Monday, September 26, 2016

South African Ancestry Research 4 certificates

Q  How do I obtain SA BMD certificates?

A  In the UK, acquiring relevant certificates is standard practice. In the SA
context, this isn’t the recommended first line of attack. BMD registers and indexes are held by the Department of Home Affairs. The only way to obtain an official certificate is through the Department or, if you live overseas, through the South African embassy or consulate.

The Department of Home Affairs won’t consider applications for certificates unless you provide full details i.e. names, precise date and location of the event. Generally these are what the family historian is trying to find out. If you know all the facts, is it really worth going through the frustrating ordering process? It could take six months to acquire a certificate; there’s no guarantee of a result. If the only information you have is a vague idea that the ancestor was born or married ‘in the Cape’, don’t waste time applying for a certificate.

If your forebear was born prior to the start of civil registration, a birth certificate will not be available.

Compulsory official registration of BMD commenced in SA as below:
Cape: marriages 1700; births and deaths 1895
Natal: marriages 1845; births 1868; deaths 1888
Transvaal: marriages 1870; births and deaths 1901
Orange Free State: marriages 1848; births and deaths 1903

Marriage certificates are uninformative: no parents’ names appear on the document. If the happy couple later divorced, a copy of the marriage certificate is likely to be among the documents generated by the court proceedings; this is one good reason to access a divorce file. In early civil marriages, where the bride was under age, her parents’ signatures would appear on the entry, indicating their consent to the marriage. On FamilySearch you can find Natal Civil Marriages  1845-1955 at

 There are other possible avenues for finding SA birth and marriage records but the discussion here relates to obtaining official certificates for such events. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: Umzinto School Cadets 1897 Natal

Umzinto School Cadets 1897
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, Natal

Standing L to R:
Thomas Bruce Bremner, Baldwin W Pennington, Alecie E Schreiber, Guy Metcalfe, George Whitfield, Alexander Langlands, Ernest J Smith (7th from left), Lynn Pennington, Joshua Charles (Jock) Landers,  Reginald Metcalfe

Seated in front L to R:
Bernard Schreiber, Norman Fletcher, Keith Stewart, Sam Woods, Douglas Crocker,  Cecil Stewart,  Harold Thomas Landers

Friday, September 23, 2016

South African Ancestry Research Q and A 3

Q  When did my ancestor arrive in South Africa and on which ship?

A  Passenger lists are not a good starting point. Organized emigration schemes are well-documented but if your ancestor paid his own passage as an independent traveller his arrival may remain invisible. Registers which have survived are not all-inclusive and are rarely indexed; steerage passengers are seldom named. It’s impossible to speak in terms of a national database of SA passenger arrivals or departures: no such source exists. Very few passenger lists are available online: someone has had to transcribe these from original registers held in archival repositories or from newspaper shipping columns. Those transcribed or otherwise captured so far remain the tip of the iceberg.

British Board of Trade records are available online from 1890 via findmypast and other sites. These may be helpful if your ancestor's surname was unusual, for example, enabling you to identify him or her on a passenger list. If his name was John Smith you will have some difficulty. Some approximate idea of a date of departure or port of destination is useful. By far the largest preponderance of names were going to US rather than to SA. A recent search for an Irish lady turned up hundreds of examples of her names - forename and surname - but only two of these were going to South Africa, the rest to US ports.

Rather than pinning your hopes on finding your forebear on a passenger list, focus on whether he eventually died in SA. If you fail to find a relevant deceased estate file, look for any other likely reference on the index: a divorce, an application for employment or even a mortgage bond. Be imaginative in your search terms. 

Emigrants boarding steamer 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

South African Ancestry Research Q and A 2

Q  What’s the difference between a death certificate and a death notice?

A  The SA death certificate is a civil document usually completed by a doctor. The death notice is a legal document usually, though not invariably, completed by the next-of-kin; it forms part of the deceased estate.

More informative than the death certificate, ideally the death notice should supply the full name of the deceased, birthplace, parents’ names, deceased’s age at death, occupation, place of residence, marital status, place of last marriage, names of surviving and pre-deceased spouses, deceased’s date and place of death and names of children. Assets in the estate are indicated and whether they exceed a certain value; it’s also mentioned if the deceased left a will. The document is signed by the informant, stating if they were present at the death. Note that the accuracy of the information given in a death notice is in direct proportion to the knowledge of the informant. Sometimes parents’ names are not given and reference to birthplace may be vague e.g. England, rather than a town or county. In most cases, though, the death notice will be a rewarding source.

The only fact stated in a death certificate which doesn’t appear in a death notice is the cause of death.

Q  What about census records?

A  This resource, a favourite of those researching UK ancestors, is not an option in SA, where census records are destroyed after statistics are taken. The UK census can be useful in conjunction with SA sources: pinpointing the year an ancestor was last recorded as residing in UK could help establish an approximate time-frame for his emigration.

Emigrants on board the Lady Bruce 1850 voyaging to Natal
under the Byrne Scheme

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

South African Ancestry Research Q and A

Q  Why can’t I find a reference to my ancestor on NAAIRS?

A  Should no reference emerge it doesn’t necessarily mean that your ancestor did not spend some time in South Africa. It could be that his activities weren’t a matter for public record, or that his sojourn was brief. It is perfectly possible for an individual to pass through South Africa invisibly - as far as records are concerned.

A deceased estate file was not opened for everyone who died in SA. Reasons for this vary e.g. minimal assets at date of death would imply literally no ‘estate’. If the ancestor died comparatively recently (say within the past 20-30 years) his deceased estate file, presuming there is one, would not be referenced on NAAIRS. In such an instance, the records would be held by the Master of the Supreme Court in the area where the death took place.  

Despite what your family might believe, your ancestor might not have died in SA but moved on elsewhere, to another colony perhaps, or even returned to his place of origin. The name you believe was his may not be correct – it wasn’t unknown for an emigrant to change his name when starting afresh in the colonies. The spelling of his surname may differ from the version you have accepted.

If you don’t immediately find a reference to your ancestor on the index, don’t give up. Information is always being added so keep checking.

There are file types other than deceased estates e.g. divorce, claims for compensation, applications for employment or for a licence for a firearm etc etc.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sights of Old Durban: the tollgate

Tollgate at the top of Berea Road, Durban, 1850s.
The disabled tollkeeper can be seen in his invalid chair: he had a broken back.
His wife sits on the verandah. From this point, people entering the city had to be clothed i.e. not in minimal traditional attire.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: famous sights of Old Durban

Twine's Hotel was built in 1902, demolished ca 1950s.
The Dick King Statue can be seen at the end of Gardiner St
and there's also a glimpse of the first City Hall, later the Post Office.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Good news for St Helena Ancestry Researchers

42 000 St Helena Births Marriages and Burials have been transcribed by Chris and Sheila Hillman, based in Hereford, UK.

It is intended to make Chris Hillman’s information from the database available to all interested parties. The challenge will be to ensure maintenance of the database’s integrity. How this could be done remains to be seen .

Meanwhile, Chris would be happy to undertake look-ups and is not currently asking for a fee. He would filter or search for named people or families and pass on a record extract from his Excel spreadsheet.

He also has a list of ships as mentioned in the various church registers resulting from the services provided in Baptism, Marriage or Burial to crew or passengers. Chris hopes to build up background on the maritime importance of the island at that time.

Chris Hillman

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hamilton/McBroom Family Group, Canada

Elizabeth Hamilton nee Smith with her grandchildren, the McBrooms,
Beth, Francis, Walter, Allen and Jim. Their mother was Sarah McBroom nee Hamilton
(b 1877 Stevenston, Ayrshire, d 1915 at Parry Sound, Ontario); Sarah married Walter McBroom in 1901 in Stevenston, Ayrshire, Scotland; they later emigrated to Canada. The photo was taken when Elizabeth Hamilton visited the McBroom family in Canada.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Informal family group ca 1920

Robert Storrar and  his wife, Natalia, 2nd left 

(she was a daughter of George Dalton and was born in Durban).
Table Mountain, Cape Town, in the background.

Eira Makepeace

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Souvenir Saturday: family group 1896

Robert Henry and Agnes Elizabeth Rubidge and family , ca 1896.

Eira Makepeace

Friday, September 2, 2016

More mariners' art

Sailor's valentine of shells with scrimshaw ship in centre.

The sailor's farewell: miniature. Maritime folk art. (ca 1820s/30s)

The sailor's Return. (ca 1850s)