Thursday, December 22, 2016

New to South African genealogy research?

If you are just starting to put a toe gingerly into the murky waters of South African family history research, take a look at the Beginners' Guide on this Blog:

This offers useful tips on sources and procedures to be followed during your search, giving an introduction to the topic - where to start and what your aims should be. What is a deceased estate, what is the difference between a Death Notice and a Death Certificate, how to obtain certificates in South Africa - and much more.

I do not undertake private research for others but you could check the list of professional researchers for all provinces given on the NAAIRS site at

Happy Hunting!

Young woman photographed by H Kisch


Robyn said...

Hello there,

Have found your blog incredibly helpful in my being able to find a bunch of "missing" ancestors & relatives belonging to a newly-discovered distant cousin. The NAAIRS database is a treasure trove! And finding the passenger list of the ship that contained the "originating" family that arrived in 1862 was a big win in terms of identifying correct names and ages of the children, in particular.

Would you happen to know how/why some of these relatives don't show up in NAAIRS, even though they lived in Natal & presumably died there because they are buried in Natal?
In a couple of cases I have pictures of their gravestones, so some of them definitely did die in Natal.

All of these folks died well into adulthood, some in their 70's & 80's, so it's not a case of them being minors without any sort of estate. So I am somewhat dumbfounded that they are not in the NAAIRS records.

Would appreciate any you insight you might have on this!

All the best,

Mole said...

So pleased you found the blog helpful. NAAIRS, properly used, is indeed a treasure trove. There are various reasons for an ancestor not being found on the index. As a general rule,not EVERYone who died in SA had an estate file lodged with the Master of Supreme Court. Sometimes this was because the deceased had minimal assets, literally no 'estate'. This might occur if a person lived to a great age and had virtually no money left or was living with family members etc. Also, if the deaths are comparatively recent i.e. about mid 1970s, the estate files would not be shown on NAAIRS as still held by the Master - it is more difficult to find such files as usually in off-site storage at selected locations. To start a search you need at least year of death plus a private researcher prepared to undertake the task - they are listed by year in the Master's registers. Occasionally a person might die in another province and the death be registered there - this happens if man serving in Anglo Boer War and died of disease or as a casualty, when a death notice might be issued by the Adjutant then another death notice later on in province where man usually resident. So - this tells you that nothing is simple in genealogy research, as you have already discovered! If you have a specific example not covered by any of the scenarios above, you could run it by me if you like. Regards and thanks for the feedback, Mole.

Robyn said...

Hello again,

Yes, the cut-off on NAAIRS is around 1975.
The folks I can't seem to find all died way before 1975, and with a couple of them I would have expected an estate - because they owned a farm. Unless of course they transferred ownership to their children at some point before they died (in order to avoid estate taxes/duties). Someone in the family spent a fair bit of money on burying them in the St Thomas cemetery in Durban (their gravestone is not a small one), so I was quite surprised to not find estate records for them.

From what I've seen, early on in the Natal "estate" records (up to early 1900's) there would still be a death notice (with its associated NAAIRS index entry) even when the estate may have been very small or zero value. But as time went on, it seems they no longer retained those sorts of "zero estate value" records in the "estate" files.

Other than the estate records, where else can you look for actual death records? I would also like to verify the deaths (and hopefully burials) of some of my family members that died as minors and/or young adults (with no estate, so they aren't in NAAIRS).

Thanks again for all your tips!

Mole said...

Hi Robyn, there are selected civil registers of deaths in Natal held at Pietermaritzburg Archives. However, in order to make it a feasible search you need to have an approximate date, at least a year, of death. Not all registers are indexed. You also need location of death.

You may find this link helpful:

Robyn said...

Thanks for the info. I did start searching thru the death notices but haven't found anything yet. When it comes to several children that died at a very young age, I have a date range of several years (no exact dates of death unfortunately), but at least I do know which district to search. Maybe I will get lucky... Will let you know if I manage to find them!

Mole said...

Sorry about the belated response Robyn - I've only just seen your comment. You may not be quite clear what document you are after. There are Death Notices - which are part of a deceased estate file. Then there are Death Certificates, which are civil records held by the Dept of Home Affairs in SA. Selected civil death registers are held by archives but are not always indexes so a year, at least, of death has to be known to make a search feasible. Very young children would not have had death notices - as they had no assets at death hence no estate. You should be able to find death certificates/civil records for them if you have a close date parameter. I hope I have clarified things.

Robyn said...

Hello again,

I have made huge progress in my above-mentioned quest since last June, thanks to buying a copy of the eGGSA Cemetery Project CD.

I found all of the burial records for my grand-mother's family members, including the babies that died young. Once I had an accurate date of death, it was so much easier to browse the appropriate Natal Civil Death Registration image sets to find their death registrations/reports.

FYI: As of late January 2018, the Natal Civil Death Registrations up to 1923 are now indexed on, so they are searchable records (but the transcriptions of place of death are wrong for a lot of the entries, so it's best to leave that field blank when searching).

Thanks again for your tips!

Mole said...

Thanks for your comment, Robyn, which should prove useful to many family historians. Well done on making so much progress.
Best Wishes for Easter, Mole