South African Genealogical Research


For General Information go to the General Section.
For information on the method of conducting South African research please go to the methodology section.
For information on printed genealogies please go to the published genealogies section.
For other published works of use to the genealogist go to the other published works section.
For information on South African abbreviations used, please go the some hints section.



Tracing one's South African roots is relatively easy, considering that the first European settlement of the Cape Colony took place in 1652 and records exist from that time to the present.

It must however be remembered that South Africa consisted initialy only of the Cape Colony, so the earliest records are found in what later became known as the Cape Province.

The other provinces in South Africa were until recently, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal and most records from those Provinces are kept within that Province.

Following the 1994 elections, the original four Provinces were expanded to include nine new Provinces, and planning has started to move the relevant records to archives within these new Provinces. This has not happened yet.

Initially the settlement at the Cape was small, centred around the present city of Cape Town. With the pressure of farming and the desire of many of the earliest servants of the Dutch East India Company to remain at the Cape the official position of the Dutch changed and gradually the settlement expanded and grew ever outwards.

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Remembering the golden rule that one always works from the known to the unknown, in other words from today, back in time, it is logical that the path from the present into the past is marked by milestones, in each family members life.

The most important of these milestones in a persons life is their birth, marriage and death, which if following the logic of working from the present to the past would be reversed to the the order of their death, marriage and then birth.

Working backward in time, a persons death occured nearer to the present than their marriage, which is nearer to the present than their birth.

These important milestones, birth, marriage and death, together with each individuals name and the places at which these events occured, form the basis for a genealogical study.

Adding important defining events such as education, work history, military service and other information of a biographical nature starts moving the work into the realm of a family history.

Normally when setting out one would obviously know your own names and date and place of birth and marriage. You would know, or could easily discover the same information for your wife and for your children.

You probably know your parents names and could obtain information on their birth and marriage, if they are alive, or would know their death date and place in the unfortunate event that they are deceased.

You may have some information on your grandparents but in all probability, if you are like me, they were simply gran and gramps.

The first step is to record all the information that you know, verifying it from records and information at your disposal.

At some or other stage you are going to hit a brick wall, where you will need to move from informal sources to more formal sources. Please visit my sources page.

Taking what I said earlier as the sequence of events, death, marriage and birth, one would try to obtain information from a persons estate file. In addition one could try and obtain copies of birth, marriage and death certificates for the period from which official registration of births, marriages and deaths started.

Before official registration started, which here in South Africa was around 1900, one then needs to obtain birth and marriage information from church records in the form of baptisms or christenings and marriages registered by the church.

Estate file information is available right back to the founding of the Cape in 1652, or shortly thereafter and supplementary information on deaths can be obtained from burial records or headstone inscriptions.

At some or other stage it may be possible to connect to earlier generations through existing published genealogies and these are dealt with in the published genealogies section.

Eventually you are going to get to the stage where an ancestor arrived in South Africa and you are going to need to continue the research in hir or her country of origin, which is outside the scope of these pages. You may however wish to visit my links page, for some supplementary information on this aspect of genealogy.

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Published Genealogies

South Africa is unique in that information on all the earliest settler families and their descendants was published as "Geslacht Register der oude Kaapsche FamiliŽn" (Genealogical Register of the old Cape Families), before 1895 in three volumes.

This publication gave, as it were, a general survey of the entire white population of the Cape Colony from its very beginning in 1652 till the end of the Netherlands administration in 1806, and in many instances even much later.

In the intervening years this great work was corrected and added to by several investigators and although out of print, the information was republished in two volumes as "Genealogies of old South African Families, edited by Dr C Pama.

The above works concentrated primarily on the Afrikaans families, in other words those of Dutch, German, French and Scandanavian descent, to the exclusion of English families.

A new body of work is in the process of being prepared, initially under the auspices of the Human Sciences Research Council, who published the intitial four volumes of what is intended to become a seven volume set.

These four volumes cover surnames starting with A to K and supplement the earlier works mentioned above. They also include some English surnames, though not all.

With the demise of the genealogy section of the Human Sciences Research Council, all the information has been passed on to the Genealogical Institute of South Africa (GISA) and they intend publishing the remaining volumes of SA Genealogies.

If you have genealogical information on your family please send it to GISA so that it can be included in later volumes of SA Genealogies or can be made available to other researchers.

Corrections to published information should also be sent to GISA

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Other Published Works of use to the Genealogist

Obviously none of the works mentioned above can contain all the details about a particular family, or trace all the members of a particular family from 1652 until the present.

Individual families have published more comprehensive genealogies and an attempt should always be made to discover if such a genealogy exists. The Genealogical Institute of South Africa (GISA) contains all published genealogies and a number of unpublished typed manuscripts on various families, and GISA should always be contacted very early in ones research to discover if any research has been done on your family.

Other general genealogical works are available covering particular groups of people or settlers such as the 1820 settlers, French Huguenots and the Byrne Settlers among others. For a list of these and other publications please refer to the bibliography list.

In addition, many corrections and additions have been made to particular branches of the various families contained in the De Villiers/Pama publications in Familia, the quarterly journal of the Genealogical Society of South Africa.

An invaluable reference work for anyone considering genealogical research in South Africa is the "Handbook for Genealogical Research in South Africa," published by Dr RTJ Lombard and available from the Genealogical Institute of South Africa (GISA).

Biographical information on well known South Africans is contained in the "Dictionary of South African Biography" which should be obtainable from any reputable library or which can be purchased from the Genealogical Institute of South Africa.

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Some Hints on using South African Materials

If you are lucky enough to connect to an earlier published genealogy your work will be reduced substantially in that you would be able to research your family from the present until a connection can be found to an earlier ancestor in a published genealogy, perhaps as late as 1830, taking your information back to the earliest settler, perhaps as early as 1652.

It stands to reason that you will be consulting published genealogies and I would like to mention some of the standard genealogical symbols used in South Africa to make your task easier:

Symbol Meaning
* Born
~ Christened or Baptized
x Marriage
xx Second Marriage, etc
+ Died
ų Divorced
a. Arrival
c. Circa (about)
d.o./d.v. daughter of
s.o./s.v. son of
NN Nomen Nescio (Name Unknown)
Wid Widow or Widower

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