Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Death Notice in SA research

The Death Notice is a significant document for the family historian seeking South African ancestors. It should provide the following details: full name of deceased, birthplace, parents’ names, deceased’s age at death, occupation, place of last marriage, marital status, names of surviving and pre-deceased spouses, date and place of death as well as names of major and minor children. If the children were minors, their dates of birth should appear; if daughters, their married surnames may be given (which could be helpful for tracing forward to the next generation); if the deceased was unmarried, his siblings’ names may be listed – and could be mistaken for children’s names if the Death Notice isn’t carefully read.

There should also be an indication regarding assets movable (i.e. property, land/buildings) and immovable (i.e. furniture, jewellery etc) – whether these assets exceeded a certain value (this varies according to era) and whether the deceased left a will. The informant’s signature is shown, as well as whether he/she was present at the time and place of death.

It’s important to remember that the fullness and accuracy of the Death Notice is in direct proportion to the knowledge of the informant – who may or may not be the next-of-kin. Sometimes the names of the deceased’s parents aren’t given, but are substituted by the word ‘Deceased’ or ‘Dead’. ‘Birthplace’ may be stated as ‘England’, for example, with no clue as to county.

The informant, even a son of the deceased, could have forgotten his grandparents’ names and in all likelihood never met overseas family members. Close kin were under stress of bereavement when completing the Death Notice form, which could make a difference to the quality of information given. In cases where the informant was a boarding-house owner, or some other stranger who happened to be present at the death, details given on the Death Notice might be sketchy.

It has been suggested that some informants gave deliberate misinformation in Death Notices. If this is so, it happened rarely. Usually the contents of the Death Notice will help you make considerable progress with your family history quest.

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