Saturday, February 27, 2010

Births, Deaths and Marriages at Sea: UK sources



From 1854, registers were compiled from ships’ official logbooks of births, marriages and deaths of passengers at sea. All these were recorded from 1854 to 1883, births and deaths only from 1883 to 1887 and deaths only from 1888 onwards. They are held at The National Archives (TNA), Kew in Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths of Passengers at Sea (BT 158).

Masters (captains) of vessels were required from 1874 to report births and deaths at sea to the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen and these records are at TNA. Registers of Births of British Nationals at Sea are in BT 160 and Registers of Deaths of British Nationals at Sea in BT 159.

For the period 1891 to 1964, BT 334 at TNA contains Registers and Index of Births, Deaths and Marriages at Sea. These include death registers of the passengers and crew of the Titanic and Lusitania.

The location of a death at sea may be given in latitude and longitude. Other details offered in these records include name, occupation, age or date of birth, address, date and cause of death, and port of registry of the ship.

Passports
I’m often asked about passports as a possible source of information. Before World War I there was no requirement for travellers to obtain a passport when leaving Britain and few emigrants bothered to apply for one. Foreign Office Passport Registers (TNA in FO 610) are indexed by name, giving date of issue and serial number of each passport between 1851 and 1862, and 1874 and 1898. There are registers in chronological order going back to 1795. Passports as we know them didn’t come into being until 1921.

Update:

TNA, Kew, has now (March 2010) released records at sea online at http://www.bmdregisters.co.uk/
The records cover over 150, 000 individuals (previously only searchable on microfilm) who were born, married or died on ships between 1854-1908.

Also see on this blog: http://molegenealogy.blogspot.com/2012/10/births-deaths-and-marriages-at-sea.html
How to find UK Maritime BMD on FamilySearch.org partnered by findmypast.com

Friday, February 26, 2010

How to find that SA passenger list?

There’s so much online about passengers to America and so little for those to South Africa: this is a complaint I hear almost daily.

It may well be true, but the sheer weight of numbers favours North America.

It is estimated that of the three million people who left Britain between 1850 and 1880, two-thirds of them went to the United States. By comparison, the number emigrating to South Africa was relatively insignificant.

An additional factor is that there has been no coordinated effort to transcribe South African immigration records in bulk.

Transcription is a labour-intensive task and usually a volunteer’s labour of love, done in what was once the true spirit of family history research i.e. with enthusiasm, dedication and altruism, and above all the wish to share information freely with others. Such transcribers are a rare breed today.

These are a few of the reasons why, although there are some South African passenger lists available online and with ongoing additions, they are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Full online coverage of surviving lists is probably an unattainable goal. Many South African passenger lists haven’t survived the passage of time, either as handwritten registers or in newspaper shipping columns.
Accuracy, or the lack of it, is another problem. Even the manifests of vessels chartered for group emigration schemes are riddled with discrepancies. Every ship carried a list of the emigrants on board, but nervous travellers often changed their mind at the last moment, fell ill or even died before departure, others stepping in to take their place. In such cases, there might be confusion as to who was on board at time of sailing.

If an emigrant joined a ship at a port other than the main port of embarkation, their names could easily be left off the passenger list. On arrival in the colony, the Captain’s passenger list would be given to the Port Captain and to the Emigration Agent who supplied copies to the press. This was similar to a game of Chinese Whispers, each version containing different information. Misspellings of surnames, incorrect initials and errors in the number of family members are common in newspaper passenger lists. Certain passengers were not emigrants at all e.g. the captain’s wife, the ship’s surgeon, the minister or the teacher taken on to school the children during the voyage.

Lists of departures from South Africa are as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth. And, as the 20th c approached, the volume of shipping, either incoming or outgoing, escalated rapidly, making it more difficult to keep track of all individual arrivals and departures.

UPDATE: July 2012 The eGGSA Passenger List Project now includes Natal Immigration Board immigrants 1850 to 1904 as well as the passenger lists from the departure notices in the British Mail 1879 to 1881. The database includes details of 27,000 passengers and 800 voyages. It's possible to search by name of passenger or of ship.

http://www.eggsa.org/arrivals/eGGSA%20Passenger%20Project.html



Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wreck of the Birkenhead Anniversary

158 years ago, on the night of 26 February 1852, the Birkenhead, a British troopship commanded by Captain Robert Salmond, was wrecked off Danger Point, Cape, while on a voyage from Simon’s Town to Algoa Bay and East London.

She was transporting men, mainly of the 73rd Regiment of Foot, for service in the 8th Frontier War. Also on board were some officers’ families. The iron paddle steamer struck an uncharted rock near Gansbaai, tearing a large hole in her side.

The sea almost immediately flooded the forward part of the ship and engine rooms, drowning 100 soldiers below decks. The lowering equipment for the lifeboats would not function, possibly due to lack of maintenance. Two cutters and a gig were launched and the women and children rowed clear of the wreck. Horses were cut loose to swim ashore if they could. Troops assembled on the stern deck, maintaining calm and discipline under the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel Seton of the 73rd Regt, until the ship broke into two parts.

Minutes before she finally sank, despite the opportunity offered to save themselves, the men stood fast to avoid swamping the boats carrying the women and children. This heroism coined the phrase ‘the Birkenhead Drill’ i.e. ‘women and children first’ – though this was nothing new in maritime history: a similar protocol had been observed in previous shipwrecks, including that of the Abercrombie Robinson in Table Bay, ten years earlier. Of approximately 640 souls on the Birkenhead, 445 were lost. Many drowned, others were taken by sharks.

A court of enquiry into the incident was held on board HMS Victory at Portsmouth, 8 May 1852. In 1936 a plaque in memory of the loss of the Birkenhead was placed near Danger Point lighthouse. The inscription states:

‘Nine Officers, Three Hundred & Forty-Nine of Other Ranks and Eighty-Seven of the Ship’s Company Lost Their Lives. Every Woman & Child Was Saved.’

For lists of those on board the Birkenhead go to:
http://web.archive.org/web/20100922122853/http://www.genealogyworld.net/cape.html

http://lighthouses-of-sa.blogspot.com/2006/12/danger-point-lighthouse_28.html 
photo of Danger Point Lighthouse by Joe Viljoen

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Renovations at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, Natal


The South African National Archives and Records Service (NARS) offers a pdf file concerning the current extensive renovations at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository, and consequent implications for users of the Reading Room.

To access this information, go to the Home Page of the NARS site at

www.national.archives.gov.za/   


or go direct to the pdf file at

www.national.archives.gov.za/website_notice_Pietermaritzburg_Archives_Repository_renovation%20_2_.pdf

Mad Dogs & Englishmen ...

Envying someone else’s family tree is clear evidence of an unbalanced mind, but that’s how I felt reading Mad Dogs & Englishmen*, an expedition round my family. The author is Ranulph Fiennes, whom the Guinness Book of Records described as ‘the world’s greatest living explorer.’

The story of ‘his unconventional, exceptional family’ goes back to 715 and includes Charlemagne (768-814) as well as Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles Martel. Numerous skeletons fall out of the cupboard in Fiennes’s narrative but the author flincheth not: Thomas Fiennes, Lord Dacre, was hanged at Tyburn for poaching and murder. Prior to this, he’d sat on the jury at Ann Boleyn’s trial and been a pall-bearer at Jane Seymour’s funeral.

After that it’s almost an anti-climax to mention that a lady named Elizabeth Fiennes was a second cousin of Jane Austen.

There’s a remarkable drop-line tree at the beginning of the book and glancing at the famous personalities peering from its branches it’s hard to believe that this wasn’t simply a name-dropping exercise but a real family, generation after generation. If you’ve ever wanted an example of how to compile an informative but immensely exciting, honest and readable account of your ancestry, this book has everything, including wonderful illustrations.


Published by Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 9780340925034

*Noel Coward wrote:

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun,
The Japanese don’t care to, the Chinese wouldn’t dare to,
Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,
But Englishmen detest a siesta …

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

HAMILTON of Stevenston: February Anniversaries




Remembering HAMILTONs of Stevenston, Ayrshire today, especially:


Cathrine Gibson Hamilton

b 23 February 1914, daughter of Joseph Hamilton and Annie nee Gibson.


Alexander Hamilton

b 15 February 1884, son of William Hamilton and Elizabeth nee Smith.

Top row L-R: Elizabeth ('Beth') Smith Hamilton; Annie Hamilton nee Gibson with daughter Beth; Hamilton group including Elizabeth and William Hamilton, Jim Hamilton seated in front, Nell, Nancy and others; Cathrine Gibson Hamilton on her wedding day with her father Joseph Hamilton; Bottom row L-R: Elizabeth and William Hamilton; 'Bill' Hamilton; Alexander Hamilton; the matriarch, Elizabeth Hamilton nee Smith - my maternal great grandmother.

Click on the collage for closer view of the photos.

For more information on the town of Stevenston, go to www.threetowners.com/Stevenston/stevenston.htm
The Dynamite Factory - or 'dinnamit' as the locals knew it
www.threetowners.com/Ardeer%20Factory/ardeer_factory.htm

Also see post on this blog 25 January 2010 entitled Diversity, dynamite & decisions.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 22, 2010

February Anniversaries & the Great War

February is an interesting month for anniversaries, whether those of personal or global importance. For family historians, anniversaries are often useful pegs on which to hang a family narrative or to fill in those awkward gaps where, according to public records, the ancestor doesn’t appear to have done anything at all for five, or even ten, years. Whatever else he was doing, he is likely to have read the newspapers and perhaps been affected by the national or international events reported.

On 11 February 1905 two Frenchmen made aeronautical history by landing in a hot-air balloon at Crystal Palace, London, after crossing the English Channel.

On the same day in 1913 the Daily Telegraph, London, announced ‘the most tragic story in the annals of Polar exploration’, referring to news received of the death of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and other members of his party. After reaching the South Pole on January 18, 1912, they were overwhelmed in a blizzard on their return journey; all perished. Scott’s companions were: Dr E A Wilson, Lieut H R Bowers, Capt L E G Oates and Petty Officer E Evans. Eleven months before the Scott tragedy, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s conquest of the South Pole – he reached it on 14 December 1911 - had made the headlines.

In 1915 on 4 February, the UK announced 104 000 casualties of World War I – so far – and on 18 February the planned Berlin 1916 Olympic Games were cancelled. Closer to home and a month earlier, South African troops had occupied Swakopmund in German South West Africa.

A new book by Edward Paice, Tip & Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa is a must-read for this period. In his introduction the author mentions that ‘far from being the rapid and immediately profitable pushover envisaged by British imperialists, the conflict cost … over 200 million pounds (about 2 billion in today’s money), involved the mobilization of more than 400,000 British and Colonial troops and left South Africa in ruins … The bill was fully ten times the value of the output of the Transvaal gold mines for 1899; British casualties exceeded even those of the Crimean War half a century earlier and the toll wrought on Afrikaner and African alike was immense.’
[Published by Phoenix; ISBN 9780753823491]

For casualties of the Great War: http://cwgc.org/
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established by Royal Charter on 21 May 1917. Its duties are to mark and maintain the graves of the Commonwealth forces who died during two world wars, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown and to keep records and registers. The cost is shared by partner governments – Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa and UK – proportionately according to the numbers of their graves.

The Debt of Honour Register, a database searchable by surname, was launched in November 1998 via the Commission’s web site (URL shown above). The database provides known details of the casualty as well as the name of the cemetery or memorial, directions on how to find it, and the exact row, plot, grave or memorial panel reference to locate the burial or commemoration place.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More 19th c German immigrants in South Africa

A group of 74 Germans, mainly vine-dressers and wine-makers selected by the Cape Emigration Commissioner, Mr Field, were among other emigrants who sailed to South Africa on the ship Aurifera. This was during the era of assisted emigration to the Cape between 1857 and 1862. These German passengers’ names are given in Esme Bull’s book, ‘Aided Emigration to the Cape’.

Just under a decade after the Bergtheil Settlers arrived in Natal, German Military Settlers were sent to South Africa. These men had been recruited for service with British forces in the Crimean War (1854-6) and were stationed in England. From here it was intended they should sail to South Africa but the war ended before their departure. The soldiers (2362 in all) were instead sent to the Cape as settlers, arriving in East London in early 1857. It was suggested that the men marry, with the incentive being free passages for wives, resulting in last-minute weddings at the quayside. For names of those who married in England, on board ship or on arrival in South Africa see the free site:
www.sagenealogy.co.za/German%20Military%20Marriages%201857.htm

The Indian Mutiny which broke out in 1858 tempted over a thousand of these German soldiers to volunteer for service in the Indian Army. Those who remained settled in various places in the Cape and Natal, including King William’s Town, Hamburg, Potsdam, Stutterheim, East London, Marienthal, Greytown and others. The women brought out on the Lady Kennaway (discussed in a previous post on this blog) were destined to be wives for any single men among the German military settlers but this idea was not a resounding success.

At about the same time, i.e. 1858, 1600 German settlers arrived in East London under a contract arranged by Sir George Grey. It was proposed that these immigrants, who did not receive free passages, would settle in the area known as British Kaffraria and add to the numbers of the German military settlers. Most of the Kaffraria Germans were farmers.

In another scheme, Germans were brought to settle in the Eastern Cape. One group arrived on the Wandrahm in March 1877 and a second in 1883. Due to the continuing troubles on the eastern frontier, these immigrants were at first settled near Claremont, Cape Town and eventually made their permanent home in Philippi.

Joachim Schubert's indispensable website for descendants of German immigrants can be found at www.safrika.org/  for example:
http://www.safrika.org/Names/schiff_03.html  for passengers per Wandrahm, departed Hamburg 22 August 1858, arrived East London (Kaffraria) 8 December 1858.

This site includes passenger lists from Hamburg as well as an extended register of names mentioned in the book Deutsche Wanderung nach Südafrika im 19. Jahrhundert by Werner Schmidt-Pretoria. The book covers German immigration to South Africa during the 19th Century.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

German settlers in Natal


In the 1830s there had been a few individual German arrivals at Natal but no organized immigration from Germany. When the Dutch trekkers established their community in Pietermaritzburg, living among them were several Germans, but the trekkers were beginning to move away from Natal after the conflict between British and Dutch at the port in 1842 and the subsequent annexation of Natal as a British Colony.

This situation left Natal with a reduced white population as well as numerous large farms which could be acquired cheaply by settlers.

It was against this backdrop that a group of German immigrants came to Natal in 1848 The scheme was that of Jonas Bergtheil, a Bavarian who had settled in the Cape in 1834. He and several others founded the Natal Cotton Company in 1847 with the aim of growing cotton in Natal, and they purchased a tract of land for this purpose.

Bergtheil, having failed to interest British authorities in the venture, went to Bavaria and eventually found a starting point in Bramsche, where a textile industry flourished. Here Bergtheil was successful in attracting would-be colonists, and in March 1848 a group of about 187 men, women and children arrived in Natal on the Beta. This group is now generally known as the Bergtheil Settlers.

The definitive volume on the Bergtheil Settlers is: The Cotton Germans of Natal [Die Baumwolldeutschen von Natal] by Walter V. Volker, published by the author in 2006. ISBN 0 620 36298 7 This book includes detailed genealogies of the Bergtheil Settler families, comprising over 80 000 names.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Did your German ancestor emigrate to SA?



There have been Germans resident in South Africa from the start of the Dutch era at the Cape of Good Hope in the 17th c. Most were not emigrants as such, but worked for the Dutch East India Company, perhaps initially in Holland and then sent to the Cape.

German missionaries established themselves at various centres in South Africa. The earliest efforts were made by George Schmidt, a Moravian whose work was carried on in the late 18th c by other Moravians at the famous Genadendal Mission Station.

The Rhenish Mission Society began their work in 1829 at Stellenbosch and Tulbagh among slaves and later penetrated Little and Great Namaqualand, working with the Namaqua and Damara peoples and others. Surnames such as Luckhoff, Esselen, Kleinschmidt, Hahn, Roth and Kolbe were among those famous in the Rhenish Mission.

The Berlin Mission sent missionaries to the Cape in 1834, founding Bethany station among the Korannas. Then, when the latter roving people moved on, the Berlin missionaries worked among the Bechuanas. Dohne was the pioneer of the Kaffrarian Mission of the Berlin Society, founding Bethel Mission Station in Xhosa territory. He was joined by Schultheiss, Liefeldt and Posselt.

The so-called War of the Axe (7th Frontier War 1846-48) intervened, when many mission stations were burned to the ground. Dohne, Posselt and Guldenpfennig started a mission in Natal, named Emmaus. By the 1850s the Berlin Mission had six stations, in the Cape, Orange River Sovereignty, Kaffraria and Natal.

Later, in the 1860s, the Berlin Mission sent Merensky and Grutzner into the field, at first ministering to the Swazis and afterwards to the Transvaal Basuto. Then, with Endemann and Nachtigal, to the Bapedi in the north.

The Hermannsburg Mission, led by Ludwig Harms, intended to start a colony of missionaries among the Galla peoples, but when this venture failed the missionaries went to Natal, founding Hermannsburg Mission Station in 1854 in Umvoti County, east of Greytown. An offshoot of this group was the Hanoverian Mission, led by a brother of Harms.

Descendants of many German missionary families still live in South Africa.

A Whale of a Time in Natal


In 1907, two Norwegians (Jacob Egeland and Johan Bryde) started whaling off the coast of Natal, with a factory sited below the Bluff in Durban. It was to become the largest land-based whaling operation in the world.

Two steam whale catchers were brought out from Sandjefjord in Norway and whaling began on 3 July 1908 when the first whale, a 40 foot Humpback, was brought in to the port. The company was named the South African Whaling Company.

Objections were soon raised about the site of the whaling station, which was then moved to the sea side of the Bluff near Cave Rock, but the penetrating smell of the operations at the factory remained a problem for residents on the Bluff. The station was moved again, towards the South West, where the winds carried the smell in a different direction.

Egeland and Bryde's partnership came to an end in 1909. With a cousin, Abraham Larsen, Egeland then formed the Union Whaling and Fishing Company in 1910. By 1912 thirteen whaling companies were registered in Durban.

Union Whaling Company came into being in July 1920, formed by Larsen and Egeland who had started the Union Whaling and Fishing Company, and was to last to the end of the whaling era, merging with the Premier Whaling Company in 1954 and operating the largest shore whaling station in the world. By 1960 850 people were employed in the Company. Coastal whaling ended in 1975.

Thanks to the efforts of David Asgeir-Nilsen it’s now possible to take a Whaling History Tour, visiting what remains of the factory and viewing a large collection of photographs, newspaper articles, whaling artefacts and memorabilia. For more information see:

www.whtd.co.za/

Further reading: African Keyport by Capt Tony Pearson, pub Accucut Books 1995

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Norwegian Emigration to SA


Immigrants from countries other than Britain also chose South Africa as their destination.

In 1879, the year of the Anglo-Zulu War, a group of 47 Norwegians left Bergen to establish a colony on an atoll in the Indian Ocean, Aldabra. The Debora Expedition, as the venture is known, didn’t work out as planned; some of its members remained in Madagascar and others decided to settle in the British Colony of Natal. They were the first Norwegian immigrants to settle at Port Natal (later called Durban).

You can read everything there is to know about the fascinating Debora Expedition at
http://salbu.co.za/debora/ Also visit companion pages at http://salbu.co.za/

Until about 1880, America had been the favoured destination of Norwegian emigrants, but reports sent back by Norwegian missionaries in South Africa encouraged interest, particularly in the Colony of Natal. The farming community around Aalesund, Norway, made contact with the Natal Immigration Agent, Walter Peace, in London and a scheme for government-assisted immigration was set in place.

This resulted in 32 families sailing first to England from Norway in July 1880, then continuing on to Natal on C.H.M.S. Lapland. They were settled on land between the Umzimkulu and Izotsha rivers on the south coast of Natal.

Although some of these immigrants found conditions in Natal disappointing, later returning to Norway, many remained to form the nucleus of a thriving community. Descendants of the Marburg settlers, as they are generally called, still live in Natal. So do descendants of early Norwegian missionaries to the Colony.


www.norsettler.co.za/history.htm Norwegian Settlers Association of Marburg

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Railways and Ships


In the late 19th c a network of railways was being developed in South Africa, opening up new areas and improving communications. By 1896, the railway line between Durban and Johannesburg was completed and the following year Cape Town and Bulawayo were linked by rail.

The railways offered employment opportunities and contingents of British railway workers arrived in SA, usually bringing with them wives and families. They travelled at the expense of the Government, on ships of the Union-Castle and other lines.

It isn’t easy to trace these railway workers at their arrival point. Some passenger lists for platelayers engaged by Crown Agents for service in the Natal Government Railways, occur in registers of the European Immigration Department (EI) held at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository. If the railway ancestor decided to settle, and eventually died in South Africa, there may be a relevant deceased estate file. Search NAAIRS index at www.national.archives.gov.za/

Immigration to South Africa continued in the 20th c after the disruptions caused by the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). My Hamilton grandparents emigrated from Ayrshire, Scotland, to South Africa in 1910, the year the Union of South Africa was declared. The Duke of Connaught travelled to SA on the Balmoral Castle to open the new Parliament.

There was a resurgence in immigration during the optimistic years following World War II. The Union Government sponsored a scheme to encourage skilled artisans, engineers and technicians from the United Kingdom to bring their families to South Africa.

As a result of this initiative, the Union-Castle Company Immigrant Service brought 28 000 British newcomers to South Africa between 1947 and 1949.

This Immigrant Service began with the departure of the Carnarvon Castle from Southampton in June 1947. The other two ‘settler ships’ were the Winchester Castle and the Arundel Castle. Accommodation for immigrants on board was austere: there hadn’t been time to reconvert the ships from their previous use as troop transports.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Mining ancestors: diamonds and gold in SA

By 1875 there was a comparatively small European-descended population in South Africa of about 328 000. By 1911 this had grown to 1 276 000.

A significant factor in the increase was the discovery of diamonds and gold stepping up the pace of immigration in the 1870s and 1880s. People from all over the world flocked to the diggings and mining towns like Barberton sprang up overnight, some to disappear almost as quickly and become ghost towns. But while it lasted, gold and diamond fever caused an electric shiver of excitement that was hard to resist.

It wasn’t necessary to be a prospector in South Africa ‘pegging a claim’ to be part of the boom. British investors clamoured for shares; hundreds of mining companies – many of them entirely bogus - came into being offering share certificates and there was some heavy plunging on stock markets; fortunes were made and lost.

Natal settler Sydney Turner wrote from Ladysmith to his mother in England:

Everyone here is either on the move or has shares in some Gold Company or other, every man, woman and child seems to me to have gone crazy …I could mention fifty that went up next to penniless twelve months ago and are now millionaires …Of all the motley crews one ever saw or heard of … All the scoundrels of Africa, as well as professional men, soldiers, sailors, tinkers, tailors, poor men, rich men, beggars and thieves are on the march up, and I hear from friends …that Barberton is a Hell-upon-earth …*

After the first rush to Barberton around 1884, richer deposits of gold were found on the Witwatersrand in 1885; Johannesburg was founded.

www.mpumalangahappenings.co.za/barberton_personalities.htm read about Cockney Liz, French Bob, Tom McLachlan and other colourful characters of Barberton in the gold rush days.

*Source: Portrait of a Pioneer, The Letters of Sydney Turner from South Africa 1864-1901, ed. Daphne Child, Macmillan SA, Johannesburg 1980. The original letters are held in the Local History Museum, Durban, Natal.

Military arrivals in South Africa


Not everyone who sailed to South Africa from overseas was an emigrant: their reasons often had more to do with their occupation or life circumstances. Ancestors in the military had no choice as to where they would be expected to serve.

Throughout the era of British government in South Africa there was movement of troops into and out of the country. Some regiments spent years garrisoning forts or fighting in colonial wars such as the Cape Frontier Wars, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, and the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. Many had seen action in other parts of the Empire: India, Afghanistan etc.

Some elected to say in the colonies after being discharged from the army, or went back to their home country to collect their families and return to South Africa; others married South African women and settled permanently. For these ancestors a search for deceased estate files may be the sensible approach.

Tracing military arrivals by ship is almost impossible. Passenger lists may sometimes identify officers, but the rank-and-file are seldom named, e.g. ‘12 men 45th Regiment’ arrived at Port Natal on the Flora from Table Bay in December 1846, and that’s probably all we’ll ever know about them. Each one may be somebody’s ancestor. If the Regiment is known, military records would be the starting point.

There are occasional exceptions: men recruited in England to join the Natal Mounted Police (later called the Natal Police) came to South Africa on ships such as the Kinfauns Castle in 1880. They are individually named in lists held in the European Immigration Department records (EI) at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository. These records are not online though selected examples may appear on this blog.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Later Cape immigration sources


Registers of arrivals and departures of ships at Table Bay and Simon’s Bay 1822-1917, as well as arrivals and departures at Algoa Bay (Port Elizabeth) 1846-1901, are held at Cape Archives Repository under the Archives of the Secretary, Cape Town Chamber of Commerce (CC). The lists giving the name of the captain and sometimes the names of first class passengers. (Most family historians are usually more interested in who was in steerage.)

Letters of Naturalization 1826-1902 and Applications for Letters of Naturalization 1865-1911 are in the Archives of the Colonial Office (CO) at Cape Archives Repository and can be an alternative to passenger lists. The Archives of the Secretary for Public Works (PWD) include Applications for Aided Immigration 1875-1889, Indexes of Applications 1878-1881 and Registers of Applications 1882-1902. These are all potential avenues for family history research.

If a PIO file for your ancestor should emerge on NAAIRS, this indicates documents in the Archives of the Principal Immigration Officer, Cape Town, covering 1904-1967, and they are informative. Passengers entering a South African port had to complete a declaration form giving name, age, birthplace, nationality, occupation, marital status, names of spouse and children, age and birthplace of spouse, reason for entering the country, port of embarkation and name of ship.

Colonial Office Emigration Correspondence 1817-1896 (not only South Africa-related) is held at The National Archives, Kew, in CO 384.

For Cape passenger lists see:
www.sagenealogy.co.za/

More on Natal Immigration


1879 was the year of the Anglo-Zulu War, and the Natal Land and Immigration Board reported a downturn in the number of incoming immigrants 'owing to the disturbed state ' of the Colony. Later in the year arrivals increased to a monthly average of 31 souls, the total for the year being 287. Additionally, applications had been received for 340 more persons, of whom 72 had arrived up to mid-February 1880.

J E Methley was sent to England to select about 40 families for agricultural settlement in 1880; this group became known as the Willowfountain (or Wilgefontein) settlers. Further information is held in the European Immigration Department records at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

Walter Peace took over as Natal immigration agent based in London and during 1880, according to the Natal Mercury, brought out 200 immigrants. The newspaper commented that in May 1880 the URMS African had arrived at Port Natal (Durban) from England carrying 60 immigrants - 20 men, 10 women and some children. 'The men are carpenters, blacksmiths, farm labourers, engineers, gardeners and joiners, and the women housekeepers and domestic servants. We have to thank Mr Walter Peace ... for such a large and respectable class of immigrants as landed at the Point yesterday. Mr Reid of the Immigration Depot ... boarded the African for the purpose of looking after those who were arriving here under the Immigration Act' and the immigrants were safely landed at the wharf.

'Some friends of the immigrants were present, but there were some who found themselves on a foreign land without those who required their services being there to receive them.' (The immigrants had already been engaged by prospective employers in Natal.) Accommodation in tents was available for the reception of such settlers, but 'in no instance was a poor stranger allowed to enter the tents; those who had found friends kindly looked after their less fortunate fellow passengers, and in a short time they were all distributed throughout the town in boarding-houses.'

By 1887 more than half the white population of Natal, then totalling about 36 000 and predominantly English-speaking, were living in the two largest towns, Pietermaritzburg and Durban.

For passenger arrivals at Natal between 1845 to about 1910, original registers are held in the Archives of the European Immigration Department (EI) at Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository.

There is a surname index to the registers (not online): a local Natal researcher could check this index, going to the original volumes if an entry is found and providing digital copies or a transcript. Alternatively, access the LDS Family Search site at www.familysearch.org/ and, under the Family History Library Catalogue section, see the list of available films on Natal immigration; films can be ordered at a Family History Centre near you.

UPDATE: www.eggsa.org/arrivals/eGGSA%20Passenger%20Project.html  Access to learn more about the eGGSA Passenger List Project now. (2012)

The original Natal passenger registers are a valuable source, but the lists are not all-inclusive at any period. Generally, with the approach of the 20th c factors such as increased volume of shipping, inconsistent record-keeping or lack of preservation of records, may militate against finding certain arrivals.

Passenger lists - even in the original registers - often contain inaccuracies; spellings of surnames vary, handwriting may be difficult to read etc. Newspaper shipping columns may offer passenger lists which do not tally with the Port Captain's lists.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Natal immigration in the 1860s


After the Byrne settler era, the discovery of gold in Australia lured some Natal immigrants away between 1852 and 1854. A few found pastures no greener there, and returned to Natal. As happened in the Cape, colonists invited family members to follow in their footsteps and government subsidies were an added incentive to do so. This system of aided immigration to Natal was developed further by settler agent Dr R J Mann in the 1860s, who also published a Guide to the Colony of Natal.

Passages were not free, but were inexpensive. Respectable settlers appreciated that they were not accepting charity and could repay the government loan when they prospered. Nevertheless, results were disappointing – in five years only 1 342 immigrants arrived in what was becoming known as the Cinderella Colony.

In the Natal Almanac edition of 1865 details are given of Public Aid to Immigrants in 1865, stating that passage monies could be repaid at the rate of 10 pounds per statute adult, within a year after landing. Assisted immigrants to Natal received grants of 50 acres of land, and conveyance was offered to their allotted property – this was vital as the lands were at a distance from the port.

The voyage from England took about 65 days by sailing ship and 40 days by steamship. Private individuals who were well-heeled enough to travel first class to Natal paid 35 guineas for a berth on a sailing ship, and 52 pounds 10 shillings on a mail-steamer. Note the difference between these sums and the 10 pound passage of the aided immigrant scheme.

My great grandfather Gadsden sailed from England to Natal on the barque Priscilla, in 1863. At 253 tons the ship was far smaller than most of the Byrne settler ships. Priscilla carried a general cargo and seven cabin passengers. There is no surviving list showing steerage passengers on this particular voyage but in September 1860 Priscilla had arrived at Natal with 105 people in steerage; it must have been an uncomfortable and cramped experience, even though the ship was described in contemporary advertisements as a ‘fast-sailing clipper barque’. The term clipper indicated forward-raking bows and aft-raking masts, these attributes lending speed and giving the ship fine lines.


Assisted immigration at the Cape


In the 1830s and 1840s economic recession at the Cape limited government-aided immigration. Individual passengers continued to sail to the Cape, paying their own passages, and private agents in England such as J S Christopher brought out some settler parties though not in great numbers.

There was a shortage of labour in the Cape Colony and a possible solution lay in government-sponsored immigration; this was discussed in 1844. Some child immigrants and female groups arrived, including single Irish women. Thus in 1849 the Emigration Philanthropic Society of England sent out 20 women from workhouses and through the Association of Female Emigration a group of 46 Irish women emigrated to the Cape in 1851. In November 1857 the ship Lady Kennaway landed 157 Irish women at East London; also on board were a number of artisans and their families.

The labour problem continued and eventually led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1857, to set aside funds for recruiting immigrants, with an agent in Britain to coordinate arrangements. Immigration Boards were established in the Cape and colonists were encouraged to make application to bring family members to join them in South Africa.

As a result, over 12 000 settlers arrived in the largest government-aided immigration scheme instituted at the Cape.

For immigrant ancestors who came to the Cape during this era, the best published source is Esme Bull’s Aided Immigration from Britain to South Africa 1857-1867. Conditions on board settler ships, provisioning, as well as health hazards encountered, make illuminating reading. Primary sources used include the Archives of the Immigration Board, Cape Town (IBC) and Archives of the Secretary, Immigration Board, Port Elizabeth (PIB), both held at Cape Town Archives Repository. Some passenger lists appeared in the Cape Government Gazette and newspapers.

Of 32 ships chartered between 1857 and 1862 the smallest was Aurifera and The Illustrated London News carried a report on her:

‘… the emigrants for Table Bay were embarked at Southampton on board the ship Aurifera, 235 tons, comprising 161 British and Irish emigrants, agricultural labourers, domestic servants and various trades; also 74 Germans – the latter chiefly vine-dressers and wine-makers, selected by Mr. Field, the Cape Emigration Commissioner.’


Monday, February 8, 2010

Did your ancestor emigrate to Natal?


In Natal, organized immigration from overseas began at the end of the 1840s. While the 1820 Settlers were coping with the change in their circumstances on the Cape frontier, Natal, on the south-eastern coast of South Africa, was in its infancy as a settler destination. A small settlement of hunters and traders had been founded there in 1824, mainly to establish trade with the Zulu.

It wasn’t until 1828 that an overland route was opened up to Natal,and another twenty years would pass before Natal acquired colonial status. Meanwhile, dissatisfaction with the Cape’s British government – especially regarding the abolition of slavery – led to an exodus of the Dutch community from that Colony: we know it now as the Great Trek of the mid-1830s. Some trekkers crossed the Drakensberg and established themselves in Natal, declaring their own Republic of Natalia in 1838. Conflict with the British at Port Natal followed in 1842, the Dutch moved on and Natal was annexed by Britain.

The white population of Natal had diminished after the trekkers’ departure, and immigration was the obvious solution. This coincided with a dramatic economic downturn in Britain – the ‘hungry forties’. Going to a new colony offered at least the hope of survival and perhaps even an opportunity to prosper.

As a result of the marketing efforts of Irish entrepreneur, Joseph Byrne, approximately 2200 British settlers headed for Natal between 1849 and 1851. Though Byrne’s Natal Emigration and Colonization Company ended in his own financial ruin, the concept provided an impetus for further private schemes to bring settlers to Natal.

Fortunately for family historians with Natal settler ancestry, this era is well-documented: more about sources in future posts.

See: Emigration from Britain to Natal updated at molegenealogy.blogspot.com/2014/03/emigration-from-britain-to-natal.html

More on 1820 Settlers to SA

The Settler Handbook by M D Nash is an in-depth study of the 1820 Settlers, compiled mainly from documents in the Cape Town Archives Repository and TNA, Kew. The lists of parties, ships and individual names contained in this book, as well as the author’s recent addenda and corrigenda to the work, can be viewed at
www.genealogyworld.net/nash/index.html

Included in the 1820 scheme were Irish emigrants from Cork, Wicklow and Armagh. Passenger lists are included in Nash’s book. John Ingram, a merchant who brought a group from Cork in February 1820, returned to Ireland in 1823 to recruit contract labourers who sailed to the Cape by the ship Barossa. This passenger list is given in Esme Bull’s book Aided Immigration from Britain to South Africa 1857-1867; there’s a surname index at www.genealogyworld.net/immigration/index.html

In 1826 a Select Committee of the House of Commons came into being: its aim was to investigate the concept of bulk emigration, in the light of experience gained during the 1820 Settler chapter. Ten years later, the Colonial Land and Emigration Board was established and its Commissioners would regulate British emigration policies for the next five decades.

Further links of interest:

www.genealogyworld.net/settlers/tessa.htm
A good overview of the topic

www.1820settlers.com
Paul Tanner-Tremaine’s comprehensive site includes settler family trees

Sunday, February 7, 2010

1820 Settlers to the Cape

These emigrants were to be settled at Albany, previously known as the Zuurveld. Described by Lord Charles Somerset as a ‘verdant carpet’ with fertile soil suitable for cultivation, cattle and pasture, 90 000 would-be settlers are said to have made application for their place in this paradise. The statistic is probably exaggerated but does indicate both the overwhelming response and the poor economic conditions in Britain at the time.

The actual number of people to take part in the scheme was eventually about 4000, divided between 60 parties and arriving on 21 ships between 6 April and the end of June 1820. Bitter disappointment followed: crops failed and the frontier remained turbulent. Some settlers managed to adjust to their new environment, but others left their allotments to seek employment in the towns. Whatever their trials, the immigrants' legacy to the Colony was deep and enduring.

If your ancestor was among the 1820 Settlers there is a considerable amount of published literature as well as information easily accessible online. It may therefore be unnecessary – or impractical, especially for family historians at a distance from SA repositories – to have recourse to original records, though these do exist. At Cape Town Archives Repository are Permissions Granted to British Settlers 1820-1824 (CO 6056 vol 2) and a list of immigrants in the year 1820 (CO 6137-6138); also Letters Received from immigrants 1820-1825 (CO 136,158,178,201,223,249).

Correspondence from leaders of the settler parties and others tell of setbacks which began even before embarkation. It was a major undertaking for any family to face a long voyage, in many cases with infant children, and the daunting prospect of a strange destination far from everything they knew. No wonder some of them were indecisive, getting cold feet before their departure, or experiencing unforeseen personal problems which prevented them from embarking as planned. One of my Gadsdens (spelled Gadsdon in this instance) appears on a published roll of the 1820 Settlers but as far as I can discover he never actually left England.



Footnote: there's some confusion as to the use of the terms 'emigrant' and 'immigrant'. One way to remember the distinction is to think of an emigrant as a person exiting from a country while an immigrant is an in-migrant, coming into a country. Each emigrant leaving his home country becomes an immigrant when he lands at his destination.

British immigrants to the Cape early 19th c


When the British established a firm grip on the Cape in 1814, the next step was to populate the territory and to bring in workers whose skills would be useful in the Colony.

In 1817 200 Scottish artisans – coopers, carpenters, masons, smiths, tanners – were brought to the Cape by Benjamin Moodie of Orkney. This venture was not an unqualified success, a number of the immigrants finding complaint with Moodie’s terms of employment absconded and lived as outlaws. Some married Dutch girls and made their permanent home at the Cape. References to Moodie’s indentured workers occur in Philip’s volume discussed earlier (British Residents at the Cape 1795-1819).

Other private schemes emerged at this period. Henry Nourse, a London merchant who had settled at the Cape, brought out a small group of Irish people as his employees in 1818, and suggested that a government scheme would be beneficial.

The authorities had already come to that conclusion: by 1819 the troubled eastern frontier was a headache, while in Britain there was unemployment and discontent. Sponsored emigration would relieve the burden at home, offering the hope of a brighter future to many and would be an inexpensive means of defending the frontier districts by installing a buffer strip of unsuspecting colonists.

This was the underlying purpose which led to the arrival of the 1820 Settlers, the first major organized scheme to colonise British territory in South Africa.

For much more on the 1820 Settlers go to http://www.1820settlers.com/


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Organized emigration schemes and early arrivals

Organized schemes of emigration from the British Isles to South Africa would include the 1820 Settlers to the Cape; the Byrne settlers and other minor groups to Natal and the government-aided immigration which brought approximately 12000 British settlers to the Cape between 1857 -1867. The good news is that all of these schemes are well-chronicled.

Although emigration from Britain reached its peak in the 19th c, there had been some arrivals during the First British Occupation of the Cape (1795-1803) – troops to defend the frontier and government officials to do the paper-work, as well as missionaries endeavouring to save the souls of the indigenous population. The military and the missionaries were not immigrants and many had only a brief sojourn in South Africa.

The temporary military regime of the First British Occupation gave way to the short-lived Batavian Republic in 1803, followed in 1806 by the Second British Occupation. This time the British were there to stay and in 1814 the Cape was formally ceded to Britain. In 1820 about a thousand families were sent out to settle, precariously, on the eastern frontier of the Colony.

For ancestors who were among the British at the Cape from 1806-1844, the ‘Permissions to Remain’ or ‘Permissions to Leave’ provide an alternative to immigration records. Any individual wishing to stay in the Cape Colony had to obtain permission to do so. Usually, two other solid citizens would be named as securities, and the Governor would issue a permit to remain if the applicant undertook to behave in an orderly manner. Similarly, if an individual wished to leave the Colony, application had to be made, and permission would not be granted unless all debts and taxes owing had been paid by the applicant.

The registers of these permits are held at Cape Archives Repository as part of the Colonial Secretary’s records (CO). While not all-inclusive, the names supplied amount to a roll of British inhabitants: indications are given as to place of origin, occupation, and date of arrival in or departure from the Colony.

British Residents at the Cape 1795-1819 by Peter Philip gives details of 4 800 persons referred to in the Permissions as well as other Cape sources such as directories and newspapers. Included is a list of British regiments serving at the Cape from 1795-1819 and British ships of war at the Cape during the same period, with names of their commanders.

Usage of the term ‘English’ could also refer to people of Scottish, Welsh or Irish origin. Many Irishmen served in the British Army in South Africa, some choosing to remain permanently after taking their discharge.

Other data held at the Cape Town Archives Repository for the period of the First British Occupation include Ship Arrivals 1795-1800, Reports on Strangers, and Letters of Permission 1795-1801 (BO).

Friday, February 5, 2010

When did my ancestor arrive in SA and on which ship?


This is the most frequently asked question in South African family history research. It’s also one of the most difficult to answer. To begin with, it depends on the ancestor’s point of departure: was it Hamburg or some other port in Europe. Did he sail from a British port? And during which decade?

If your ancestor embarked at a British port after 1890, outward-bound passenger lists are now online at findmypast

These lists exist from 1890-1960 and originate from Board of Trade records held in BT 27 at The National Archives, Kew. Destinations include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Canada and USA.

Online access to these passenger lists is a valuable resource: there were no indexes to the original registers, many of them were fragile and took time to search. As they were arranged monthly by port of departure it was necessary to know an approximate date of departure and the port to have any hope of finding an ancestor. The online facility is a gigantic step forwards.

However, 1890 was the start of the final decade of the 19th c and the great era of British emigration to South Africa began much earlier, in the second decade of that century.

There are two points to bear in mind:

1. If an ancestor was part of an organized emigration scheme, there is a good chance of finding out more about him – or about them, if the entire family emigrated together.

2. If an individual passenger wasn’t part of an organized group but paid for his own passage and was free to settle in whatever part of the country he chose, his arrival is usually less easy to trace.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ancestors buried in Durban?


While we're on the topic of death, a query came in today asking about burials and cremations at Stellawood Cemetery, Durban.

Stellawood –a vast cemetery in the suburb of Umbilo, Durban - was opened and burials begun in 1904. The Stellawood Crematorium, however, dates from 1926. There are registers for both the Cemetery and the Crematorium, searchable at the relevant office by year. These records are not online. 

Update: see eGGSA gravestones in South Africa at
www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=43

Stellawood Cemetery memorial inscriptions are currently (2012) being photographed by a group of dedicated volunteers.

The memorial inscriptions at West Street Cemetery, Durban, read like a roll-call of Natal settlers. Much earlier burials took place at the Point Cemetery: at the link below there’s a list of who was buried at the Point Cemetery and details of the exhumation of the remains of colonists and their re-interment at West Street Cemetery in 1896.
molegenealogy.blogspot.com/2012/09/heritage-month-point-settlers-memorial.html

An index to West Street Cemetery has been published by GSSA (Genealogical Society of South Africa) in their Cemetery Recording Project series on CD. Other Durban cemeteries covered in the series include St Thomas's Church Cemetery and the Wyatt Road Military Cemetery.

Photo shows the Point Settlers' Memorial at West Street Cemetery.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Other contents of a South African Deceased Estate file

The Liquidation and Distribution Account gives details of all the assets in the estate, including movable and immovable property, and also lists claims which have been paid out of the estate such as advertisements in newspapers, funeral expenses etc.

The distribution part refers to how the assets were divided amongst the beneficiaries. One of its uses for family history can be providing names of grandchildren who may not have been mentioned at the time the will was made. This information could take the family historian forward to living descendants.

An inventory of the deceased’s belongings can offer various important facts. The full legal description of a piece of land, given under immovable assets, may come in handy for searches at the Deeds Office. (For more on inventories, see my post of 30 January 2010 entitled ‘Getting the best out of NAAIRS’.)

It’s really worthwhile looking at any miscellaneous correspondence in the estate file e.g. invoices from tradesmen claiming settlement of accounts. An undertaker’s invoice may note the burial place, even a plot number of a grave. It will also give an idea of the scale of the funeral – and who paid for it (there were often arguments among relatives as to who should foot the bill for the tombstone).

A simple list of garments turned out to be my great great grandmother’s mourning clothes, as well as some for her daughters, ordered from the ‘Silk Mercer, Milliner and Straw Bonnet Manufacturer’ – hats, gloves, ribbons, braid, lace tuckers and (a vital accessory for the occasion) handkerchiefs - so that the family would be correctly attired for my great great grandfather’s funeral in 1869.

Tradeplates and engraved letterheads on correspondence can make decorative illustrations for a family history narrative.

All the above points emphasise that you'd miss out on a great deal of information if you were to access only the Death Notice in a Deceased Estate file.

Where there's a Will ... in SA


If a will was made by the deceased, it should be found in his deceased estate file. Some wills are not particularly informative being in a standard format, though beneficiaries (people benefiting under terms of the will) are named and specific bequests such as the medals of a military man may be included. Occasionally, there are unexpected revelations e.g. additional bequests to a favourite god-daughter, or an adopted or illegitimate child previously unknown to the family; or even a mistress being rewarded for services rendered (be careful, she might have been the housekeeper).

Family rifts may show up in the will. One angry father would not allow his daughter to benefit under his will because she had 'taken her mother's side' in her parents' divorce. A child not appearing as a beneficiary isn't necessarily evidence of a rift. Sometimes parents preferred to leave assets to children who weren't as well-established as the others. This could lead to ill-feeling in the family and to a will being contested.

Instructions might be given in the will as to the deceased's choice of burial or cremation, which could be helpful when you're seeking his last resting-place.

If an individual died intestate (no will) the document will obviously not be among the contents of the estate file.

In family history research, it's essential to look beyond the stated facts: a list of children on a Death Notice of 1903 showed 5 sons and 3 daughters, only 2 of them 'of age' (majors) and all of them living with the surviving parent, their mother. The minor children ranged in ages from 14 to 4 and none of them were wage-earning. From the time of his father's death, the eldest son would have to take on the role of breadwinner. The Death Notice revealed that the estate was of limited value, and that the deceased had died intestate, leaving no immovable property and not much in the way of movables either. Reading between the lines, a parlous situation for this family - and not a particularly unusual one. Considering the date (1903) it's possible that the father was a casualty of war; the Anglo-Boer War ended in 1902.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

South African Death Certificate

Not to be confused with the Death Notice, the South African Death Certificate is a much briefer document. The piece of information it offers which does not appear on the Death Notice is the cause of death. This is given by the doctor in attendance, and includes duration of the final illness.

The only way to acquire an official copy of the Death Certificate is through the Department of Home Affairs. When ordering, ask for a FULL certificate, unless you need the certificate for certain visa or other legal purposes in which case obtain a VAULT copy. If delegating to a researcher, mention the reason for wanting the certificate.

In the SA context, pause for thought before embarking on the ordering of any certificates (birth, marriage or death). There is generally a waiting period for the ordering process to grind through the Department’s mill. If you have located a Death Notice for the ancestor it may not be worthwhile pursuing the Death Certificate.

Why no Deceased Estate file for my ancestor?

There isn't a deceased estate file for every person who died in South Africa. Reasons for not locating an estate file vary. The most obvious is that, contrary to what you've been led to believe, the individual may have died in another country. There could have been minimal assets, literally ‘no estate’. The death may be of too recent a date to appear on the online index, NAAIRS. Death Notices did not exist until 1834 and to find information for the period before that date trying other research avenues will be necessary.

An ancestor who lived in South Africa but died in England may have had a South African Death Notice if he owned property in South Africa. In such a case, the country where the estate was administered would depend on where the individual was resident at date of death. Frequently, delays may be caused and a South African Death Notice may not be filed for some time after the death occurred.

Finding two separate Death Notices in one deceased estate file may mean that the first form was completed at the place of death e.g. by the camp Adjutant during a military conflict – there are many instances of this during the Anglo-Boer War. Later, a more detailed Death Notice would be produced.

The format of the Death Notice changed at various dates. Earlier forms were printed horizontally across the page and often on blue paper which doesn’t photograph particularly well. These ‘sideways’ Death Notices were invariably completed by hand (not always legibly) in pen and ink. The vertically-printed Death Notice followed, but were still filled in by hand until the advent of the typewriter made them easier to read (except where the ribbon was over-used and the text faded).

Recent Death Notices include the SA identity number which first came into being in 1955. The ID number can be important if you want to acquire a South African Death Certificate.

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.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Deceased Estate files in SA family history research


In the context of South African family history research, deceased estate documentation is a valuable starting point. If an ancestor died in SA, the chances of discovering further information are good – better than if he was passing through on his way to another colony or making a temporary stay before returning to his place of origin.

Using deceased estate material it’s possible to go back to his earlier history as well as forwards to more recent generations, even to living descendants.

First, search NAAIRS to identify a relevant deceased estate file for your forebear. If his area of residence isn’t known search on the RSA (all SA) database adding a reasonable time frame for the event in the ‘beginning’ and ‘ending’ facility at the foot of the search form. As always, it helps if the ancestor had an unusual surname or forename.

You can expect to find the following in an estate file: Death Notice, Will, Final Accounts and correspondence. All of these are potential sources of information. There’s a tendency to access only the Death Notice: while this is an important document, it’s advisable not to stop your search there but to check (or delegate your researcher to check) the other file contents too.

It is false economy to limit a search to the Death Notice alone. There is so much more to be discovered in even the most unlikely pieces of paper e.g. an argument by correspondence between family members over who would pay for the tombstone reveals precise details as to burial place of the deceased. Such information may not be obtained easily elsewhere.

Predicting file contents in SA family history research

There are instances where it may be difficult to predict file contents: NAAIRS offers the references but these need to be interpreted and sometimes the only way to do that is to access the original documents.

The code PWD (Public Works Department) doesn't sound promising for family history information, yet records concerning alterations to a bridge included a letter giving the ancestor's year of arrival in South Africa, previously unknown. This detail made it feasible to search passenger registers for that date parameter.

However, frequently the index reference may be all you need to establish what an individual was up to at a particular point in his South African career. A memorandum filed under CSO (Colonial Secretary's Office) could reveal that on a certain date the ancestor applied for an appointment in the civil service. In such a case, the file contents could add little to the index reference: it might be better to consult published civil service lists for the appropriate period.

It really depends on how lucky you are with finding references to your ancestor/s on NAAIRS. Where only one reference occurs it hardly matters what type of file it may lead to: at that stage it's a matter of leaving no stone unturned.

MAN database on NAAIRS

Apart from public records, i.e. records generated by government, South African archives repositories also hold private collections presented to them for preservation. These accessions, as they’re called, include biographical and genealogical information, family trees and unpublished manuscripts of family histories which could save you time if someone else has made a study of the family you’re researching. Bear in mind that manuscript (or even printed) family trees shouldn't be taken at face value and it's advisable to check all the details presented.

To check, search the MAN database on NAAIRS for manuscripts, collections of photographs, maps and other material held by all South African repositories, as well as material available at South African museums, libraries and universities.

All these can be discovered at www.national.archives.gov.za