Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
SOUTH AFRICAN JEWISH BOARD OF DEPUTIES
By Ann Rabinowitz
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 1999 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
This page URL: http://www.jewishgen.org/SAfrica/sa.htm
New/Revised: 22 December 1999
The immigration registers are to be found in bound books that are in
fairly delicate condition with some of the spines fairly loose. The writing is in both pen
and sometimes colored pencil and this adds to the difficulty of both reading the entries
and copying them. There are approximately 16,000 passenger entries.
The Kaplan Centre Archives does not permit individual researchers to copy these
registers due to their condition, but will do the copying for a modest sum when requested
to. The material is only available for on site researchers at the moment through the
Kaplan Centre and SAJBOD (JHB). There are no capabilities through these institutions to
search the registers. This limitation of accessibility is the primary motivation for
computerizing these valuable records.
The immigration registers are organized by steamship and then vaguely by chronological
order into three books:
1. 1924 - 1926
The data that is in each book is as follows:
- Date of Arrival,
- Passenger Name,
- Arriving From,
- Person Going To,
- Address Going To,
- Relationship of Person Going To,
- and sometimes Occupation of Passenger.
The name of steamship may be spelled variously throughout the registers due to clerical
errors. A number of the ships are not well-known as they did not belong to the Union-Castle Line which provided the majority of the transport to South Africa during the years
The passenger names may be spelled in very inventive ways and the researcher should be
aware of this as well as the fact that a number of passengers used the Lithuanian name
endings. Many passengers (and authorities) were unfamiliar with the Anglicized spelling of
their names and this contributed to the confusion over precise spelling. There is no
standardized spelling for first names so you may find: Hene, Chene, Chjene, Chiene as a
spelling for the same name. Remember, that the name being used may be a middle name not
necessarily the full name of the person. For example, the passenger's name may be Menachem
Mendel Hillman, but he may be listed on the registers as Max Hillman or Mendel Hillman. Be
aware, that relatives coming on the same ship, may have their names spelled differently.
As can be imagined, the data is not always provided in each field and when it is, it
may be somewhat less than what is expected. The most confusing field is that of the
Town/Country where the passenger is from. For instance, if you will look at one ship,
passengers coming from the same town can have the town or country name spelled
differently. Kupishok or modern-day Kupiskis is a prime example of this as it is spelled
variously as Kup, Kubisk, Kupisk, Kupishok, etc.In the finalized database that will
contain all 16,000 entries, these variations in names will be corrected by the addition of
a field providing the present day spelling.
As you will note, the approximate birthdate of the passenger has been added to the
database that is based on passenger age on arrival and date of arrival. This is meant
merely to aid the researcher place the passenger in a context and not meant to be used as
the factual date of birth.
The address where the passenger is going to can be confusing as the names of streets or
places may not be familiar to the researchers. Many times these place names were railroad
sidings, mine sites, agricultural farmsteads or other non-traditional addresses which
disappeared in more modern times. You will also note that if you find passengers going to
a relative in one year at a certain address, the next relative that comes may go to a
different address even if only a few months have passed or as long as a few years. This
points to the mobility or fluidity of the population in South Africa. You will find many
addresses that are repeated in these registers and they are located in popular areas of
Jewish settlement such as Commercial Street, Constitution Street, etc.
In addition, the field giving the relationship of the person the passenger is going to
may not be totally accurate. Many individuals put that they were going to a
"cousin" or to an "uncle" whereas the person may have just been one
who agreed to let the passenger use their name to get into the country. If you sort the
names of these individuals, you will get an idea of who it was exactly that brought whole
families to South Africa from particular towns . . . the "Uncle Hymies" of
Jewish immigration. Further, relationships may not be what they seem initially. When you
see that the relationship is that of a brother-in-law, it may be the husband of the
passenger's sibling as opposed to that of his wife. So, keep your mind open when assessing
Very few of the records contain the occupation of the passenger, but when they do these
may not indicate the true skills of the person. In certain periods between 1924-1929,
passengers were told that certain occupations were the best to use when coming to South
Africa. One of these occupations was watchmaker, for instance. So, if you find that your
relative had an occupation you know he/she never practiced, this may be the reason.
A sample database in Excel format is available for download. Use this sample database as you would
any other . . . test the data given against other sources of information and use it as
benchmark to guide you in further research of your relatives in South Africa.
NOTE: The copies of the immigration registers were originally obtained by Debby Myers
of Cape Town, S.A., from the Kaplan Centre Archives and these were then analyzed and the
sample database compiled by Ann Rabinowitz of Miami Beach, FL.