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South African genealogy FAQ

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  • Steve Hayes
    If you are a newcomer to South African genealogy, you may have a lot of questions. Here are some answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2007
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      If you are a newcomer to South African genealogy, you may have a
      lot of questions. Here are some answers to some of the most
      frequently asked questions:

      WHERE'S THE BEST PLACE TO BEGIN?

      If you're asking this on the Internet, presumably you have access
      to a web browser, and one of the best places to begin with South
      African genealogy is right here:

      http://home.global.co.za/~mercon/

      WHERE CAN I FIND SOUTH AFRICAN CENSUS RECORDS?

      The short answer is: You can't. South African census returns are
      routinely destroyed after statistical information has been
      abstracted, so South African genealogists don't use them.

      WHAT DO SOUTH AFRICAN GENEALOGISTS USE THEN?

      One of the best places to begin is the records of deceased
      estates. These usually have a Death Notice, which should (but
      sometimes doesn't) give you the names of the parents, spouse and
      children of the deceased, or if the deceased was unmarried, the
      names of brothers and sisters. They have the wills, if any
      (except in the Cape, where wills and estate accounts have been
      filed separately from death notices in the older estates), and
      the estate accounts. The older ones are in the archives and have
      computer indexes, and you can search the indexes on the web here:

      http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs_content.htm

      but be sure to read the introduction and explanatory text before
      searching.

      WHERE CAN I FIND SOUTH AFRICAN SHIPPING LISTS?

      First, they are not a good place to start looking. They are
      incomplete, and all over the place. If you want to know if some
      relative went to South Africa and died here, look in the deceased
      estates, not the shipping lists. In most cases, shipping lists
      are a last resort, or a means of providing "filler" information
      to round out the family history. Secondly, if you do want to try
      shipping lists, you need to know where your ancestor came from,
      and roughly when. If the answer is Germany 1859, the shipping
      lists have been published (Werner Schmidt-Pretoria, _Deutsche
      Auswanderung nach Sued-Afrika im 19 Jahrhundert_). Some other
      shipping lists have also been published, but they are
      fragmentary.

      If you are looking for ancestors who emigrated to Southern Africa
      in the period 1890-1925, one possible source is _South Africa_
      magazine. This was published in London. The Johannesburg Public
      Library and the National Library in Tshwane have incomplete runs.
      You could try other libraries too. They published lists of
      passengers embarking at British ports for South Africa, and
      embarking at South African ports for the UK (and sometimes other
      places). _South Africa_ magazine is a useful source, if you can
      find it, as it also has birth, marriage and death announcements,
      and other personal news, usually of the richer members of
      society.

      Some passenger lists and other useful stuff are available at:

      http://www.genealogyworld.net/

      WHERE CAN I FIND WILLS OR PROBATE RECORDS?

      With the deceased estates. See:

      http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs_content.htm

      I did a search on the archives: what do the funny things like
      DEPOT and VOLUME mean?

      See the warning above: Be sure to read the introduction and
      explanatory text before searching. If you didn't, go here now:

      http://www.national.archives.gov.za/fields.htm

      HOW DO I GET A BIRTH CERTIFICATE?

      With some difficulty. First, to apply for one, you need to know
      the information you probably want to get from the certificate.
      That's Catch 22. Catches 1-21 are almost as bad. Birth cer-
      tificates are expensive. They take a long time to get. The
      indexes are not open to the public so you can't ask someone else
      to look them up. For more information, and applications forms,
      see:

      http://www.home-affairs.gov.za/

      The good news is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
      Saints (LDS, Mormons) has microfilmed some of the registers, so
      that if you want the information in the register, as opposed to
      an official certificate, you can try there.

      If you want to know what the LDS has, go to their web site:

      http:// www.familysearch.com
      or
      http://www.familysearch.org ,

      Click on LIBRARY, click on FAMILY LIBRARY HISTORY CATALOGUE,
      click on PLACE NAME enter South Africa
      Click on Civil Registration Click on HERE right at the bottom so
      you have a printable copy.

      HOW DO I GET A MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE?

      Marriage certificates are of little use to genealogists in South
      Africa. They do not give the names and occupations of parents.
      They are as difficult to get as birth certificates.

      For more information on getting marriage certificates see:

      http://www.home-affairs.gov.za/

      Your best chance of seeing a marriage certificate, however, is if
      the couple got divorced, and you find a copy in the divorce
      records. SOME divorce records are in the archives, and you can
      find them here:

      http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs_content.htm

      The archival references to divorces will sometimes speak of
      "illiquid cases" or "opposed applications", and sometimes there
      will be both. Make sure you order the right ones. They can be
      quite useful. Sometimes you can really get the dirt on your
      ancestors from these things - private detectives' reports on how
      many times they committed adultery, where and with whom, for
      example. Also, names and ages of minor children and who got the
      custody.

      If you still want a marriage certificate (or birth certificate),
      you need to apply to the Department of Home Affairs, Private Bag
      X114, Pretoria, 0001. Before they can issue a certificate, they
      usually want to know the kind of information you probably hope to
      get from the certificate. Marriages were registered nationally
      from 1923 to 1976, and after 1994. Between 1976 and 1994 some
      "homeland" marriages may have been registered separately. Before
      1923 registrations were in the different provinces, and before
      1910 in the different colonies. Before 1902 it was in the
      different republics and colonies. You still apply to the same
      place, but bear in mind that older registers are kept in the
      archives, and for a certificate to be written they have to be
      transferred from the archives to the Department of Home Affairs
      and then returned. This can take a long time.

      Also check the information above under "Birth Certificates" on
      how to find out if any of the marriage registers have been
      filemed by the LDS Church.

      Before about 1895 in many places marriages were only recorded in
      church registers.

      The situation is a lot more complex than described above, and the
      complexities are things you can ask about on the list, but the
      general description should give you some idea of the kind of
      questions that might be worth asking.

      WHERE CAN I FIND CHURCH RECORDS?

      With difficulty. There are well over 8000 separate religious
      denominations in South Africa, and many people change
      denominations 3 or more times during their lives. People move to
      a new town, and join a new denomination or religion, or become
      agnostics or atheists. The records of these denominations are all
      over the place too. Some of the older and larger denominations
      have centralised their records, but most have not. They are kept
      in local churches and can be damaged or destroyed by damp, acid
      paper or ink, insects, mice, fire or flood, or simply being
      tossed out in an over-zealous clean-up. Some of the smaller
      denominations keep very poor records. Forged marriage cer-
      tificates are common, especially in rural areas. If you know what
      denomination your ancestors were, and where they were living,
      when children were born or they were married, you can ask some
      specific questions on the SA Genealogy list like "Where are the
      Wesleyan Methodist Registers for Colesberg in the period 1860-
      1880?"

      But general requests for look ups in church registers without
      mentioning a particular denomination, time and place are unlikely
      to get a useful response.

      WHERE CAN I FIND MILITARY RECORDS?

      Department of Defence
      DOCUMENTATION CENTRE
      Private Bag X289
      Pretoria
      0001 South Africa

      Tel 012-322-6350 ext 227
      Fax 012-323-5613

      The more info you can give the faster they can find details.

      They have a card index for military personnel who served in WWI
      and WWII. These give the service number, which can be used to
      find fuller service records.

      WHERE CAN I LOOK UP THE PHONE NUMBERS OF LIVING RELATIVES?

      Turn your web browser to:

      http://196.15.219.249/

      it's the on-line phone book.

      WHAT IF MY FAMILY WERE IN OTHER PARTS OF AFRICA?

      Try asking on the African Genealogy mailing list -- see:

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/afgen/

      WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT?

      Go to: http://home.global.co.za/~mercon/sagen.htm

      and follow the links!

      --
      This FAQ file is maintained by:

      Steve Hayes
      Web: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/stevesig.htm
      E-mail: hayesstw@...
      Last Updated: 18 November 2006

      Suggestions for additions or improvements are welcome.
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