For years I only knew him as a correspondent of my mother’s cousin Dick Brownell. After cousin Dick had visited the old Brownell home-place at Stackallan, County Meath, Ireland, in the 1980s, he corresponded with far-flung members of the Brownell family in Ireland, England, Canada, and South Africa. Long ago Dick showed me (and I carefully copied) enormous, intricate charts of the Brownells compiled by a South African member of the family, Fred Brownell. Only years later did I realize that distant cousin Fred was also chief of the Bureau of Heraldry for the Republic of South Africa, and the man who designed the current South African national flag. I sought to contact him once a few years ago (via the Bureau) but learned he had recently retired and didn’t pursue it further. However, when I was at the International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences at Québec this past June, I found some South African heralds chatting in the hallway and asked one of them whether there was some way I could get in touch with my cousin Frederick Brownell. He smiled, and graciously led me a few steps—to Fred!
It was a pleasurable and completely unexpected meeting. (Fred had not been on the precirculated list of attendees: his trip was arranged at the last minute, as he was receiving an award at the Congress.) Fred had not heard that my cousin Dick and his wife had died just a couple of years previously. After a sad moment shared over this news, we looked at each other, both grinning contentedly. He was searching my face, he said, for traits inherited from my Brownell grandmother. We had a warm conversation about our mutual interests, and he very graciously gave me a copy of his recent book, Heraldry in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (2002).
The Congress was a fascinating intellectual and cultural exercise, but made all the better, for me, for this opportunity to meet a distant kinsman face to face.