Saturday, July 7, 2012

Indian Immigration Registers/Ships Lists Natal

The Indian Immigration Registers, or as they are popularly known, the Ships Lists, are a unique record of the coming to Natal from India of over 150 000 migrants between the years 1860 and 1911. During that period there were gaps of several years when migration, for various reasons, was interrupted.

Detail from page of Indian Immigration Register
The original registers, handwritten and difficult to read, as well as in fragile condition (particularly the early lists), are held at the Durban Archives Repository*.

Information given includes Registration (or Indenture) Number, Name, Father's name, Caste, Age, Height, Zillah (Province of origin in India), Thanna (nearest big town), Village and name of Employer to whom the migrant was to be indentured. Ship arrival date is given and also included are descriptions of physical marks - scars, tattoos etc. There may be additional subsequent events in the career of a particular migrant, such as death or his/her return to India.

A mammoth voluntary project to index these registers has resulted in the publication of a database searchable by name of migrant, as well as by Registration Number, displayed in columns corresponding with those found in the original lists (except for the column pertaining to physical marks which has been omitted). This database or index not only avoids excessive use of the original material, which is a plus in terms of preservation, but provides an accessible facility for research purposes – especially in the case of descendants wishing to trace migrant ancestors.

However, it should be emphasised that while the Migrants Index is a wonderful resource, it is not a magic wand. The information it offers requires interpretation; it demands some knowledge and effort on the part of the descendant/researcher, as well as the use of archival and other records in conjunction with the Index. Further discussion on this aspect in future posts.

To order a copy of the CD Indian Migrants to Natal: Ships Lists (1860-1911)  GSSA CD011  ISBN 978-0-9869742-2-9 (Copyright J.B.Brain) contact the Genealogical Society of South Africa (GSSA): 

The Ships Lists are also available online at
In this version the lists are searchable by Registration Number.

*Durban Archives Repository
Nashua House
14 De Mazenod Lane
Tel: (031) 309 5682    
Hours: 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. weekdays.


vishallachi said...


I am from Malaysia. I would like to know the source or agency that has ship list on Indian Migrants from South India to Malaya (now Malaysia)? email>

Mole said...

Regret I only have information on Indian migrants to South Africa. You would need to approach archives in Malaysia to find out if any such migrant lists have survived for that area. Sorry I can't be of more help.

Jagerdeven Rajoo said...


I am trying to find details of someone who's number does not match the standard list. This number begins with DCCL/4*****. Please let me know if you can help.

Mole said...

Hello, it sounds to me as if you have a colonial number (or some other number) rather than the registration number which was given to indentured migrants as they entered Natal. Colonial numbers were issued only to those persons born in Natal. I suggest you enter your number into naairs index and see what emerges, either with or without the ancestor's surname or other details. Mole

anuj shrivastav said...


My name is Anuj and I am from India.

I am in need of information of Indians in Durban (SA).

It would be of great help.


Mole said...

Hi Anuj: tracing Natal Indian ancestry is a complicated matter and there are no shortcuts, unfortunately. As a start, you might want to search using the facility on this blog's left hand top corner, entering search terms such as 'indian immigrants', 'indentured indians', 'indenture + Natal' etc and read what comes up. Firstly you must establish whether your ancestors were indentured Indians who came to Natal under contract to work, or whether they were so-called 'passenger Indians' who paid their own passage out and could live wherever they wanted, many of them becoming storekeepers etc.
Try to gather as much information from your family as you can before starting your quest: you need details such as spouse name for an ancestor, which can help cut down on hits; also familiarise yourself with the NAAIRS index where there may be references, such as deceased estate files mentioning your ancestor/s. Use the NAAIRS database NAB for Natal.

Shahiel Deeplal said...

good day,

i am trying to trace my roots back but cannot locate the shipment documents on the UKZN folder to verify numbers of great grandparents who travelled to south africa. it says the servers at ukzn have no document links anymore. who can assist me urgently? thank you

Mole said...

You're right - the previous link for shipping lists is apparently no longer online; I don't know why.

You could get the relevant CD Rom from GSSA (Genealogical Society of SA). It is CD 011 ISBN 978-0-9869742-2-9. Title: Indian Migrants to Natal: Ships Lists 1860-1911. This material was the work of volunteers using the original registers held at Durban Archives. Copyright J B Brain. The latest address I have for GSSA contact, to order the CD, is

jmoodley said...

Hi there

I have managed to obtain my great great grandfather's indenture number as well as a certificate from ukzn archives. However I'd like to find out if it's possible for me to trace his children using this number as I am in need of my great grandfather's particulars. Any idea how I can go about this?

jmoodley said...

Hi there

I have managed to obtain my great great grandfather's indenture number as well as a certificate from ukzn archives. However I'd like to find out if it's possible for me to trace his children using this number as I am in need of my great grandfather's particulars. Any idea how I can go about this?

Mole said...

You would need to search NAAIRS index online for any sign of a deceased estate file for your great grandfather. If one exists the Death Notice would be informative. A Death Notice is not the same as a Death Certificate, by the way. You can read more about that in my Beginners Guide don this blog. You could also traced estate files for his descendants if their names are known to you. Are you aware of the year of death for your great grandfather?

jmoodley said...

Thank you for your reply. I do know his year of death and actually have a death certificate for him but unfortunately he passed away in Rhodesia, not South Africa. I have searched the NAAIRS Index but cannot find any information pertaining to my great grandfather or his father.

Mole said...

Yes, it is unfortunate that his death took place outside of SA. Although if he had owned property in this country there would have been a Death Notice. It may be worth your while identifying more recent family members whose deceased estate files crop up on NAAIRS - even grandchildren or great grandchildren, the latter being your own generation of descendants - and gradually work back to the earlier relatives.

Zenda Bussack Lucas said...

I'm seeking information regarding my late grandfather, Morgan Lall, he was married to Elizabeth David's a South African. ...she died on the 11.10.1952. ..they had a dry cleaner in Queenstown.Eastern Cape ..he came to South Africa, from India in the late 1800s. I would like to know more about his family and where abouts. I looked at the shiplist, his name does not appear there only the surname.

Zenda Bussack Lucas said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mole said...

Hello, I received your comment, but in triplicate so I had to remove two of these to save blog space.
The only Indian migrants who appear on the so-called Ships Lists are indentured immigrants, most of whom worked on plantations or on the railways, coal mines etc. Your ancestor may not have been on contract but came under his own steam, as it were, in which case he would be known as a 'passenger Indian', and of this group there is no index available.
In any case it is often very difficult to correlate a name appearing on the hips Lists as, strictly speaking, these migrants did not have surnames, and the names they did have were variously interpreted by the clerks who recorded their arrival in SA. The whole topic of indentured migrants is very complex and I can't go into it all here, especially as I do not have much information to start with. You should try to glean some further details from family members and to search for relevant estate and other documents which may be held by archives, using the NAAIRS index.
bet wishes, Mole

Dhiraj Rambhookan said...

hi there. My uncle recently passed away and we came across his birth certificate. next to his dad's and mum's names were a set of 2 numbers. could this be the numbers of their parents who came across from india and how does one check if they were on the ships

Dhiraj Rambhookan said...

hi there. My uncle recently passed away and we came across his birth certificate. Next to his dad's and mum's names were a set of 2 numbers. Example - next to his fathers name was the number 64461 with a line underneath and then another number 67150 written below it. Could this be the numbers of their parents who came across from india and how does one check if they were on the ships

Mole said...

The numbers could be registration numbers i.e. given to each indentured migrant on arrival in Natal. However, I know nothing of the other facts in the case. It isn't impossible that these were so-called Colonial numbers - i.e. given to people who were born in Natal (not the original migrants therefore). As to the migrant lists, you could buy a CD of the index from GSSA (Genealogical Society of SA) - it is CD 011. But the index is not a magic wand and needs to be interpreted using other facts about the migrants.

Parameshrie Soobramoney said...

Good evening

I have an identity Card (South African) of my great grandfather. it starts with an 800 number. would i be able to find his ship list number at the archives in Durban using this number?

Kind Regards

Mole said...

I am not sure what sort of 'identity card' you refer to. As you don't give much info it is difficult to advise you. You would need to have the ancestor's name and at least an approximate year of arrival would help. Then you would have to search the so-called Ship's Lists - via the Migrants' Index. A CD ROM copy of this index is available from the GSSA (Genealogical Society of South Africa)details of the Soc addresses etc you will find on Google. The CD is GSSA CD 011 ISBN 978 0 9869742 2 9. Be warned, this index, though very useful, is not a magic wand and it is not easy to identify the specific ancestor - e.g. many names are similar or even identical, and you may need some idea of a district of origin, at least, in India, to be able to pinpoint the person you seek. Spouse names can be helpful, religion and other details also.Anything that makes the individual stand out in the index. The original registers of indentured migrants to Natal are held at Durban Archives but it is impossible to work from these handwritten documents - which is why the Migrants' Index was produced. (By amazing volunteers who worked on it for years.) Final point: are you sure that your ancestor was an indentured migrant? If he was a so-called Passenger Indian there is currently no index for such immigrants who came under their own steam - paid their passage out.

Parameshrie Soobramoney said...

Thank you for your Response.

Before the the 13 Digit ID number became the norm the south african Citizens were issued other numbers called the identity numbers. My great grandfather had take on the citizenship and was issued this number. My greatgrandfathers number was 800 488590 A, his wife was 800 486601 A. These numbers were issued on the 1.7.1959.
their grandchildren (including my father also had this type of number on his marriage certificate.


Mole said...

Hi Parameshrie, your best bet is to acquire the CD Index as I mentioned in my first response but you will need a name to look up and if you have any clue as to year of arrival that would be helpful. The numbers you give will not tie up to the Migrants' Index. If you would like to give me the name/s involved I could see if I can advise you further. At the moment I am mostly in the dark and need details. What do you know other than these identity numbers? Name of ancestor, name of spouse, approx year of arrival, did they come out as young children with parents or as adults, perhaps already married?

Nicole Naik said...

Hi all, I've also been doing a lot of research on indentured Indians in SA, and have managed to find a good majority of my family tree based on indentured numbers. When 2 or more indentured numbers are placed together either with a / or // it indicates the marriage between 2 members. So for example, 1 Indian woman numbered 5551 married an Indian man numbered 5351, when they have children, the child's "ID" number will be 5351/5551. Unfortunately this number trail was only used until the 1950's when ID numbers were introduced for Indians beginning with 800 ******. This blog explains it in a lot more detail Sorry Mole-I'm by no means trying to punt another blog, but just thought it might help. Feel free to remove the comment if inappropriate.

Mole said...

Hello Nicole: it is pleasing that at long last others (dare I add, of the younger generation?) are beginning to take an interest in the indentured immigrants and to provide notes on their own research experience, as you have done on your blog which I read with interest. You may wish to make a correction on your pages where you refer to the ships lists online - this URL is no longer functional: It would be better to suggest that researchers acquire the CD of Prof Brain's Migrants'Index,available at minimal cost from GSSA (Genealogical Society of South Africa. I am not affiliated to this institution! but have found the index a very useful tool for research. It is, however, NOT a magic wand and it is essential that researchers have some specific details such as spouse name etc in order to identify the correct ancestor on the index. Best Wishes, Mole

Nicole Naik said...

Hi Mole! Thanks for the reply :) and yes safe to say I am of the younger generation-however I wish I had started earlier. That's strange that you say the URL is no longer functional-as I'm still able to access it, perhaps it was offline for a period of time? But it appears to be back on again. Your comment is very true, as many people try to use these techniques as a simple Google search, but I've spent many many frustrating hours trying to make connections with different family members. It has been so rewarding! I still have a few connections to make, and look forward to solving the mysteries! Thanks for your blog Mole, it's been a huge help for me too as there is not much information on researching Indentured Indians in SA. Keep well!

Mole said...

Nicole, the ships list, as they insist on calling it, is back online at that URL today after month of no access. I don't know the reason for the access problem; people have complained about it to me for months so it is not just me having the difficulty. In any case, frankly the info is of little value for those seeking ancestors whose registration number is unknown since the online lists provided by Mr Chetty are only searchable by number not by name or any other detail. Whereas the Migrants Index presents a wealth of detail concerning each migrant - I do recommend that you, particularly, should get a copy of that CD from GSSA as you may be able to help others as I have done, using that source.Remember that the Migrants Index was compiled from the original records made at the point of arrival in Natal. Yes there are problems such as different spellings etc but if the researcher has done his/her homework and established some other details as an aid in identification, the Migrant Index can be enormously helpful. The other problem is that some family historians expect to be able to pinpoint the precise place of origin of their ancestor/s - this is often impossible and some small villages have disappeared from the map due to famine and other natural causes. Or their names have been changed, or the place is now under a different larger district etc etc. I'm glad you have found my blog helpful.Have you read Inside Indenture by Desai and Vahed? A more in-depth look at the history of these migrants and what happened to them in Natal. I believe it has been published in a 2nd edition with a slightly different title, just 'Indenture', perhaps. Well worth ploughing through, jam-packed with information.Anyone researching indentured immigrants must realise from the start that it there is no instant solution and the researcher needs to give input that will assist in identifying the ancestor/s either on the Migrants Index or on NAAIRS Index - the latter can offer deceased estate and other files which can lead back to earlier generations of the family. use the NAB (Natal) database for your earches on NAAIRS.

Tamryn said...

hi mole

I am currently trying to trace my genealogy. My great great grandparents came to South Africa as indentured laborers from India. I currently have some of their immigration papers with their colonial numbers on my father's mothers side. How will i be able to trace my father's fathers side using my uncle's (my father's brother) birth certificate?