Saturday, January 30, 2010

Getting the best out of NAAIRS

Though NAAIRS has become increasingly well-known to family historians researching South African ancestry, many aren’t sure how to use the index to best advantage. This is partly because of uncertainty as to what they’re likely to find in the various available file types.

Which files offer the most useful information for family history purposes? Public records naturally weren’t generated for the benefit of genealogy research. How to discriminate between the types of records, pruning your list of references, saving time and expense and achieving optimum results?

Read the list of source codes used at each repository: these are a vital aid in understanding what sort of files you’ve turned up during a search of the index. See the source codes for SA archives repositories at:

One of the most informative sources in the South African context is the deceased estate file and will be discussed in future posts. In Natal, deceased estate files carry the code MSCE (Master of Supreme Court Estates). This is not to be confused with an insolvent estate, coded MSC in Natal. Insolvent estates can provide useful detail and shouldn’t be overlooked; they may include an inventory of an ancestor’s possessions e.g. in 1849 items listed in an insolvent estate were:

‘gunpowder, shott, caps, 1 pistol, boots, 2 waistcoats, velvet coat, handkerchiefs, socks and shirts, bed linen, tools, a trunk, a pair of moleskin trousers, 1 toilet glass, books, knives, forks, silver spoons and 1 lot of doctor’s instruments …’

A few lines giving a glimpse into this man’s life in the colony: perhaps the most revealing and personal description his descendants are ever likely to find.

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