Wednesday, January 27, 2010

South African family history research

Where you live influences your approach to family history. If, like me, you’re descended from British stock but your home is in one of the previous colonial outposts of the Empire, local records can take you only part of the way back to the ancestral past. In this case, research will need to encompass UK records. Similarly, if you live in the UK but have ancestors who emigrated to the colonies – or who simply disappear from British records after the 1881 Census, for example – digging into colonial records will be essential. With a computer and access to internet much can be achieved.

The South African National Archives and Record Service launched the NAAIRS index in 2001, resulting in an explosion of interest in South African ancestry research. NAAIRS (National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System) is the gateway to South African archival data and can be accessed (free) from the NARS (National Archives and Record Service) website at

The automation of archival retrieval began as far back as 1974 and is an on-going project with over 250 000 computer records added annually. Despite this achievement, not all archivalia are yet reflected online – perhaps less than half the holdings. When you think of NAAIRS compare it with the ears of the hippo.

Read the Beginners Guide to South African Research: see tab next to the Home tab on these blog pages. It includes 'Hiring a Researcher in South Africa'.

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