My Tangent – In Genealogy A Single Word Could Provide An Important Clue

14 March 2011


At times when I am transcribing a document I come across a word or phrase that I do not know or understand, especially in the concept of my current day vernacular. Sometimes there may be a “hidden clue” in that specific word which may or may not provide a “destination” in the scheme of a genealogy search.

In this case, on Page 205 in the 1822 – Richard Oliver Smith Indenture from the Grenada Registers of Records that I have been working and transcribing, in the body of the “Schedule” of Slaves, I came upon the word “Cafre”. In the column “Colour” there is a word describing one “30” year-old “Archy”; it is “Cafre”. It is the only occurrence of this word in all of the associated pages of the “Schedule”. The two other descriptive words used are “Black” and “Mulatto”.

One thing that I have learned over the few years that I have been working on my genealogy and ancestor search is that a word, or phrase, used today may not mean the same thing or have the same implication now as it did when it was used. A very important note to make is to try to “date” the actual use of the word or phrase.

Specific to this word “Cafre”, the approximate year range of the writing of the “Schedule” and the associated entry to the Grenada Registers of Records include, but not limited to, 1793 through 1822. A Google and Bing search of the word “Cafre” produced the following ideas of definitions.
  • From Wikipedia - “The word was used in English, Dutch and, later, Afrikaans, from the 16th century to the early 20th century as a general term for several different peoples of southern Africa. In Portuguese the equivalent cafre was used.
  • From Wikipedia - “The ancestors of the cafres were slaves brought from Africa and Madagascar to work the sugar plantations; these were the first slaves to be introduced to the Mascarene Islands. The slaves came from Mozambique, Guinea, Senegal and Madagascar.
  • From 1892 book by Dr. C.A.M. Fennell “The Stanford Dictionary of Anglised Words And Phrases” - “A native of S. Africa living in Cafraria, N.E. of Cape Colony…
  • From the writings of Michal Boyn, a Jesuit missionary to Mozambique… “Cafraria, a P.M. Boym Polono Missa Mozambico 1644 Januario 11”. It appears that at the time Mozambique may have been called “Cafraria”.
Relatively more modern documents provide the following information.
  • From Wikipedia – “Cafres or Kafs are people born in Réunion of Malagasy and/or African origins. They often have mixed origins."
  • From NationMaster - “Comoros” “Ethnic groups (most recent)…” “Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava
  • From CIA World Factbook – “Comoros” “Ethnic groups: Antalote, Cafre, Makoa, Oimatsaha, Sakalava
Now as “Archy” is the only person on the “Schedule” that is distinguished as “Cafre”, one may make the assumption that his ethnicity may have been different to the rest of the persons listed. As his age is recorded as 30 years, it may be surmised that he was born about 1792. All-things-being-equal there may be some credence that “Archy” may have come from “Cafraria”, now Mozambique. There is also a shade of a possibility that he may have come from Comoros. Both Mozambique and Comoros are in and in the proximity of south east Africa.

It is a word – “Cafre”… and it could be a clue.




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