business letters, invoices, reports – all belonged to Diederik Johannes van Niekerk, and were rediscovered in the Heemkring’s attic. Most of the documents predate WWII, and the oldest letter was written in 1897.
It took us three months to clean the documents and place them in protective plastic sleeves. They are now being sorted by subject and date and will be archived and indexed. A few broad themes have emerged: private correspondence, documents relating to farming practices, exporting of grapes, business letters, as well as correspondence relating to the exporting and mining of semi-precious stones in the Northern Cape.
The sheer volume of documents – more than 900 items – will not only provide valuable genealogical information, but also an unusually detailed glimpse into commercial activities in Paarl during the 1920s and 1930s. We have found invoices for items of clothing, for farming implements, and on a more personal level an IOU of a washerwoman employed by the Van Niekerk’s to do their laundry. Most of the documents are still in a surprisingly good condition, although some have been badly damaged by fish moths.
Preliminary research into the Van Niekerk’s family history has delivered a few gems. Quite literally. The Eureka diamond (23,25 carat) was discovered by Schalk Jacobus van Niekerk (1828 – 1887) on his Hopetown farm. The Paarl Van Niekerks are however not direct descendants of this ancestor.
At this stage it looks as if The Van Niekerks originally farmed in the Hopetown district, and from there one branch moved into the Prieska area. Here Diederik Johannes (1866 – 1936) met and married Judith Aletta van der Vijver (1868 – 1959). They had eleven children, and Diederik Johannes Jnr (1897 – 1990) was their third child. Shortly after 1897 the family moved to Paarl and presumably settled on the farm Schoongezicht in Daljosaphat. In 1907 the Paarl photographer James Gribble took a photograph of the Van Niekerks with the Schoongezicht farmhouse in the background – a photograph we discovered in our own Gribble Collection.
In 1911 Van Niekerk bought the Pontac property in Paarl. This property depicted at the top of this post, was typical of that time. Essentially a townhouse with a few vineyards and an orchard or two with a road leading from the house down to the Main Street. Today this street is known as Pontac Street. The northern border of the property ran along Auret Street. The Pontac property was sold to his son Diederik Johannes Jnr in 1926, and that same year Diederik Johannes Snr placed an advertisement in a local newspaper to sell Schoongezicht farm.
The Heemkring would like to appeal to genealogists researching the Van Niekerks to contact us. We are also able to help people just starting out on their first family tree.