Friday, November 9, 2018

Back to Basics in SA Family History: the Death Notice

If you’re just starting out in South African family history research and getting to grips with Deceased Estate files, you will have heard about the significance of the legal document known as the Death Notice. This forms part of the contents of a Deceased Estate file and, theoretically, should offer the following details:

Full name of deceased, deceased’s birthplace, parents’ names, deceased’s age at death (or date of birth), occupation, place of residence, marital status, place of last marriage, names of surviving and pre-deceased spouses, date and place of death and names of major and minor children. If the children are minors their dates of birth are included; if daughters their married surnames, where relevant, may appear.

There would also be information regarding any assets in the estate, movable and immovable, whether these assets exceeded a certain value and whether the deceased left a will. The informant’s signature appears at the end of the document with some indication as to whether the informant was present at the time and place of death.

The fullness and accuracy of the details appearing on the Death Notice are in direct proportion to the knowledge of the informant. This informant is usually but not always the next-of-kin. Below is an example of a reasonably legible handwritten Death Notice (click on the image to zoom in).

click to zoom

From an information point of view this Notice is not perfect: instead of the deceased’s parents’ names offering an avenue for further research, the word ‘Dead’ presents a cul de sac. For birthplace at least the county name appears, rather than simply ‘England’ as is often the case. The informant in this instance is the widow of the deceased. Death Notices were – and are – completed under stress of bereavement, which may affect accuracy. A son of the deceased may not remember, or perhaps never knew, the names of his overseas grandparents (particularly in the early days of the colony) or the date and location of his parents’ marriage.

The Death Certificate is an entirely different document, usually signed by a doctor, and the only piece of information given in the Death Certificate which does not appear in the Death Notice is Cause of Death.

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