Frequently Asked Questions Page


This FAQ was prepared with valuable input from Steve Hayes, Maureen Brady, Dafanie Goldsmith and Heather MacAlister and their contribution and suggestions are greatly appreciated. If you would like to see additional questions answered, please contact me at mercon@global.co.za
 

Contents:

  1. Where's the best place to begin?
  2. Where can I find South African census records?
  3. What do South African genealogists use then?
  4. Where can I find South African shipping lists?
  5. Where can I find wills or probate records?
  6. How do I get a birth certificate?
  7. How do I get a marriage certificate?
  8. Where can I find church records?
  9. What should I do next?

Where's the best place to begin?

Since 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/

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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.

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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 sometime 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, 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.

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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...)

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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

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How do I get a birth certificate?

With great 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. They 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.

If you live outside the borders of South Africa, your best bet is to apply for one through the nearest South African consulate.

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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. Your best chance of seeing one 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. 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.

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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 relgion, 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.

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What should I do next?


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

and follow the links!

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Return to South African Genealogy Home Page.

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