South African Sources of Information


Sources of information for genealogical research in South Africa can be grouped into two classes or types of information, namely Formal and General.

Formal South African Sources can be classified as follows:

 Department of Home Affairs
Master of the Supreme Court
Archives Repositories
Church or Parish Records
Military Records

General sources of information can be classified as follows:

Libraries and Museums.
Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Genealogical Societies.
Other Associations and Societies.
The Genealogical Institute of South Africa,

Department of Home Affairs

The documents available from the Department of Home Affairs are:

*      Birth Certificates.

*      Marriage Certificates.

*      Death Certificates.

Approximate commencing dates for the registration of Births, marriages and deaths in the various provinces is as follows:









KwaZulu Natal








Orange Free State




The facilities, files and records of the Department of Home Affairs are not accessible or available to private sector genealogists and researchers, and neither is there an index for perusal by the public, however the public may submit applications for copies of birth, marriage and death certificates.

Many of the earlier records are in the possession of the National Archives of South Africa Repositories, and although the issue of certificates can only be done by the Department of Home Affairs and the records cannot be photocopied, researchers can get access to marriage and death registers older than 20 years.

Two types of certificates are available, as follows:

*      Abridged certificates give narrow personal information about the person being researched.

*      Full certificates are more useful as they include details such as names of parents, dates and places, etc.

For genealogical purposes Full certificates should be obtained.

Within South Africa official application forms can be completed and handed in at any Department of Home Affairs office within the town or city where you live or work, and the completed certificates will be posted to you.

To apply for certificates from outside South Africa one must post a request to the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria, or alternatively request these certificates through a South African Consulate within ones own country.

There is a charge associated with obtaining copies of these certificates, which can be obtained when writing or applying for certificates.

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Master of the Supreme Court

The documents available at the Master of the Supreme Court are:

 *      Estate Files that comprise:

*      A death notice.

*      A last will and testament.

*      The distribution account.

Commencing dates for the estate files kept at the various Master's Offices:


Commencing Dates


1951 Onward


1962 Onward

KwaZulu Natal

1975 Onward


1978 Onward

Orange Free State

1951 Onward

* Eastern Cape Only

The above dates may change as information is passed on to the Archives for storage.

Before the above dates the estate files are kept in the relevant Archives Repositories.

The purpose of the Master's Office is to:

*      Administer the liquidation and distribution of the estates of deceased persons.

*      Administer trust property given under the control of any person by a deceased person.

*      Administer the property of minors and persons under curatorship.

*      Administer derelict estates.

*      Regulate the rights of beneficiaries under mutual wills made by any two or more persons.

There are four provincial offices and one office presided over by an Assistant Master at Kimberley, whose area of jurisdiction is that of the Griqualand West Local Division of the Supreme Court. The provincial offices are at the seats of the provincial divisions of the Supreme Court, namely, Pretoria in the Transvaal; Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State; Pietermaritzburg in Natal; and Cape Town in the Cape Province.
The Master's Office is not only an office of supervision but also an office of record. In his office, complete information is filed regarding every estate within his jurisdiction, and, with certain exceptions, any person may at any time during office hours inspect any document and have a certified copy made of any document on payment of the relevant fee.

If the estate has not yet been wound up, the public do not have access to that file.

It must be emphasized that not all deceased persons have estate files. Estate files are not opened for those who owned little or no assets.

These very important documents give much information about the deceased including personal details, those of his/her spouse(s), children and other beneficiaries. Addresses often also give clues to the researcher about where to find relatives of the deceased, while wills are valuable for the keen collector of signatures.

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Archives Repositories

The documents available at an Archives repository include:


*      The correspondence files, registers and other documents of government offices and the offices of local authorities that are, or were, located in the provinces concerned.

*      Photographs, Maps and official publications

*      Microfilms of documents housed in the depot concerned.

*      The Estate Files before the dates listed under The Master of the Supreme Court, for the various Provinces.

There are archives repositories in Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, all of which are responsible for the custody of the archives and other documents that have a bearing on the province in which they are situated.

In addition there is the National Archives in Pretoria that houses the archives of central government departments and the Transvaal Archives Repository.




Cape Archives Repository (CAR)

Cape Province estates  (MOOC);
Kimberley and district estates  (MOK)
Grahamstown and district estates (MOG).

to 1950
to 1956
to 1961 

The Durban Archives Repository (DAR) has two 
groups of African Estate files.

The estate files of the Magistrate and Commissioner Pinetown (2/PTN).
The estate files of the Commissioner Durban (2/DBN).




Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository (PAR

Estate Files 

to 1974

Free State Archives Repository (FAR)

Free State estate files up to and including 1950. 

to 1950

National Archives Repository (NAR) 

Transvaal Estate Files

1873 - 1976

Each Archives Repository has a well stocked library with many books of a genealogical and historical nature.

In addition each repository is supplied with microfilm readers which can be used to read, access and copy specific microfilmed records. Many of the earlier estate files have been microfilmed and researchers are encouraged to make copies from the relevant microfilm record.

In many instances photocopying restrictions apply to earlier estate files to prevent further damage to them, as result of handling and light from the photocopying process. To this end researchers are given a blank death notice form to transcribe the details from the estate file.

The following photocopying restrictions and where applicable, availability of microfilm records and costs associated with obtaining these, apply:


Photocopying Restrictions

No Restrictions and costs

Cape Archives Respostory


MOG can be copied at R0,20 per A4 folio (Up to 3 death notices are transcribed per enquiry free of charge).

Durban Archives Repository

No restrictions

R0,20 per page

Free State Archives Repository

No photocopying of estate files prior to 1931

(Up to 4 death notices are transcribed per enquiry free of charge). All available on microfilm.

National Archives 

No photocopying of files between 1873-1959.

Microfilm records available for 1873-1940 at a cost of R0,30 per page.

Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository

No photocopying of files

(Up to 3 death notices are transcribed per enquiry free of charge).
Microfilm records exist to 1950.

The microfilming of these records was done by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and are therefore available at most Family History Centres.

 No money should be sent to any Archives Repository until they have had the opportunity to check what records are available, if any, and have determined the costs of the documents and postage. In all instances these costs will be communicated and once payment has been received, the relevant copies will be made and be forwarded. This excludes the free of charge transcribing of death notices.

The National Archives prefer that private researchers are hired if more than 3 copies are required. For a list of researchers visit the researchers page.

The Archives are also linked to a programme called STAIRS and one can request a look-up on a particular person or surname, with a resultant print-out being made of all references to information contained in any of the repositories for that particular person or surname. This is particularly helpful to obtain the reference numbers prior to requesting the relevant information. In some instances this information can be provided on stiffy disk, if the requestor supplies the disk:

*      The CAR supplies computer printouts at R0.20 per printout.

*      The DAR supplies printouts at R0.10 per page. Information on disk is not provided by the DAR.

*      The FAR cannot make any printouts from STAIRS and must first e-mail the National Archives and then print out the result at a cost of R0.30 per page.

*      The NAR supplies printouts at R0.20 per page. Information on disk is available at R25.00 per disk, with the disk being provided by the researcher.

*      In the PAR printouts cost R0.10 per item/reference.

Researchers can get access to marriage and death registers older than 20 years from the relevant Archives Repository, although the issue of certificates can only be done by the Department of Home Affairs and the records cannot be photocopied.

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Church or Parish Records

The documents available at Churches include:


*      Baptisms

*      Marriages

*      Burial Records

*      Church Minute Books

Church records can provide a wealth of information but are problematical in that not all churches have central repositories for their records. Several churches still have their records at parish level.

Church records are the oldest records that most people ever use preceding the information available from the Department of the interior.

Records for the Dutch Reformed Church in SA are extant almost from the founding of the settlement at the Cape. These records are also centralized in a few church archives, which makes access very much easier.

Information available from Church Records


These generally give the full names and surname of the child, the birth date (but not before 1800 AD) and baptism date, the names of both parents and the names of witnesses. Witnesses are often close relatives that helps in building up family groups.


These will generally give the full names and surnames of both parties, their ages, occupations, whether married after banns or special licence and the names of witnesses, and of the officiant. If you can get photocopies of the original, these are of great interest, as you can build up a collection of signatures of ancestors in instances where it would be impossible to obtain photographs.


Some churches keep records of burials performed from the church or of persons buried on church property. These records vary greatly according to the minister involved. However, they can be a useful source of information.


These can have very varied information that can aid the genealogist. The type of information found depends entirely on the situation. This is therefore a secondary rather than a primary source

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The records available from cemeteries are:


*      Tombstone Inscriptions

*      Burial Registers

Tombstone inscriptions provide a wealth of information in that they provide information such as date and place of birth and death, age of the deceased at death, place of origin, names of other persons related to the deceased, besides the names, maiden surname and 'pet names' of the deceased.

The limitation is that the availability of the information is dependant on the location of the tombstone and only for as long as the inscription remains legible.

There are of course a great many rural or farm cemeteries outside the jurisdiction of municipalities, considering that South Africa was, until relatively recently, primarily a country of farmers.
The National Council of the Genealogical Society is addressing this problem with their Cemetery Recording Project by which it is hoped to document the headstone inscriptions of all the cemeteries in South Africa, including remote rural farm cemeteries.

This information is indexed by cemetery, and the results are published by the State Archives Service. Copies are available at all archives' depots and at various libraries and institutions that deem it necessary to purchase these volumes.

The cemetery information is also available on computer to which the following institutions have access:

*      The reading rooms of all the Provincial Archive Depots.

*      The libraries of the Universities of Cape Town, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, Witwatersrand and UNISA.

*      The Cory Library, Grahamstown.

*      The HSRC

*      The South African Library and the Transvaal Provincial Library and Museum Service.

New information is constantly being added, as more cemeteries are processed by the Archives Service.

The published indices can supplement your research by providing a quick reference, to ascertain where a person is buried and thus at which provincial archive depot his death notice is held; or where or when the person was born, which could help you in finding his baptismal entry, and so on.

The indices are particularly helpful for children who died at a young age and for whom there is rarely a death notice.

Burial Registers rarely provide more information than the person's full names, his date of burial and his age at death. Burial registers only exist for cemeteries within municipal boundaries and are of course the property of the town council concerned.

These registers become invaluable when a person is buried in a grave that doesn't have a headstone and the register is the only means of identifying where and when he was buried.

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Military Records

Military records can be found at various places and there are several publications that provide valuable information to the researcher.

SA Defence Force Archives

Records Available:


*      Archives of the Commandant General, Transvaal Republic 1881-1899.

*      Archives of the Military Governor, Pretoria, 1900-1902 (Records of the British Occupation forces, containing the names of those who died during the Boer War)

*      Archives of the officer charged with gathering information concerning deaths among the Republican fighting forces and civilians, 1899-1902. Very comprehensive, giving name of deceased, age, address and place of death.

The SA Defence Force Archives are not open to the public, but you may write to obtain information.

Military Cemeteries

The Commonwealth War Graves Board have lists of all casualties in SA, their places of burial, etc. including all South African deaths overseas and all British killed in SA.

Service Particulars

The particulars of all persons who served in the South African Armed Forces from the time of union in 1910 are available from the SADF Documentation Centre.

You need permission from the person concerned or from his eldest living relative to obtain information from these records.
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Libraries and Museums


Records Available include:


*      Phone Books

*      History Books

*      Voters Rolls

*      Journals

*      Magazines

*      Newspapers and much, much more.

Public libraries in most centres have sections on genealogy and deserve a visit from every beginning genealogist early in his research. Libraries at universities also contain sections of genealogical interest.


The conscientious and methodical researcher will never underestimate the value and the role of museums in genealogical importance. Museums are a great source of information to any genealogist, and often specialist museums hold information pertinent to particular cultures, fashions of the day, historical themes or eras.

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Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Since its foundation in 1894, the first Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States, has become the largest of its kind in the world.

Most of the main libraries records have been acquired through an extensive microfilming programme that began in 1938 and continues to the present.

Over 200 microfilmers are filming original records in courthouses, churches and other archives in many countries throughout the world, including South Africa. These microfilmers send the microfilms to Salt Lake City, where they are preserved in a vault in the Granite Mountains nearby. Copies of the microfilms can then be sent to the various family history centers worldwide.

The Family History Center Libraries in South Africa have copies of the main libraries catalogue and important indexes on microfiche. They also have reference aids, research papers and other publications that can help you.

While previous research can be very helpful the information may be inaccurate or incomplete. Much of the information has been submitted by library patrons and has not been verified by the Family History Library, so always evaluate the information you find very carefully.

The International Genealogical Index (IGI)

The IGI is a computerized index of names extracted from various records. The 1989 edition lists the names of over 180 000 000 deceased persons. It is available on microfiche and at newer or larger libraries on CD ROM.

The IGI lists such information as the names of the parents or spouse and the dates and locations of births, christenings, marriages and other events.

Family Group Records Collection

The Family Group Records Collection consists of more than 8 000 000 Family Group Record Forms. These contain information on families from all over the world.

The Family Group Records Collection is divided into two parts:

*      The Patron Section that contains forms sent in by patrons as part of a four-generation programme.

*      The Archives Section that contains forms submitted before 1969 to have LDS temple ordinances performed.

Both sections are available on microfilm. The film numbers are listed in the author/title section of the FHLC under Family Group Records Collection. For the Archive section you can only request 16mm films.

Family Histories

The main library has thousands of family histories, most of which are in book form, however some are microfilm or microfiche copies.

To find out if the main library has a history that includes your ancestor, look for your ancestor's name in the surname section of the FHLC catalogue. This section does not list every name in the libraries' records, but does show the major families included in each family history.

Family Registry

The Family Registry can help you to find others who have already done or are in the process of doing research on your ancestor. People who are interested in working with others have submitted the names of individuals or families they are looking for to the Family Registry. These names are listed on microfiche at the family history center.

Why not submit a form and list your details in the Family Registry. There are no fees for this service. 

A great many other documents such as Census Returns, Birth, Marriage and Death Registers and the like can be obtained, on loan to your local History Center, from the main library in Salt Lake City, at a nominal cost.

NOTE: The Family History Centers are only open between certain hours on certain days and in some cases on Saturdays. Please check your local center for a schedule of times.

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Genealogical Societies

Genealogical Societies exist in many countries of the world, and South Africa is no exception.

Members of the GSSA do not undertake research on behalf of researchers but they will guide, assist and teach you how to go about researching your own family.

In addition, the GSSA publishes "Familia," their own quarterly journal which contains valuable information of interest to anyone researching their South African roots.

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Other Associations and Societies

There are a number of other associations and societies in South Africa dealing primarily with specific settler groups or areas:

The Huguenot Society

The aim of the Huguenot Society of South Africa is to preserve the Huguenot heritage in South Africa. It collects information about the Huguenots, arranges meetings and carries out genealogical research on the Huguenot and related families.

1820 Settlers (Albany Museum)

The records available at the 1820 Settlers Museum include:


*      Family files of mostly settler families, though other surnames are also included. (No Afrikaans names)

*      The Allen E Makin collection of Genealogical information. A private collector, Makin spent most of his life compiling information on mostly settler families. Index available.

*      The Dr C Skead collection of farm histories. (A large collection of information on mainly Albany, Alexandria and Bathurst farms.) Index available.

*      Original copies of the Grahamstown Journal from 1845 to 1920. Public not allowed to view, but the Cory library, Rhodes University holds a complete set of the Graham's Town Journal from 1831 to 1920, all in hardcopy with the exception of 1853-1857 which is available on microfilm.

*      After 1920 the Grahamstown Journal was incorporated in the variously titled Grocott's Penny/Daily Mail.  The latter newspaper is still published in Grahamstown twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays as Grocott's Mail. - The Cory Library also holds the archival hardcopy set of the Grocott's Mail from its inception in 1872 to date as well as sets of other Grahamstown and district newspapers.

*      Other original document collections at the Museum include estate papers of some families, letters etc.

*      Many original photographs, mainly of settler painted portraits and settler descendants. No photographing service, but local photographers can be contacted if prints are required.

*      The Cory Library hold the archives (including church registers) of, inter alia, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, the Diocese of Grahamstown (Church of the Province of Southern Africa) and the Eastern Cape Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa.

*      The Cory Library also hold registers for some Congregational, Roman Catholic and Baptist Churches as well as marriage registers for the Grahamstown Hebrew Congregation.

*      Small collection of cemeteries in the Eastern Cape.

The Genealogist is available to carry out research for members of the public for a fee. The genealogist can also consult the registers and other documents in the Cory Library on behalf of the client. 

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Genealogical Institute of South Africa (GISA)

The documents available at GISA are:

Published family histories and genealogies.
Family files with biographical and genealogical information about many families.
Indexes to the estate files in the four provincial archives and copies of some death notices from the four provinces.
All the volumes of Familia: Quarterly Journal of the Genealogical Society of South Africa.
Photographs of various individuals and families.
Completed family group sheets and ancestral charts.
A register of researchers and of families about which research is being done.
Funeral notices and epitaphs on gravestones.
NG Kerk registers of the four provinces up to about 1900 on microfilm.
Some Zimbabwe death notices on microfilm
Lutheran Church registers of Cape Town and district on microfilm.
The voters' roll of the Republic of South Africa on Microfiche
A variety of local and foreign genealogical publications.

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Go to addresses for the above sources.
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South African Genealogy Home Page.

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