Despite occasional errors and omissions, a Death Notice should take you several paces forward in the quest for your ancestor. It may also present opportunities for locating living relatives e.g. following up married names of the deceased’s daughters.
A Death Notice is not available for every person who died in South Africa, though there should be a Death Notice for anyone who died leaving inheritable assets in that country. Death Notices only came into being in 1834, so before that date other research avenues must be relied on. If the deceased had minimal assets at date of death – literally no ‘estate’ – a Deceased Estate would not be lodged with the Master of the Supreme Court.
Should you find no reference to a Deceased Estate file for your ancestor on NAAIRS, this could be because of the date parameter: in Natal, Deceased Estate files up to and including 1974 are held at archives; Cape, up to 1957; Transvaal, to 1978; Orange Free State, to 1951. Estates filed after these years are held by the Master’s Office in the relevant province. There is no legal or other obligation for the Master to ‘release’ or ‘transfer’ (both frequently-used terms and both inaccurate) Deceased Estate material to an Archives Repository at any stage. More recent estates can be accessed at the Master’s Office in the province where death occurred. However, this is not as simple a task as finding an estate file held at an archives repository.
The most obvious reason for not finding a Deceased Estate file – and hence no Death Notice - for your ancestor is that, contrary to family belief, he died elsewhere i.e. not in South Africa. You may then have to dig further afield, in his country of origin perhaps, or in another colony.
Contents and format of the Death Notice vary slightly at different periods. Earlier Death Notices were printed in a sideways format and sometimes on shiny blue legal paper which may prove a challenge for the digital photographer. Comparatively recent Death Notices include the SA Identity Number which came into being in the mid 1950s. The ID number can be important if you want to acquire a South African Death Certificate.
|Sideways Death Notice 1893: click to zoom in.|